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Teachers planning ‘week on-week off’ pattern if coronavirus surges amid Boris Johnson’s back-to-school push

The Prime Minister has described the return of schools in September as a ‘national priority’.

3 min read

Schools will teach pupils on a “week on-week off” rota if there is a fresh spike in coronavirus cases, a leading teaching union has warned Boris Johnson.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told The Telegraph that schools were “losing patience” with the Prime Minister’s drive to get all children back into the classroom from September.

And he said teachers were now being forced to make their own contingency plans because of a lack of guidance from ministers.

“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 union chief said.

He added: “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.”

The comments come as Mr Johnson prepares to make a visit to a school on Monday.

The Prime Minister has described the drive to fully reopen classrooms as a “national priority”, despite slowing some other aspects of the Government’s plan to ease lockdown. 

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 the union leader’s comments were slammed by Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, who said: “The economy relies on children going back to school. Teachers need to accept the fact that children now must be back at school.  

“Teachers should take that as an absolute imperative, not look for reasons why they can’t reopen fully. 

“It is high time that the unions got on with it. The people being damaged are children and their prospects.”

And Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Ahead of the full return of all pupils to school in September, we are continuing to do everything in our power to ensure all children can be back in their classrooms safely, as this is the best place for them to be for their education, development and wellbeing.

“There is also growing confidence among parents about their children returning. This is down to the hard work of school staff across the country who are putting in place a range of protective measures to prepare to welcome back all pupils at the start of term.”

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