When it does happen it is likely that class sizes will be reduced and break times staggered
June 1 has been given as the earliest “realistic” date when schools in England could start reopening.
Head teachers’ leader Geoff Barton has told the BBC : “We cannot see any realistic way that schools could be reopened to more pupils before the second half of the summer term.”
He added that planning would need to begin “very soon” in order to meet this date.
Schools closed their doors to all except vulnerable children and those of key workers over a month ago.
At the weekend, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said no date had been set for returning children to school.
Mr Williamson said if and when five thresholds in the fight against coronavirus were reached, a date could be set for schools to reopen.
- the NHS’s ability to cope is fully protected
- the daily death rate is dropping
- infection rates are falling to manageable levels
- there are sufficient supplies of testing and protective equipment
- there is no risk of a “second peak” of infections
Schools are expected to need several weeks to prepare for a complicated, staged return that allows them to maintain social distancing.
Parents would also have to be persuaded it was safe.
Some teachers have already questioned whether it is realistic for schools to reopen in the near future.
Katharine Birbalsingh, head of Michaela Community School, in Brent, said that narrow corridors, small classrooms and lots of interactions, particularly between younger children, made social distancing in schools “simply impossible”.
“We’re considered to be the strictest school in Britain and even we would find it impossible,” she added.
Earlier this week, a petition from NHS nurse Iain Wilson warned against any early push to reopen schools.
“Do not make us the global guinea pigs,” he said. “It is self-evidently unwise to force hundreds of people into small rooms in small buildings during a pandemic.”
Meanwhile, Mr Barton, the ASCL head teachers’ union leader, said: “What is crucial is that schools are able to reopen in a manner which inspires confidence among staff, pupils and parents – and that it is as safe as possible.”
If schools are to maintain social distancing, they could not run at full capacity, meaning a phased return, such as starting with a few year groups or pupils rotating between studying at home and school.
Mr Barton said it would also mean staggering break times and putting a limit on class sizes.
Robert Halfon, who chairs the Education Select Committee, said primary schools should be the first back.
This would help parents and stop disadvantaged youngsters falling behind at an early stage, the MP said.
But Mr Barton said the priority should be Years 10 and 12, who are part-way through GCSEs and A-levels, and Year 6, where children are about to move to secondary school.
Some experts believe schools won’t reopen until the next school year, in September.
National Education Union joint head Kevin Courtney said: “There is a realistic possibility that schools won’t be fully open during the summer term.
“We want to be back as soon as it’s safe, but there’s a chance that there will be no full reopening before the end of term.
“There’s a responsibility to think about what that will mean for children’s education.”
In France, primary-school pupils will start to go back, in classes of no more than 15, from May 11.
And in the Netherlands, they will go back, on a part-time basis, on the same date, with secondary pupils returning from 1 June.
Denmark became the first country in Europe to reopen its schools last week, when under-12s were the first to return.