Yesterday (Monday 1 June) was the first day that primary schools in England could invite back pupils from reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in addition to children of key workers and vulnerable children. For the past three weeks headteachers have been preparing for this, carefully assessing all the risks both to children missing school and of course to spreading COVID-19.  Their plans take into account government guidance which puts a maximum on groups of 15 children. Decisions on when and how to return safely differ as buildings, staff availability and communities vary.

Governing boards have tested those assessments, taking their responsibilities for the interests of children seriously. A poll of National Governance Association (NGA) members undertaken by the BBC estimated just over half of primary schools opened more widely yesterday and others will be following over the next days and weeks.

NGA has urged the government to review its ambition for all primary children to return to school for a month:

Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governance Association said:  The Government has stated that its ambition was to have all primary pupils back to school for four weeks before the summer holidays; under current Government guidance it is simply not practically possible to achieve this full return. Schools do not have enough space to do this safely. Given nationally we are still at COVID alert level 4, there would have to be a transformation in the scientific and medical advice to allow a wholesale return of children to happen. And as this would now give schools less than three weeks for planning, a return for all for a month is sadly now not feasible.  Around three in four primary governors responding to the BBC’s poll said it is unlikely that all pupils will be able to return at all before the summer, let alone for four weeks. We are pleased to hear that the Government is now reviewing this ambition.  Governing boards are as frustrated as the Government at the amount of school that pupils are missing due to pandemic, especially those who are less able to use the remote education being offered. Although this is a national crisis, the risks will continue to be assessed locally by school leaders and tested by governing boards; this is the best way to ensure a gradual and safe return for children that everyone wants. Just as school leaders and governing boards are standing shoulder to shoulder at a local level, at national level NGA is pleased to be building a consensus with the leadership associations, ASCL and NAHT.”

NGA’s stance is supported by the leadership associations. Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) referred to all pupils returning as unworkable, reporting that members of ASCL were feeling “very mixed” about the return as leaders were predominantly concerned about space, staff and the variability in numbers of pupils returning.  Paul Whiteman of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) stated that schools were simply not big enough to operate safely with all pupils.

On Tuesday 9 June the Secretary of State for Eduction announced that "it was not possible with current public health guidance for all pupils to return to school for a month before the school holidays". Read the full speech to the House of Commons.

NGA’s resources for governing boards on COVID-19 are here and governors, trustees and clerks can contact us for further information and advice on our GOLDLine service.

The National Governance Association is an independent charity that aims to improve the educational standards and wellbeing of young people in state schools in England by increasing the effectiveness of governing boards and promoting high standards. We are experts in school and trust governance, providing information, advice and guidance, professional development and e-learning. We represent the views of governors, trustees and clerks at a national level and work closely with, and lobby, UK government and educational bodies.

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