Schools are ramping up plans for reopening, despite ongoing fears they could help the spread of Covid-19.
Class sizes will be halved and even kids’ artwork banned from the walls.
Parents have been given a glimpse of how schools will operate when they reopen to more pupils as lockdown restrictions are eased.
Class sizes will be halved, start times will be staggered and contact will be severely reduced for children in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 who return to primary school from June 1.
Plans for the reopening were ramped up as the Government announced tests would be available to everyone over five who shows symptoms.
It comes as the Department of Health revealed 34,796 people had died in the UK after testing positive for coronavirus, a rise of 160 on the previous day.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted the UK proposals for schools to return is “sensible”.
He said: “It is very clear that the number of children who are badly affected by this disease is very, very, very small.
“So, the proposals that we’ve made for schools are safe and they are sensible.”
He added it is up to head teachers whether staff are allowed to wear face masks or visors while they teach.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, has urged the Government to write to him setting out the scientific evidence behind the decision.
It is understood the Government has examined an Australian study which showed kids are “not the primary drivers of Covid-19 spread” in schools.
The Government is looking at a phased reopening of primary schools from June 1.
A planning guide – from the National Education Union, Unite, Unison and GMB – advises schools that two-metre social distancing must be maintained as there is a lack of scientific evidence that children do not transmit the virus.
Political leaders in Liverpool and Hartlepool have pledged to keep schools closed while the infection rate remains higher in their regions.
And Bury council in Greater Manchester said that while high levels of the infection remain in the North West “the borough will not be reopening schools on June 1”.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said: “I worry the June 1 date is too soon for the North.
“The virus is at a different stage in different parts of the country. It can’t be fair parents and pupils here are being told it’s OK for schools to reopen when their areas still face a higher risk than the South.”
Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden repeatedly refused to rule out teachers, heads or council leaders being “penalised” for defying advice to open from June 1.
Marsden Infant and Nursery School near Huddersfield, West Yorks, has laid out markings on the floor to keep children separate.
Head teacher Frances Swallow and colleague Sarah Yates were also pictured converting the assembly and dining hall into a classroom.
At Kempsey Primary School in Worcestershire, children of key workers were photographed yesterday keeping apart while eating, studying and washing their hands. Elsewhere individual head teachers are refusing to act, while some are warning of huge problems.
Evelyn Davies, of Coldfall Primary School in north London, said: “You can’t get young kids to keep away from each other and to not touch each other, it is impossible.”
Denmark became the first European country to reopen its primary schools on April 15. Other countries with schools back open include Belgium, Austria and Portugal.
Downing Street has hinted a decision on if schools in England will return in June is likely to be made this week.
The PM’s spokesman said: “Safety comes first, but we must also be aware of the potential damage to a child’s education from not getting back in the classroom.”
How the school day will change
Class sizes: Classes will be halved to around 15 pupils to make social distancing easier. It may mean some pupils will only be in school for the mornings or afternoons. The Government accepts social distancing will not always be possible. Mixing within the same group reduces the likelihood of catching and transmitting the disease.
Drop off: Schools are likely to have to make stricter rules for picking up and dropping off children. This will help them reduce the number of adults who are coming on to the site and having contact with other children. Having fewer pupils in at any given time will reduce the number of parents. And kids will be encouraged to walk or cycle where possible.
Break time: These will be staggered to reduce the number of children in the playground at one time. It is also advised that youngsters are placed into small gangs of friends. So they will not be able to play with other children who are not in their class or group. Lunch times may be spent in the classroom rather than in a lunch hall or canteen.
Toilets: Strict hand-washing will be in place when kids arrive, come in from play, and before and after eating. The younger children will need more supervision to make sure they are washing their hands thoroughly. The new guidelines state: “Consider how to encourage young children to learn and practice these habits through games, songs and repetition.”
Equipment: Plans are being put in place to reduce the amount of books and stationery that has to be shared. Artwork that once covered the walls will have to be taken down. For the younger children Lego blocks, counting beads and other toys will have to be removed. Equipment will have to be washed after use to reduce the spread of infection.
Layout: Guidelines suggest introducing one-way systems and dividing corridors to keep kids apart. Desks and chairs should be placed 2m apart, with tape and other markers showing kids where to sit or stand. Schools will be urged to hold events and lessons outdoors where the virus does not spread as easily, while heads rearrange spaces to help pupils move freely without touching surfaces.