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Education unions call for ‘plan B’ for September reopening of schools in criticism of ‘mind-boggling’ new measures

EDUCATION unions demanded a “Plan B” for schools in England today after criticising the government’s new coronavirus measures for the mandatory return of pupils in September.

The National Education Union (NEU) described the new measures as impractical and “more based on hope” than science.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs in the Commons that the new measures would include keeping class or year-groups of pupils in separate “bubbles.”

He added that schools should keep corridors “clear” of students as well as staggering break, start and finish times. Students should also avoid public transport, assemblies and singing in large groups.

Mr Williamson told MPs that the government will provide all schools and colleges with a small number of home testing kits, and official guidance says mobile units can be dispatched to schools to test anyone who has been in contact with a pupil or staff member who has tested positive.

The whole school, or all pupils in a year group, may have to self-isolate at home if schools have two or more confirmed coronavirus cases within a fortnight, the Department for Education (DfE) advice says.

But the guidance insists school closures “may not be necessary” if there are a number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 on site.

Mr Williamson revealed the plans for pupils’ mandatory return to schools and colleges on the same day schools in Leicester closed as part of the city’s lockdown extension.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said the government’s new guidance is “unlikely to address concerns” about safety and that there are “practical difficulties” in following advice.

He also stressed the need for Public Health England and SAGE to be  “in complete agreement” with ministers over the reopening of schools, and that a fully functioning test and trace system must be in place.

School leaders’ union NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman called for the government to have a “credible Plan B in place should it be required.”

And Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton warned that it will be “enormously challenging” for schools to keep children apart in year-group-sized “bubbles.”

He added: “The logistics of keeping apart many different ‘bubbles’ of children in a full school, including whole year groups comprising hundreds of pupils, is mind-boggling.”

NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said that the government must explain the “scientific basis” underpinning the decision to expand pupil bubbles to include entire year group cohorts.

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