Teachers have warned that the UK government’s push to reopen primary schools in England on 1 June will be a logistical nightmare.

Under the plans, schools have been told to prepare to resume reception, year 1 and year 6 classes, as well as any early years education they provide. But a growing number of councils have said they will not comply, and Welsh and Scottish schools will not reopen until later.

In accounts submitted by hundreds of teachers to the Guardian community team, there remains widespread concern about the feasibility of physical distancing in schools and the health risks that poses to pupils and staff, as well as how best to balance children’s educational needs with their welfare and wellbeing.

Some teachers say they are reassured by the preparations made by their schools but complained that ministers have failed to provide detailed guidance. They want to review the evidence published on Friday by the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, which warned that June 1 was too early to reopen safely.

Sandra, 50, a supply teacher in Doncaster, says she welcomed her primary school’s plans to initially only allow one year back in early June, with others not returning unless it is deemed safe.

She is concerned that headteachers have been left to devise their own plans without much input from government. “Some people are really anti teachers because of this and think the NHS has gone back and faced this and teachers don’t want to,” she says. “What doesn’t get taken into consideration is things like children can’t share equipment, crayons, can’t access books. It is a mammoth organisational task. If we were in normal class sizes that’d be horrifying.”

Carole Powell, a teacher and manager at the Stoke Poges School in Buckinghamshire, says reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils will each be split into six groups of 10 who will have staggered starting, lunch and break times, come in at different entrances and wash their hands in the toilets before entering their classroom. They will also be confined to separate coned or taped off areas in the playground.

Carole Powell, a teacher and manager at the Stoke Poges School



Carole Powell, a teacher and manager at the Stoke Poges School Photograph: //No Credit

Powell, 62, who is also the school’s counsellor, raised concern about the impact on the children’s mental health. “They can only play with the children in their group,” she says. “If they’re crying because it feels very strange, the teacher can’t comfort them. It would have been much better to have years five and six back first.”

Jack Marsh



Jack Marsh, a teach in south London.

Jack Marsh, 33, a teacher in Brockley, south London, who has been teaching the children of key workers during lockdown, believes it is unfeasible to open schools more widely.

“We only had three children in the last day I was in and we had to remind them 20-30 times about social distancing. They are taught in a hall where each child sits at a dining table with their own iPad and art materials. It’s going to be tricky to manage that on a larger scale.”

Marsh is also concerned that the government has dismissed the need to take children’s temperatures on arriving at school. His father, who had lung cancer, died last month after having a high temperature, and Covid-19 was recorded as a possible cause of death. “The same government that didn’t allow me to spend time with his body are now saying we don’t need to take temperatures of pupils and staff.”

Yazmin, a primary teacher in Brent, believes schools must only reopen when the scientific evidence shows it is safe. “With early years children you’re more exposed,” she says. “I turn my face and there’s a child sneezing or coughing on me, or needs comfort or help changing after a toilet accident.”


The 38-year-old, who has an autoimmune disease, is shielding until the end of June. “I’m anxiously waiting to hear if I’m going back then,” she says. “Schools should only reopen once the infection rate is really low, and has been for a considerable amount of time.”

Several teachers and support staff criticised the lack of detailed guidance for special needs education. Louise, 40, a teacher at a special school in south London, says: “We need to see that someone in government has cared enough to have thought this through.”

She and her colleagues do not intend to physically distance from their pupils, many of whom have been in care and excluded from mainstream education due to their behavioural issues, including biting and spitting.

Louise says it is often necessary to place a hand on a pupil’s shoulder or hug them to keep them or others safe. “It could be quite dangerous for the children emotionally if we suddenly withdraw all contact. Particularly because they’ve often had previous trauma, and we’d be adding to it. It’s a risk that we have to take.”




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