Boris Johnson says 'every pupil needs to be back in school next week'

Boris Johnson says ‘absolutely every pupil needs to be back in school next week’ during virtual Q&A with parents as Dr Jenny Harries says evidence on face coverings ‘is not very strong in either direction’

  • Boris Johnson said ‘absolutely every pupil’ needs to return to school next week
  • He added that schools will be the last thing to close in case of local lockdowns
  • Dr Jenny Harries also stressed that evidence on face coverings is ‘not strong’

Boris Johnson has said ‘absolutely every pupil needs to be back in school’ starting from next week, as Dr Jenny Harries says evidence on face coverings ‘is not very strong in either direction’.  

The Prime Minister said it was vital for students to return to school starting from next week during a question-and-answer session with parents on Friday.

He added that schools are the last part of society the Government plans to close down in the case of local lockdowns, as Dr Jenny Harries stressed there was no ‘strong’ evidence on face coverings. 

Boris Johnson has said ‘absolutely every pupil needs to be back in school’ starting from next week during a Q&A with parents

Boris Johnson said: ‘Absolutely every pupil needs to be back in school next week and in the course of the succeeding days as schools go back.

‘Now is the time when a school is safe to go back to and the evidence is overwhelming that it is in the interest of the wellbeing and the health of children, young people, pupils, to be back in school rather than missing out any more.

‘So, it is the healthy, safe thing to do.’ 

On the issue of face masks for pupils, Dr Harries said: ‘The evidence on face coverings is not very strong in either direction.

‘We are continuing to learn … around how the virus transmits and it may be we do change advice in the future – that’s because we are watching the science.’

Dr Harries said: ‘At the moment the evidence is pretty stable, but it can be very reassuring in those enclosed environments for children and for teachers as well, to know that people are taking precautions.’

Boris Johnson also assured parents that schools will be the ‘very last’ thing in society they want to close down again in the case of more local lockdowns.

He said: ‘Even if there are more local lockdowns, or more measures to stop the spread of the disease locally, which I’m afraid there almost certainly will be because we are expecting more local spikes, schools will bet the very last bit of society we want to close down again.’

Parents and other residents posed questions to Boris Johnson about specific measures that are being put in place to ensure safety for pupils and staff. 

Boris Johnson also assured parents that schools will be the ‘very last’ thing in society they want to close down again in the case of more local lockdowns

How can you ensure that schools will be Covid-19 secure? Mark, Stoke-on-Trent

Boris Johnson assured parents that a number of measures have been put in place to ensure schools remain Covid-secure. 

Mark, from Stoke-on-Trent, asked the Prime Minister how these measures will prevent staff who are clinically vulnerable, or those who live with other vulnerable people.

Boris Johnson said that schools have put in one-way systems, have hand gel stations stationed around the schools and pupils are being given basic instructions to curb the spread of the virus.

Children are being told to wash their hands and observe social distancing to avoid transmission. 

Dr Harries added: ‘There is a lot of evidence accumulating that transmission in schools is low, it can happen but it is not frequent. 

‘It is much more likely to be reflecting what is happening in your community than really being a focus in the school. 

If there are cases in the community, you may occasionally see one in the school.’  

Putting in one-way systems, hand gel everywhere, giving pupils basic instruction ‘wash your hands, avoid transmission, observe social distancing’

What preparations are you making to ensure that even if the physical attendance is disrupted over the course of the year by short-term localised lockdowns, schooling and education are not similarly disrupted? Jacqueline, Norwich 

Dr Harries said parents and teachers should not assume that the whole school will be affected if a single student or teacher becomes ill following the schools reopening.

She said: ‘The whole purpose of having the safety controls in the school is to ensure that we have, as the Prime Minister has said, bubbles or collections of children which are well demarcated socially, so they interact with each other but not too wide a group’. 

Dr Harries said parents and teachers should not assume that the whole school will be affected if a single student or teacher becomes ill following the schools reopening

She added that these stringent measures ensure that small groups can safely be asked to self-isolating without putting the whole school at risk.

Boris Johnson added: ‘Even if there are more local lockdowns, or more measures to stop the spread of the disease locally, which I’m afraid there almost certainly will be because we are expecting more local spikes, schools will bet the very last bit of society we want to close down again.’ 

If a child falls sick in a classroom or has a high temperature all of a sudden, how will this be approached? Do pupils within the class and teacher need to self-isolate for 14 days? Abdus, London

Dr Harries said that teachers deal with sickness in classrooms every single day, as children often have a bit of sickness which teachers are ‘very good at handling’. 

She added that there is guidance informing schools how to contact a parent or guardian safely, allowing the pupil to go home and get a test. 

Dr Harries said that teachers deal with sickness in classrooms every single day, as children often have a bit of sickness which teachers are ‘very good at handling’

Dr Harries said if the student is a positive case, a local health protection team will work with school to identify bubble, and children will be watched carefully or come out of school if needed.

What additional funding will be given to schools, particularly secondary schools, to increase their capacity to deal with mental wellbeing of students and staff? Jakki, Cottingham

Boris Johnson said the Government are ‘massively increasing’ funding for mental health provision, putting in £12billion dedicated to this purpose. 

