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Union tells headteachers to reopen schools next month as study shows lockdown will increase inequality

There is an ongoing row between unions and minister about school reopening (PA)

3 min read

A teaching union has told heads they should begin the phased re-opening of primary schools next month after getting assurances from the Government it will be safe to do so.

It comes amid an ongoing row between ministers and trade unions over the plan to get Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils back in the classroom on June 1.

On Sunday Michael Gove said teachers should “look to their responsibilities” if they “really care about children”.

The Cabinet Office Minister said youngsters “only have one chance for an education”, as he warned gains in closing the gap between the rich and poor made in the past decade were being lost in lockdown.

So far there has been resistance against the re-opening plans as unions have warned the scientific evidence behind it appears “weak”, and have ruled out a reopening until a national test and trace scheme for the virus is rolled out.

But after a meeting with the Government's chief medical officer and chief scientific officer on Friday, the Association of School and College Leaders has now given their members the go-ahead to restart classes.

Their general secretary Geoff Barton, who previously described the plans as  “frankly unfathomable”, said: “We were reassured by the feedback we received from government scientific advisers on Friday, and we continue to support our members in preparing for the reopening of schools from June 1.”

He added that he still had concerns, while Patrick Roach, general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, said he was left with "more questions than answers" after the briefing.

It comes as a major study showed keeping schools closed to tackle the pandemic is almost certain to increase educational inequalities.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies analysed data from more than 4,000 families in England and found that by the end of this month, children in better-off families will have received a week-and-a-half more home learning than children in the poorest households during the closures.

They said if children do not go back to school until September, the gap between the most affluent and the poorest pupils will double to three school weeks.

And the survey highlighted a string of advantages enjoyed by children from affluent families, such as easier access to computers and the internet as well as study space and private or family tuition, which less well-off kids do not.

Lucy Kraftman, a research economist at the IFS, said: “These differences will likely widen pre-existing gaps in test scores between children from different backgrounds.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We will do whatever we can to make sure no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus.

"We have set out plans for a phased return of some year groups from June 1 at the earliest, in line with scientific advice."

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