Plans are being made for how schools will start to reopen.
However, there is disagreement in England over whether children might be returning too soon, and how schools can be made safe.
Can schools reopen next month?
A decision will be made on 28 May as to whether nurseries and primary schools will reopen in England on 1 June.
Local councils and teaching unions are asking ministers to reconsider.
The plans are for nursery and pre-school, and Reception and Years 1 and 6 at primary school to resume next month. At secondary school and college, Years 10 and 12 would return first. This is just a tiny fraction of the regular school population.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that schools in Scotland will open on 11 August – the beginning of the autumn term.
How safe is it to reopen schools?
There are differing views on this.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove says England’s schools are safe to reopen, but did say: “You can never eliminate risk.”
However, at least 11 councils have expressed concern, and teaching union NASUWT is “unconvinced” it is “appropriate or practicable”.
Young children so far appear to be at low risk of becoming very ill from coronavirus.
How will schools reopen?
The Department for Education has issued guidance to schools in England.
It says they should:
- Have classes of no more than 15 children with one teacher, and be kept apart from others, similar to Denmark’s “protective bubble” approach
- Stagger break and lunch times, and arrival and departure times
- Clean more frequently, and reduce the use of shared items and outdoor space
In addition, children will be discouraged from taking home things like books.
Scottish schools will use what the first minister described as a “blended model”, combining part-time study in class, with some learning at home.
Wales’s education minister has said schools will only return when “it is the right time and it is the right thing to do”.
In Northern Ireland, the education minister said “practical measures” like PPE for staff, social distancing at mealtimes and safety for school transport needed to be arranged.
Who is responsible for reopening schools?
Since they were closed in March, schools have been responsible for providing places for vulnerable children and children of key workers in England.
Local authorities are responsible for supporting schools and trusts to ensure that they can accommodate these pupils, plus eligible year groups, for a 1 June reopening.
They are also responsible for monitoring demand and capacity, supporting residential special schools and assessing the risks to pupils.
Do I have to send my children to school?
At present, it is not compulsory for key worker parents to send their children to school, and there are no fines for those who have not taken up the places available to them.
It is expected that this temporary arrangement – where usual sanctions do not apply – will continue for all parents of any year groups going back in England during the summer term.
What about disadvantaged children?
As of 14 May, about 231,000 children are attending school in England – representing 2.4% of pupils who normally attend.
That includes 73,000 children classed as vulnerable by schools. The Department for Education estimates this figure represents about 14% of all vulnerable pupils.
The government is urging teachers and local authorities to encourage more youngsters from these backgrounds to go to classes each day.
What’s happening in other countries?
How are children currently being educated at home?
Schools have tried to continue a limited curriculum online, relying on parents and guardians to supervise.
To support home learning, the BBC has also launched a major programme of expanded educational content on its BBC Bitesize service, including regular daily lessons in English, Maths and other core subjects.
What about exams?
Summer exams have been cancelled in England, Wales and Scotland. This includes GCSEs and A-levels in England and Wales, plus primary school Sats national curriculum tests in England. In Scotland, Highers and Nationals will not be going ahead.
Exam watchdogs have been working together on alternative arrangements.
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