Commenting on the Prime Minister’s statement on the full reopening of schools, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
“We share the government’s aim of returning all children to school as soon as possible, but we are concerned that its decision to press ahead with a full return on 8 March may prove counterproductive and lead to more disruption.
“It is very difficult to understand why the approach in England is so different from the decisions taken in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland for a more cautious, phased approach to full school reopening, particularly as the Covid infection rate is actually higher in England than in Scotland and Wales.
“Just today, the Welsh Education Minister has said that the phased and careful approach in Wales is consistent with UK-wide advice.
“We fear that England’s less cautious approach runs the risk of increasing the rate of infection and prolonging the damaging cycle of stop-start schooling, and we will be studying the data carefully to understand the rationale for this decision.
“It is also concerning that the decision in England comes on the same day that ONS statistics suggest there is an elevated risk to education staff of contracting coronavirus, contrary to the assurances from the government over the past few months that this is not the case.
“Nevertheless, we will, of course, now work with the government to try to make this plan work as safely and sustainably as possible.
“Of immediate concern is the huge logistical challenge facing secondary schools and colleges of having to manage the mass testing of pupils for coronavirus. This requires setting up testing stations on site and having significant numbers of staff to operate them.
“This may mean that the return of pupils has to be staggered over a minimum of two weeks, and we expect the government to show a spirit of understanding.”