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Michael Gove tells teaching unions and councils to remember their ‘responsibilities’ amid row over school reopening plans

The Cabinet Office minister said it was “safe to have schools reopen”.

3 min read

Teachers’ unions and councils should “look to their responsibilities” if they “really care about children”, Michael Gove has said, amid a bitter row over plans to get more kids back to school from next month.

The Cabinet Office minister urged teachers’ representatives to “respectfully look again” after they raised a string of concerns over the phased reopening plan.

Under the lockdown-easing ‘roadmap’ set out by ministers this week, primary school children in reception, year one and year six are expected to return to school in reduced class sizes from 1 June.

But unions have warned the scientific evidence behind the plan appears “weak”, and have ruled out a reopening until a national test and trace scheme for the virus is rolled out.

Unions also want more guarantees over the personal safety of teachers, and want local authorities to be able to close schools again if new cases of the virus emerge. 

Doctors’ association the BMA this weekend threw its weight behind those demands, saying teachers were “absolutely right” to prioritise testing, while local authorities including Liverpool, Hartlepool and Greater Manchester have signalled their objections to the reopening date.

But Mr Gove told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “I respectfully ask them to think again, to broaden the range of scientific advice they look at.

“I know the BMA has the best interest of its members at heart, but actually the clear clinical and scientific advice is that it is safe to have schools reopen, if we keep to social distancing.”

"They want to be safe - we can keep them safe" - Michael Gove on teachers

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

He added: “So if you really care about children, you’ll want them to be in school, you’ll want them to have new opportunities. So look to your responsibilities."

Mr Gove said he would encourage unions to “think about future of the children”, and urged them to consider both the scientific evidence and how reopening had taken place in other countries.

“Teachers want to be in the classroom, they want to be safe - we can keep them safe,” he said.

But Labour has called on the Government to stop “dialling up the rhetoric”, with Mr Gove’s opposite number Rachel Reeves urging ministers “to work with teachers, parents and the teaching unions to get this right”.

“We need more transparency from government,” the Shadow Cabinet Office minister told Sky's Niall Paterson.

She added: “The Prime Minister said last Sunday that all the decisions that are going to made about easing lockdown will be based on the science.

“And here we are, a week later, and those details have not been published and that is a cause for concern and adds to the anxiety amongst teachers and teaching staff and parents about safety.”

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