The Government was forced to deny last night that Chris Whitty felt ‘very unhappy’ about plans for a ‘big bang’ reopening of schools on March 8.
Downing Street knocked down claims that the chief medical officer had concerns that a full return – rather than the staggered approach called for by unions – would cause a spike in infections.
Boris Johnson has made it clear that he wants all ten million schoolchildren and staff to return on March 8.
But education sources told The Guardian Mr Whitty was ‘very unhappy’ with this.
N0 10 knocked down claims that chief medical officer Chris Whitty (pictured) had concerns over a full return – rather than the staggered approach – would cause a spike in infections
Some officials fear a mass return will increase infection rates and create problems administering pupils’ Covid tests.
Ministers and senior advisers want Mr Whitty to back a full return publicly to reassure parents and teachers, but he is said to remain ‘lukewarm’.
The Guardian has reported that he has not endorsed any media materials being distributed ahead of Monday’s announcements.
An education source told the newspaper that they believed the issue could be resolved and added: ‘No 10 will come up with a formulation of words that Whitty can live with.’
Last night, a Department for Education source branded the claim ‘absolute b******t’, and a Government source also said it was ‘categorically untrue’.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, has modelled the impact of sending all children back at once against a staggered, year-by-year approach.
It believes the first option will lead to a bigger rise in the so-called ‘R value’ – which measures how quickly the virus will spread. But it insists ministers must weigh up the risks against pupils’ wellbeing.
Officials including Mr Whitty have repeatedly stressed the damage to children of being forced to stay at home.
Mr Johnson is set to meet senior ministers today to hammer out the final details. The committee will examine the latest data on the impact of lockdown and the vaccine rollout, so they can decide how quickly to lift restrictions.
Cabinet will then rubber stamp the plans on Monday morning, before they are revealed to the Commons that afternoon.
The blueprint is likely to see schools return on March 8 along with more relaxed rules on outdoor exercise; the return of outdoor sports like golf and tennis at the end of next month and non-essential shops opening soon after Easter.
Pubs and restaurants may also be able to serve people outdoors from April – although not indoors until May but sources have warned dates could be pushed back if the data doesn’t support the restrictions being lifted.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, has modelled the impact of sending all children back at once against a staggered, year-by-year approach. Pictured, children arriving at Manor Park School in Cheshire last month
A Downing Street source told the Guardian: ‘If we need to move things to the right because of our assessment of the pandemic, then we may have to do that.’
Teaching unions want a phased return to schools. Nine organisations representing teachers, heads, support staff and governors united to warn against the Prime Minister’s plan.
They said getting all children back at once on March 8 seemed a ‘reckless action’ that could ‘trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education and risk throwing away hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus’.
In a statement, they called on the Prime Minister to only commit to the March 8 date if the scientific evidence was ‘absolutely clear that this is safe’, and he should ‘go no further than a phased return’.
Mr Johnson is due to set out a roadmap out of lockdown on Monday. But Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, wrote on the Times Educational Supplement website to urge caution rather than ‘risking a big bang that could blow up in our faces’.
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Schools are the best place for young people’s education, development and wellbeing. Pupils will return from March 8 at the earliest.’
Education unions join forces to try to block the return of ALL pupils to school on March 8 telling Boris Johnson it would be ‘reckless’ and he should use a ‘phased’ reopening that only restarts classes slowly
By David Wilcock, Whitehall Correspondent for MailOnline
Boris Johnson was warned yesterday that it would be ‘reckless’ to send all children back to school in a fortnight’s time amid calls for the reopening of classrooms to be sped up.
Nine trade unions ganged up on the PM yesterday to demand a ‘phased return’ only for millions of children who have been out of the classroom since the start of January.
Mr Johnson is expected to unveil his roadmap out of lockdown on Monday, with a March 8 restart date anticipated for schools in England.
But how many children will go back straight away is still being debated by ministers. Schools in Scotland will reopen on Monday February 22, but only to a few primary and secondary years at first, with more returning later in March.
