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The Prime Minisiter has held a series of meetings over the last week and demanded “unprecedented steps” must be taken to avoid schools shutting again anywhere in the country.
For the first time he has also raised the prospect of closing pubs, shops and restaurants in local lockdowns to allow schools to stay open.
Mr Johnson sees the reopening of schools as key to getting Britain moving again.
His decision to take control of the situation comes as teaching unions have threatened to sue if teachers “are put in danger” and many schools have been suggesting pupils will only be allowed back for half days.
But the Government sees schools reopening as “a national priority” and key to getting the country firing again by allowing people to go back to work.
The manufacturing and retail sectors have issued warnings about the impact coronavirus has had with fears that even without a second lockdown recovery is slow and there could be a “jobs bloodbath”.
In a series of meetings on the next stage of our fight against coronavirus, the Prime Minister stressed the urgency of all children being back in school in September and praised schools’ efforts in making preparations over the summer holiday to ensure all children can safely return to school next month.
It is understood that in meetings, the PM stressed that the harm done to children’s education prospects and mental health by not attending school is far more damaging than the risk posed by the virus.
He also believes that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are suffering the most.
He has told officials that there are “no excuses” for children not returning to school this September and tasked ministers and government departments to continue working around the clock to ensure all children are able to smoothly return next month.
The Government also wants to avoid a situation where teenagers taking GCSEs and A-Levels have to have their results decided by teacher predictions combined with assessment board verdicts.
The fiasco surrounding the Higher results in Scotland overseen by Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government has caused chaos north of the border this week with pupils from poorer backgrounds apparently being targeted for downgrades of their results.
The row saw the UK government bringing in safeguards to allow easier appeals in England but has hardened the resolve to return to exams again next year.
Following the plan set out in early July for how all schools can fully open in a covid-secure way, Downing Street claims that evidence from the sector shows that schools are confident about their preparedness to reopen next month, including the safety measures being put in place and workforce supply.
The Prime Minister confirmed that children’s education should be the country’s top priority over the coming months.
Where local lockdowns occcur, he said, they should be the “absolute last” sector to close – and “unprecedented steps” would be taken to avoid this happening.
He promised a “bespoke approach” from next month that would try to stop the virus through targeted action. This would focus on specific areas, such as locality, household interaction and individual businesses.
In a more severe local outbreak, businesses including shops, pubs and restaurants would all close their doors ahead of schools.
Parents will be reminded to think carefully about how they will be getting their children to and from school next month, with those who are able to be encouraged to walk, cycle or drive.
Mr Johnson will be visiting a school himself this week to see the perpartations being made and the safety measures in place.
A Number 10 source said: “Teachers and schools across the country have made heroic efforts throughout this pandemic to keep schools open for those who have needed to attend and to provide excellent teaching online for those who have stayed at home, but nothing compares to the education children receive when they are physically at school.
“The Prime Minister has repeatedly stressed the importance of all children returning to school next month and recognises how hard schools across the country are preparing throughout the summer so that schools are safe to return to and all children can get the education they need.”
Meanwhile, schools minister Nick Gibb said of pupils over 11 years of age “we will be expecting them to wear masks” but reiterated they will not be necessary in the classrooms and “there are a whole raft of other measures we’ve introduced in schools to make sure we minimise the risk of transmission”.
He said other procedures such as bubbles, increased hand hygiene and staggering lunch breaks would be in place to keep pupils distanced and in school buildings.
Mr Gibb added: “The advice we’ve had about wearing masks in school is if they’re not competently handled you can actually increase the risk of spreading the virus by having the mask worn all day in the school environment.”
Discussing the £40 million funding boost to set up dedicated transport for schools and colleges to help maintain social distancing, Mr Gibb told BBC Breakfast: “On that home to school transport there will be hygiene rules, children will be expected if possible to sit with their own year group, and they’re on those buses with the same children most days, it’s not like public transport where you’re meeting strangers.”
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