Ministers are launching an urgent new campaign to convince parents in England that it is safe to send their kids back to school next month.
The #backtoschoolsafely drive will underline the measures being put in place to minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission and suggest that classrooms are ‘the best place’ for pupils to be.
It comes amid concerns among some families about the potential risks when children start the new term, with most children having been away from schools since March.
The campaign – which will involve newspaper, digital, radio and billboard adverts – will emphasise the importance of organised learning to children’s development. It will point to guidance, endorsed by Public Health England, to ensure schools are Covid-secure – including staggered break times, increased hygiene and hand-washing and keeping pupils in consistent groups.
At the same time, staff and pupils are being encouraged to walk or cycle to school whenever possible.
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Getting schools back in September is being seen as a key test for under-fire Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who is facing widespread criticism after thousands of students had their A-levels downgraded.
He has already been forced to abandon a pledge to get some primary school pupils in England back before the summer holidays, and a second failure could be fatal for his political prospects.
Speaking ahead of the campaign’s launch on Monday, Mr Williamson said: ‘The Government is committed to doing everything necessary to deliver on our national priority of all students returning to schools and colleges in September.
‘All children deserve to be back in school as it is the best place for their education and well-being.
‘I know families are growing more confident that schools and colleges are ready and waiting to get back to teaching, with the right protective measures in place.
‘As the start of term approaches, now is the time for families to think about the practicalities of returning to school in September, whether that’s reassuring themselves that school is the best place for their child to be, or planning the school run to avoid public transport where possible.’
There are fears that older pupils could spread Covid-19 ‘just as well as adults’, while younger children are thought to be less at risk.
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said it was essential the Government had a fully effective Test and Trace programme in place if parents were to have the confidence to send their children back.
‘Labour has repeatedly called for every child to be safely back in school by September, but it has taken the Government until now to realise that it has failed to reassure parents and teachers,’ she said.
‘Their slow and chaotic handling of school reopening puts the education and well-being of a generation of children at risk.
‘We need to see a credible plan for getting children back next month, which includes getting Test, Trace and Isolate up to scratch, and ensuring pupils and staff are safe and feel confident.’
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