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Coronavirus: Teachers ‘scared’ over plan to reopen schools

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Head teachers have been writing to parents over social distancing fears for their children

A teacher who has worked in the classroom during lockdown has said reopening schools on 1 June will „cause suffering and death“.

The primary school staff member, who taught a small class of key workers’ children, said social distancing the group of nine was „impossible“.

In a letter to her local MP, she says teachers are „scared“ and confused by the government’s plans.

Downing Street said it was taking all concerns „very seriously“.

Under the plans, children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in England would only be able to return next month if infection rates and other tests at the time allowed it, the government said.

Teaching union NASUWT said it remained unconvinced reopening schools was „appropriate or practicable“.

‘Can’t see how it will work’

The teacher who wrote to York Outer Conservative MP Julian Sturdy accused the government of putting lives at risk.

„Not one teacher I know is saying they won’t work but they are saying they’re scared, they’re confused and they cannot see how your plan is going to work,“ she said.

The mother-of-two, who asked not to be named, said she found it „impossible“ to keep any distance from the nine children of key workers she was teaching.

„During the course of an afternoon, I saw a child insert the end of a pencil into his nose, a child chewing the end of a pencil and twice when I was talking to a child their spittle flecked my face,“ the letter said.

„We are prohibited from having any cleaning products in classrooms. Therefore I was not able to use any antibacterial products to clean the pencils which had been inserted into various orifices.“

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One teacher expressed coronavirus fears over children putting stationery in their mouths

The letter said: „Your proposal to open schools in June will cause suffering and death. It is that simple. You are putting the lives of children, parents and grandparents at risk.

„I am a parent and with your lack of provision and care, you are asking me to knowingly increase the likelihood of becoming infected. You are therefore asking me to knowingly increase the risk of infecting my children.“

Mr Sturdy said he had been working with head teachers through the pandemic and had many discussions with school leaders.

He said he has received a significant number of inquiries and was currently responding to them.

‘Is it safe?

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One teacher said she and colleagues were ‘confused’ over back to school plans

Teachers and head teachers across the country have been writing to parents to detail their schools’ individual plans.

Robert Veale head of Atwood Primary School in Sanderstead, Croydon, warned „social distancing with children cannot be enforced in the same way as with adults“.

In an update on the school’s website he told parents: „We would not want to mislead your understanding of the realities of social distancing of children in a school so that you can make an informed decision as to whether you wish to send your child back to school.“

Two-thirds of primary schools in England are supported by their local authority, which means they do not have complete freedom to make their own decisions, unlike academies.

In Lancashire, arrangements for the local management of schools means the local authority could not force any of the 500 primary schools to reopen.

The Conservative-led county council said individual head teachers were „best placed“ to make the decision.

But Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali told the LDRS: „It’s not good enough to leave it up to schools – that’s irresponsible.“

„I wouldn’t send my child back to school until I was assured that it was safe – and at this moment in time, nobody can prove that it’s safe,“ he said.

County council leader Geoff Driver said: „I stress, no schools will reopen or take in more pupils unless it is safe to do so.“

‘Parents are sceptical, staff are anxious’

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Head teacher Annalisa Howarth said she was asking parents how they felt about sending children back to school

Annalisa Howarth, head teacher at English Martyrs’ Catholic Primary in Preston, said she welcomed having autonomy over the decision.

She admitted that social distancing even with a small number of children had been „a battle“.

She said: „I have phoned all the parents and got a picture of who is wanting to return – and I fully support whatever decision they make, because it’s not my place to judge.“

Less than a mile away at Eldon Primary School, head teacher Azra Butt has also been surveying parents, staff and pupils about a possible reopening.

She said parents were „highly sceptical“ about a return while local infection rates were at current levels and that staff were also „anxious“.

„I will risk assess for a time when it is right for our school to open to some pupils, ensuring safety for all,“ she said.

‘We feel its too soon’

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Tarleton Community Primary School

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Head teacher Chris Upton said staff and parents felt it was ‘too soon’ for children to return to school

At Tarleton Community Primary School in Preston, head teacher Chris Upton said schools were „desperately trying to be ready for 1 June“.

„But they must look at their unique circumstances and ask that ultimate question – with the information I have now, with the confines of my building and staff available to me, is it safe or even possible to open? If it is not, then they shouldn’t open.

„The overwhelming view currently from staff and parents is that it is too soon, as the North West lags London in terms of infection rates,“ he said.

‘Don’t make any promises’

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Gary Spracklen

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Gary Spracklen has been dressing up for YouTube broadcasts to engage pupils during lockdown

Gary Spracklen, head teacher at The Prince of Wales School in Dorchester, urged parents not to make any promises to children about when school would return. And when they do return, he has a plan to communicate social distancing to the youngsters.

„We’re not going to divide our children into small groups or bubbles – we’re going to divide them into mini-kingdoms,“ he said.

„To keep safe, children will need to stay in these kingdoms and not visit other kingdoms until it’s safe to do so.“

Mr Spracklen said guidance that Year 6 children should be among the first to return because they were preparing to transition to secondary school excluded middle schools.

He said: „During the return to school from lockdown, I see no reason why pupils in Year 4 and Year 8 in a three-tier model should not be treated as equally as important as Year 6 pupils preparing for transition in a two-tier primary and secondary education model.“

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