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Class sizes capped at 15 as government eyes June return of primary schools amid union fury

The National Education Union has branded the Government’s timetable for schools ‘reckless’.

3 min read

Class sizes will be capped at 15 pupils under Government plans to reopen schools in June “at the earliest”.

The move is designed to ensure that social distancing measures, aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus, can be followed as young children return to school.

But the “reckless” plans have been strongly criticised by the National Education Union.

The Government has said that, from June 1, primary school pupils in reception, year one and year six will be asked to come back to the classroom.

But the fresh guidance makes clear that children could be asked to attend “a nearby school” if their usual place of learning “cannot achieve” the small group sizes specified.

“This might be because there are not enough classrooms or spaces available in the setting or because they do not have enough available teachers or staff to supervise the groups,” the DfE document says.

Schools are also being advised not to issue teachers with face coverings or face masks, with the Government instead recommending a focus on “cleaning and hygiene” as the best method to tackle the virus.

“The majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work, even if they are not always able to maintain a distance of 2 metres from others,” it says.

“This timetable is reckless. This timetable is simply not safe" - Mary Bousted, National Education Union

But the move is likely to anger some education unions, who have argued that teachers will need the same protections as other frontline public sector staff as they return to work.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said her organisation wanted “schools to move to a wider opening as soon as it is safe to do so” but warned it was “not safe yet”.

And she said: “This timetable is reckless. This timetable is simply not safe. Staff in schools and colleges are asking today for the evidence behind the decision to select some year groups.

“Education staff do not feel reassured that the Government is taking these steps with public health in mind. Heads have been inundated with questions and queries from their staff and from parents. 

“The Government has stoked teachers' anxiety and triggered real confusion because the announcement is inconsistent on the importance of social distancing and how or whether it can be achieved in schools.”

The Department for Education has said its “ambition” is for all primary school year groups to be brought back before the summer holidays “for a month in feasible”, although it has said this timeframe will be “kept under review”.

They added: “We will only welcome back additional year groups if the most up-to-date assessment of the risk posed by the virus indicates it is appropriate to have larger numbers of children within schools. 

“The safety of children and staff is our utmost priority.”

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