UK

First step in the great UNLOCKING starts in England today

Today sees the start of England’s great unlocking, with two friends allowed to meet outside socially, families allowed to see loved ones in care homes and schools welcoming back pupils. 

Boris Johnson said he hoped the tentative softening of restrictions marked a ‘big step’ on his ‘road map to freedom’ – a plan which could see all Covid measures lifted by June 21.

As well as pupils returning to classrooms for the first time in at least two months, the rules around meeting with a person from another household outdoors will be loosened to permit recreation and not just exercise.

While the ‘stay at home’ message will remain in place, it means people can leave home to meet one other person for a coffee or picnic.

The Prime Minister told the Telegraph that even though it was ‘only a small relaxation of the rules’, this week’s changes would bring ‘joy and relief’ to families after months of ‘tough restrictions’.

Mr Johnson, asked on Sunday about the risks involved with reopening more than 20,000 schools, echoed the warnings of education experts that more damage was being done to pupils by keeping them at home than having them return to in-person lessons.

‘I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen,’ he said on a visit to a north London vaccination centre.

Social media users today welcomed the news that lockdown measures would begin being eased from today

Social media users today welcomed the news that lockdown measures would begin being eased from today 

School time traffic builds up on the A3 road into London at Kingston Vale after pupils were welcomed back to classrooms

School time traffic builds up on the A3 road into London at Kingston Vale after pupils were welcomed back to classrooms 

Today social media users celebrated the news of England’s reopening, while others joked that it would be tricky to have a picnic in the chilly weather.    

Meanwhile, others were delighted at finally being able to visit their loved ones in care homes again.  

Andrea Johnson tweeted: ‘Today is a joyous day, my mum can visit her mum in her care home. The grandchildren & great grandchildren have recorded videos for her. Finally my mum gets her long-awaited moment.’

And Dr Richard Pile wrote: ‘Today my wife is allowed to visit our son inside his care home. No hugs but they are both very excited! I’m a bit jealous. A big step forward.’

It comes after Amanda Spielman, England’s chief schools inspector, expressed concern about eating disorders and self-harming among children after she said pupils endured ‘boredom, loneliness, misery and anxiety’ during England’s third lockdown.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he was looking at proposals that included a five-term academic year, a shorter summer holiday and longer school days to help pupils catch up on lost learning during the pandemic in ‘transformative’ measures not seen since the Second World War.

But Ofsted chief Ms Spielman, asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday for her opinion, said such ideas had fallen by the wayside in the past and that any proposals should have the support of parents.

‘I think a number of schools have experimented over the last couple of decades with things like five-term years and I don’t think many of those have persisted,’ she said.

Labour is calling for catch-up breakfast clubs before the school day starts, with leader Sir Keir Starmer and his shadow education secretary Kate Green due to argue during a visit to a school in east London on Monday that the concept would allow for both extra socialising and learning.

Children arrive at Outwood Academy in Woodlands, Doncaster, on the first day back

Children arrive at Outwood Academy in Woodlands, Doncaster, on the first day back 

Twitter users celebrated the news of England's reopening, while others joked that it would be tricky to have a picnic in the chilly weather

Twitter users celebrated the news of England’s reopening, while others joked that it would be tricky to have a picnic in the chilly weather

The party said its analysis of Government data suggested children have each lost an average of 109 face-to-face school days since the first lockdown in March 2020.

Secondary school pupils, who are likely to have their return staggered over the week to allow for mass testing, are being asked to take three voluntary Covid-19 tests on site and one at home over the first fortnight. They will then be sent home-testing kits to do twice-weekly.

The Department for Education (DfE) is also advising secondary school students to wear face coverings wherever social distancing cannot be maintained, including in the classroom.

But primary school children are not being asked to carry out Covid-19 tests or wear face masks on their return.

Some children will also return to classrooms in Northern Ireland for the first time since December.

P1 to P3 pupils will return to class but are set to go back to remote learning after two weeks.

First Minister Arlene Foster has expressed hope that those primary pupils will ultimately be able to remain in school.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of care home residents in England will be able to receive indoor visits from a nominated friend or relative as of this week.

Visitors will be tested prior to visits, wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and be asked to keep physical contact to a minimum.

