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Government in fresh move to get children back to school before summer

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Government in fresh move to get children back to school before summer

The Government is set to make fresh push to get more primary school children back into the classroom ahead of the summer break.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was this week forced to abandon the aim of getting all primary pupils in England back for at least a month before the holidays.

The move – following warnings schools lacked the capacity to take more pupils while observing strict social-distancing rules – led to accusations that the Government had not done enough to prepare.

Currently primary schools in England – which closed following the coronavirus lockdown in March – are opening to pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.

However, ministers will next week reaffirm that they can take children from other year groups provided they have the capacity to do so safely.

It means limiting class sizes to just 15 while ensuring that protective measures are in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

At the same time, Mr Williamson was said to be working with Boris Johnson on a long-term “catch-up” package for all pupils in England.

The moves came as the Children’s Commissioner for England issued a fresh warning that the failure to re-open schools risked undermining children’s basic right to an education.

With non-essential shops in England due to start opening on Monday, Anne Longfield said ministers appeared to have given up “quite easily” on schools.

“It has taken 200 years of campaigning to get children into the classroom, ensuring that education was a basic right for all children,” she told the Observer.

“We seem for the first time to be prepared to let that start go into reverse. And I think that is a very, very dangerous place to be.

“We heard from the Prime Minister back in April that education was one of the top three priorities for easing lockdown, but it seems to have been given up on quite easily.”

With most children not now due to return until September, it will be nearly six months since they have been in a classroom by the time they get back.

The Prime Minister was said to be particularly concerned about the impact on disadvantaged children who lack the same support at home and access to remote learning as others.

A No 10 source said: “The PM is acutely aware that school closures will have a disproportionate impact on all children, and particularly the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children.

“He appreciates the consequences of months out of school, and this package will be focused on providing extended support for children.

“The PM is so grateful for the hard work of teachers, parents and schools to keep educating children throughout this difficult period.”

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