Coronavirus: Home schooling to continue for most pupils until September, says minister

May 27, 2020

Most pupils should prepare to learn at home until the start of the autumn term, the schools minster has confirmed.

The government has announced that three primary school years - reception, year one and year six - will return from Monday, 1 June, prompting a battle with teaching unions.

The prime minister and the education secretary have made clear their ambition that all primary school pupils should return for a month of lessons before the summer.

But Nick Gibb shed a more doubtful note on the timetable, telling MPs on the Commons Education Committee it is "difficult to say" whether more children will return to school this term.

"Remote education, home education, will continue for the majority of pupils and young people - probably until the end of the summer term", the schools minister said.

"We do want young children to come back into school if the science indicates that it's safe to do so. It's a balance.

"We're balancing the objective to return to school with the overwhelming objective of ensuring they are as safe as possible and that returning children to school does not result in an increase in the R factor (the reproduction number of the virus).

"That's why we are taking such a very cautious approach."

The phased return of the first three year groups - announced by the prime minister on Sunday at the height of the Dominic Cummings furore - is also yet to be confirmed, Mr Gibb said.

Asked by chair Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow, why the government had presented it as a "fait accompli", he said it would be confirmed tomorrow when the Scientific Advisory Group (SAGE) releases its latest estimate of the R rate of COVID-19 in the UK.

The latest SAGE estimate last week kept the UK's rate between 0.7 and 1, the same as the previous week.

As to the return of more primary school pupils this term, Mr Gibb said: "We don't know until we see more evidence of the R factor continuing to reduce over the next few weeks."

He suggested that while the first primary school children will return full-time from next week, there may be a rota system for other young children due to lack of space in schools to implement social distancing.

Schools have received guidance from the Department for Education requiring them to reorganise their buildings to allow a maximum of 15 children per class.

Each class and their teacher will form a "bubble" that is kept separate from other children, and hand washing and classroom cleaning will be stepped up.

Mr Gibb was asked by Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis, a former teacher elected to Stoke-on-Trent North at the 2019 election, what he could do to help parents "regain confidence in the government's message" after the revelations about Mr Cummings.

Mr Gullis said the "message has been undermined" by Number 10's senior adviser, adding that "even if the law hasn't been broken, the spirit of the law has been broken".

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The schools minister replied that the phased reopening of schools was only possible due to the public's commitment to the social distancing measures and that "the more we all adhere to the rules, the more we will be able to make further progress in reopening schools".

He acknowledged that there was "a lot of anxiety" about the reopening among parents but insisted that the decision to ask younger children back first was science-led.

"Susceptibility to clinical disease is less for younger children than adults or older children", he told MPs.

Scientists are still unclear about how effectively children may spread the disease to adults.

Next week from Monday to Thursday, Dermot Murnaghan will be hosting After the Pandemic: Our New World - a series of special live programmes about what our world will be like once the pandemic is over.

We'll be joined by some of the biggest names from the worlds of culture, politics, economics, science and technology. And you can take part too. If you'd like to be in our virtual audience - from your own home - and put questions to the experts, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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