Thank you for contacting me about the phased wider reopening of schools.
Schools are to be commended for remaining open during this crisis for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. It is also welcome that many schools have now begun to welcome more children back. But I acknowledge that teachers and parents have a range of concerns and want greater certainty.
In particular, parents want to know about the health risks (and will, I am sure, be reassured by the testing which has been offered) and are also worried about children missing out on learning. I share this concern. We must be imaginative as we support remote education and open minded about how best to support children during the summer months and next academic year.
Everyone is in agreement that the safety of children and teachers must come first. It is most welcome that progress continues to be made in reducing the transmission of coronavirus, and as a result primary schools in England are welcoming back children in key year groups – nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6. From 15 June, secondary schools will also be able to welcome back students in Year 10 and Year 12, limited to a quarter of the cohort at any one time.
Many people have contacted me about the next steps in wider opening. I have been in touch with colleagues at the Department for Education and am told further announcements are due shortly. It is the intention to bring all children back to school in September.
Responding to the five tests the NEU has set as prerequisites to reopening schools, I am pleased to say that we now have much lower numbers of COVID-19 cases and a reduced transmission rate. Guidance has been set out on how to implement protective measures in schools.
Ministers have confirmed that all those children eligible to attend and members of their household will have access to testing if they display symptoms of coronavirus. The guidance also covers the actions to take if anyone develops symptoms or tests positive for coronavirus, as well as advice for shielded and clinically vulnerable pupils and staff, and those living with a shielded or critically vulnerable person.
I understand that not all schools were able to open on 1 June, but am glad to see that as of 8 June over 70 per cent of primary schools had reopened to the target year groups. Ministers will continue to support and work with the sector to ensure that any schools experiencing difficulties are able to open more widely as soon as possible.
If you live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and have any of the symptoms of coronavirus, you can now ask for a test through the NHS website.
Priority access to testing is available to all essential workers. This includes anyone involved in education, childcare or social work. Education settings as employers can book tests through an online digital portal. There is also an option for employees to book tests directly on the portal.
NHS Test and Trace has been launched and will monitor cases of coronavirus across England, advising anyone who has come into contact with a confirmed case to isolate.
Thousands of contact tracers are being recruited to support contact tracing and more will be recruited if needed.
In an educational setting, where a child, young person or staff member tests positive, the rest of their class or group within their childcare or education setting should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 14 days. The other household members of that wider class or group do not need to self-isolate unless the child, young person or staff member they live with in that group subsequently develops symptoms.
As part of the national programme, if other cases are detected within the cohort or in the wider setting, Public Health England’s local health protection teams will conduct a rapid investigation and will advise schools and other settings on the most appropriate action to take.
I am aware that there is some discussion linking inflammatory symptoms in children to Covid-19. I do, however, want to stress that the youngest in our society are at least risk from the current pandemic. Furthermore, the aforementioned inflammatory symptoms in children are highly infrequent events – and not all of those affected tested positive for Covid-19.