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Boris Johnson says teachers doing an ‘incredible job’ as union warns staff ‘losing patience’ with school reopening plan

Boris Johnson said it was "not right" for children to spend more time away from school (PA)

4 min read

Boris Johnson has praised the “incredible job” done by teachers to get children back in the classroom, after a major union said staff were “losing patience” with the Government.

Speaking on a school visit in East London, the Prime Minister said ministers had a “moral duty” to reopen schools in September.

And he said he had been “very impressed by the work that the teachers have done working with the unions” to make classrooms safe from coronavirus.

But his comments come after Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told The Telegraph that schools were being forced to make their own contingency plans because of a lack of guidance from ministers.

He said: “The majority of leadership teams will be thinking about different scenarios and how they can get some children to school.

“In the absence of clear guidance from the Government, leaders are making their own contingency plans.”

And the union chief said: “If you want to limit the number of children on site or travelling to and from school, a big part of that is using rotas and the obvious way to do it is ‘week on-week off’.”

The Government had to shelve a planned reopening of primary schools before the summer break, after weeks of disputes between ministers, teachers’ unions and local councils.

A study published in the Lancet last week meanwhile warned that reopening schools without a string of improvements to the Government’s Covid-19 test and trace system could prompt an even more severe second wave of cases.

And chief medical officer Chris Whitty has said the UK is now at the “outer edge” of what can be safely reopened as he said “choices will need to be made” about potentially closing other parts of the economy to allow schools to return.

Mr Barton told The Telegraph that headteachers found the Government’s messaging on the back-to-school plans “deeply patronising”, with school leaders spending the summer “scenario planning” for September.

But Mr Johnson said on Monday: “Over the last few months, teachers overall have done an incredible job looking after pupils during the crisis. But also getting ready for a full return to school in September.

“That’s the crucial thing that we all want to see. It’s not right that children should spend more time out of school.

“It’s much, much better for their health and mental wellbeing, obviously their educational prospects, if everybody comes back to school full-time in September.

“It’s our moral duty as a country to make sure that happens.”

He added: “I think it’s very important that everybody works together to ensure that our schools are safe and they are, they’re Covid secure.

“I’ve been very impressed by the work that the teachers have done working with the unions to make sure that all the schools are safe to go back to in September.

“A lot of work’s been done... making sure there’s social distancing, bubbling, staggered start times, all that kind of thing. But, basically, the plan is there, get everybody back in September. That’s the right thing for everybody in the country.“

The Prime Minister said leaving schools shuttered would be “all the more damaging” for children who had been “falling further behind” in their studies.

Elsewhere, schools minister Nick Gibb has urged parents to walk children to school and avoid public transport in a bid to prevent a second wave hitting the capital.

He told the Evening Standard: "In London, although tubes, trains and buses have almost returned to full service with social distancing still in place, we need many people who would normally take public transport to consider an alternative.

"I am now making a direct appeal to every school staff member and student who lives or works in London: plan now how you will get to school or college, and if it is possible for you to walk or cycle rather than get the bus a few stops, please do."

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green has said it is “essential that schools open in September”.

But the opposition frontbencher on Sunday said more support is needed to reassure parents and teachers that classrooms will be safe to return to.

That prompted the Conservatives to accused Labour of refusing to “take a stance and back our plans to get kids back to school in September”.

“Sir Keir Starmer won't stand up to the unions, won't take a position and shows more interest in playing politics than in our children’s wellbeing,” said party chairman Amanda Milling.

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