He added that they will be supporting local charities to also deal with problems of mental health and encouraging teachers and staff in schools to undergo specific training. 

Boris Johnson said the Government are ‘massively increasing’ funding for mental health provision, putting in £12billion dedicated to this purpose

The Prime Minister said: ‘I really understand that many, many children and young people, over the 160 days of the lockdown period since we closed school will have unquestionably faced stresses and strains which will have impacted on their mental health.’ 

The Government has now said they want children to wear face coverings. But what about children who are deaf or who rely on lip reading? Charlotte, Buckinghamshire 

Boris Johnson stressed his earlier comment that the Government do not want to see face masks in the classroom, either worn by teachers or pupils, as it is difficult to learn wearing a covering.  

He said: ‘There is no need for it, indeed there is a need not to have it Charlotte, because obviously it is very hard to teach or learn with a face mask on. And so that’s out.’

Boris Johnson stressed his earlier comment that the Government do not want to see face masks in the classroom, either worn by teachers or pupils

Under 11s will not be required to wear face coverings at all in schools, with any restrictions only applying to secondary school students. 

In hotspot areas where there is a local spike, face masks should be worn in corridors, or other areas where social distancing cannot be adhered to – but added that those who rely on lip reading would not be required to wear one. 

He added: ‘They should be able to lip read and to live life as normally as possible.’ 

Speaking more generally about face coverings, Dr Harries said: ‘The evidence on face coverings is not very strong in either direction.

‘We are continuing to learn … around how the virus transmits and it may be we do change advice in the future – that’s because we are watching the science.’ 

The latest Q&A session comes soon after it was confirmed that almost 100% of schools plan to welcome students back at the start of the autumn term, figures suggest. 

In the 3% of cases where schools are not having students back because they are planning transition periods for new pupils or phasing entry to alleviate pupils’s anxieties, according to the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

The school leaders’ union conducted a survey with a week to go before the first day of term and more than 4,000 school leaders responded – 4,090 in total, mostly in England, with 143 in Wales.

The NAHT data shows that 96% are organising regular additional cleaning of classrooms and school premises, 96% are creating and maintaining pupil bubble groups, 93% are staggering lunchtimes and break times, and 87% are staggering start and finish times for pupils.

The latest Q&A session (above) comes soon after it was confirmed that almost 100% of schools plan to welcome students back at the start of the autumn term, figures suggest

The data also suggests that 83% are installing signs to direct pupils and parents and 79% are installing additional hand-washing or hand sanitation units. 

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said the union’s figures showed that school leaders and their teams had worked ‘incredibly hard’ over summer to get schools ready for the autumn term. 

He also called on the Government to provide clear guidance ahead of any possible local lockdowns.

He said: ‘You don’t need a crystal ball to see that local restrictions will be a feature of the autumn and winter.

‘We’ve already seen them happening in a few areas of the UK. All we’re asking the Government to do is to meet us halfway.

‘We’ve done everything we can to get ready but we can’t have any more last-minute plans.

‘Last-minute contingencies have caused chaos so far, but a credible, widely publicised and well understood set of alternatives for schools in the event of lockdown will not only give us something to work with but will also help to reassure any families that are still nervous about coming back on day one.’ 

And an academy headteacher said that schools have a responsibility for creating the ‘safest possible environment’ to get children back into the classroom.

Fiona Chapman, executive principal of Ark Charter Academy and Ark Dickens Primary Academy schools in Portsmouth, Hampshire, said that keeping parents and pupils informed of measures being taken to prevent Covid-19 was key to providing reassurance.

She explained that at the Charter Academy secondary school, students would be kept in year bubbles and spend their days learning in ‘home’ rooms except for key stage four pupils who would move between subject rooms which would be regularly cleaned.

The 900-pupil school is using antiviral fogging machines to disinfectant classrooms between different groups with hand-sanitising stations set up around the school.

And all children and staff will be required to wear face masks in school corridors but not classrooms.

An academy headteacher previously said that schools have a responsibility for creating a safe environment for students, with Dr Harries (above) assuring parents that schools have ‘low transmission rates’

Ms Chapman said: ‘We are very lucky, to date we have had no Covid-19 incidents on site and we are keen to keep it that way.

‘What you need to do in any setting like this is provide the safest possible environment, our job is to stay open and provide a school and an education for our pupils and it seems to us only a minor step to ask our pupils to wear masks when transiting.

‘We are very keen to make sure that we mitigate as much risk as possible, we also want to embed it, it’s part of the everyday, it’s the new normal now.

‘So if that Government guidance does change or we become a local lockdown area, which I hope Portsmouth doesn’t, the pupils will be well used to putting on their face mask.’

Ms Chapman said that the staff had been involved in the risk assessment to ensure they felt safe to return to school.

She said: ‘We are expecting 100% of staff back, they are excited to be back, they are looking forward to being back on site collectively, there’s a level of excitement about that.

‘There is the knowledge that things are different, social distancing of staff is important but it’s important to provide as much normality for the children as we can, get them back into the classes, get them back into learning as this is potentially going to be long term.’ 

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