In a letter orchestrated by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), education union leaders said they were ‘increasingly concerned’ that the Government could go ahead with a full return of all pupils in England on March 8.
The joint statement said: ‘This would seem a reckless course of action. It could trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education and risk throwing away the hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus over the course of the latest lockdown.
Nine trade unions ganged up on the PM today to demand a ‘phased return’ for millions of children who have been out of the classroom since the start of January.
All primary school pupils and those facing exams will return to classrooms in Wales by March 15 so long as the Covid-19 situation ‘continues to improve,’ Mark Drakeford said today
When are schools expected to open across Britain?
Boris Johnson has repeatedly said the Government will target March 8 to reopen schools across England.
But it is still unclear exactly how the reopening will work, with the PM due to unveil his lockdown exit roadmap on Monday.
The PM is said to want to see all pupils return on the same day but some union bosses are adamant there should be a phased return to classrooms, with the Health Secretary also said to be advocating a cautious approach.
The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed on February 16 that schools in Scotland will begin a phased reopening from Monday.
Pupils between the ages of four and eight will be the first to return to classes on that date.
No other pupils will return until at least 15 March, it was said.
Children aged between three and seven will resume face-to-face classes in Wales from Monday.
There will also be returns for some vocational learners, including apprentices, to colleges in order to access training or workplace environments for their practical qualifications.
Mark Drakeford today confirmed that all primary school pupils as well as those in Years 11 and 13 could return from March 15.
First Minister Arlene Foster said last month that schools in Northern Ireland will not reopen until at least March 8.
‘The science around the role that schools play in the overall rate of transmission is uncertain. ‘
It adds: ‘What we do know is that the full reopening of schools will bring nearly 10 million pupils and staff into circulation in England – close to one fifth of the population. This is not a small easing of lockdown restrictions. It is a massive step.
‘These factors necessitate a cautious approach with wider school and college opening phased over a period of time.’
As well as the ASCL, the statement was signed by the GMB, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), NASUWT, National Education Union (NEU), National Governance Association (NGA), Sixth Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA), Unison, and Unite.
It came as a school leader warned mass-testing will mean some pupils won’t go back to school until April.
The comments by Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis multi-academy trust which runs more than 50 schools nationwide, comes as Mr Johnson is facing opposition to his plan for widespread, simultaneous returns from teaching unions and Matt Hancock.
The academy chief is leading calls for a staggered return for pupils, insisting a secondary school with around 2,000 students would likely have to invite one year group back each week to carry out testing on such a scale.
Even if it did begin early next month as the Prime Minister proposes, such a process would not realistically be completed until the week of April 19, education bosses claim.
Mr Chalke told the Telegraph: ‘You need a waiting area, a testing area, a holding area, an administrative area and an isolation area for people who test positive.
‘You need to have someone in charge of it all, someone to assist with the testing, someone in charge of the collation of the data, someone in charge of the hosting area, someone in charge of waste disposal, someone to oversee the isolation area – it is quite an operation.’
He added that schools would become ‘a medical centre’ if more than one year group was being brought in for testing at the same time.
All primary school pupils and those facing exams will return to classrooms in Wales by March 15 so long as the Covid-19 situation ‘continues to improve,’ Mark Drakeford said yesterday.
The First Minister will announce no further changes to the country’s level four restrictions – which have been in place since December 20 – as stay-at-home rules are extended for at least another three weeks.
Children aged between three and seven will resume face-to-face classes from Monday, Mr Drakeford confirmed.
There will also be returns for some vocational learners, including apprentices, to colleges so they can access training for their practical qualifications.
‘I’ll be saying today that on Monday March 15, provided things continue to improve, all primary school children will be back in face-to-face education and those students in secondary schools who are facing examinations, we aim to get them back in the classroom as well,’ the Labour leader said.
‘And then we will carefully review as part of our deal with our teaching unions and local education authorities. We take a step, we collect the evidence, we decide what to do next.’
This post was first published on DailyMail.