Boris Johnson needs an urgent national arrange to get all pupils back to school in England from September, with an army of support staff, the requisitioning of public buildings and additional help for disadvantaged students, unions and cross-party MPs have said.

As the government admitted that the majority primary pupils in England wouldn’t get back to the classroom before summer, ministers were urged to line out a comprehensive strategy or risk an “epidemic of educational poverty”.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, had hoped all primary schools within the country would reopen four weeks before the summer holidays but was forced to admit on Tuesday that this may be missed due to the problem of keeping children apart and in bubbles of 15. Government sources said scientists were reluctant to advise the watering-down of physical distancing rules at this time in the pandemic.

Another 286 coronavirus deaths were reported within the UK on Tuesday, with the amount of excess deaths since lockdown hitting 63,000 – a toll believed to be greater than anywhere else except the US.

Announcing the U-turn in the Commons, Williamson said he hoped all schools could return by September but couldn’t guarantee that might be achieved.

New statistics showed that only one in four eligible children in reception, year 1 and year 6 returned last week, undermining Johnson’s decide to allow parents back to figure to spice up the economy.

Teaching unions warned that a September start for all pupils shouldn’t be taken for granted, and involved a national recovery plan for education. “The consequences of Covid-19 are going to be felt in our education system for months to come,” said Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU).

With fears of a second spike in infections, the NEU is advising the govt to develop a national approach to “blended learning” combining education reception and faculty , with increased support for disadvantaged children, including free internet access. There are growing concerns about the disparity in quality and quantity of online learning available to pupils since lockdown.

The union also suggested the requisitioning of local public spaces, including libraries and community centres, to scale back pressure on school space. “The scale of the challenge is immense,” said Bousted. “We need a national recovery plan for education along the lines of the job recovery plan.”

A string of Conservative MPs – including the former education ministers Robert Halfon and Tim Loughton – called on the govt to consider radical measures to help pupils lagging behind after missing up to 6 months of education. Halfon, the chair of the education select committee, warned there would be an “epidemic of educational poverty” without more assistance for those most at risk of falling behind.

Schools may need to build additional portable buildings or find temporary accommodation in sports halls or empty offices to accommodate more children safely, she said.

“Some worry that the economy is clearly being prioritised and education is not being prioritised at the same level. From everything that’s been said, [children] could be going to theme parks and sitting in pub gardens with their parents, or they could be shopping, but they will not be in school. That seems to be the incorrect way round. the risk is that children will get left behind during this lockdown.

“Time has a different meaning for children – two months, six months is a lifetime when you are 11 years old. Like us, children are worried. they are worried about whether life will ever be an equivalent again. Will normality ever return?”

source : www.theguardian.com

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