Handholding is permitted but hugs and kissing are not, to help reduce the chance of spreading the virus, the Government has said in its latest visiting guidance.

There were further positive signs over the weekend that the virus is being suppressed.

The Government said a further 82 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Sunday – the first time that fewer than 100 deaths have been reported since October 19.

The declining case rate, with a further 5,177 cases recorded on Sunday, has led to renewed calls for the Prime Minister to accelerate the plan for lifting the lockdown.

Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) made up of lockdown-sceptic Conservative MPs, said: ‘With the speed that we’re seeing deaths, hospitalisations and infections drop, I think when we get to the end of April it’s going to look a bit odd that the Government’s road map still has another two months nearly to run.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that the Government ‘should bring forward the road map rather than be tied to the dates it’s already set out’.

Across the whole of the UK, more than 1.1 million people have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, while 22.2 million first doses have been administered, with people aged between 56 and 59 being invited to book for a jab from this week.

First day back at school: Millions of pupils in England return to classes TODAY after two months of home-learning – as teachers tell of ‘immense relief’ tied to little apprehension’ amid chaos over masks and Covid testing

By Jemma Carr for MailOnline 

Millions of school pupils are returning to classrooms this morning after two months of home-learning in the first step of Boris Johnson‘s ‘one-way road to freedom’ post-lockdown.

Teachers have described their ‘immense relief tied to a little apprehension’ at students heading back to school – amid chaos over non-compulsory testing schemes and fears over lax mask wearing.

Most of Britain’s primary schools will reopen their doors this morning, while secondary school students will head back in stages to ensure Covid tests can be carried out.

Three Covid tests will be conducted  in school as a union boss says on-site testing facilities look like ‘field hospitals’. At-home testing will be in place from then on.

Students will also need to wear masks in class for ‘weeks’.

But Covid tests – which involve swabs of the nose and throat – are voluntary, with teachers describing the struggle of getting parental consent.

And mask critics, including parents and MPs, say the rules will impact students’ learning. Ministers have vowed to revisit the face covering policy at the end of this month. 

The return to classrooms will no doubt come as a major relief for British students who have been forced to learn from home since December due to Covid lockdown rules.

It forms part of the Prime Minister’s ultra-cautious ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown unveiled last month, which put schools front and centre.

Millions of school pupils are returning to classrooms this morning after two months of home-learning in the first step of Boris Johnson 's 'one-way road to freedom' post-lockdown. Pictured: Sisters return to school in Leeds

Millions of school pupils are returning to classrooms this morning after two months of home-learning in the first step of Boris Johnson ‘s ‘one-way road to freedom’ post-lockdown. Pictured: Sisters return to school in Leeds 

Students and teachers rushed to social media to share their joy at heading back to school

Students and teachers rushed to social media to share their joy at heading back to school

Students and teachers alike rushed to social media to share their joy at heading back to school today.

Secondary school geography teacher Steve Harris wrote: ‘It feels strange to be wearing proper shoes again

‘Good luck to everyone going back in today.’ 

Ms Harvey – an English teacher in Somerset – shared a picture of a Covid at-home testing guide and wrote: ‘Back to school routine has a new twist. Fine by me.

‘The classroom here I come!’ 

South London headmistress Alex Hutchinson said she ‘can’t stop smiling’ ahead of the return to school – telling her students last night that she will ‘see you tomorrow’.

Head of Tanbridge House School in Horsham, West Sussex Jules White told the BBC that the return to school brings ‘immense relief tied to a little apprehension’.

Paul Whiteman, from the National Association of Head Teachers, added said students will be supported ‘socially and emotionally, not just academically’ amid concerns over the mental health impact of their period at home. 

The Association of School and College Leaders chief, Geoff Barton, has warned that a wave of non-compliance from students over the Government’s face mask rules could create ‘ramifications’ for school insurance policies.

The union – which represents secondary school heads – is writing to parents who object to new masks rules, according to the Telegraph. 

Students are being told to wear masks anywhere indoors, including classrooms, where it is impossible for secondary students to keep two metres apart.  

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured) proposed changes he likened to the sweeping reforms of the 1940s to help pupils make up for lost time

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured) proposed changes he likened to the sweeping reforms of the 1940s to help pupils make up for lost time

Previously, face coverings only had to be worn in hallways.  

A survey by the Association of School and College Leaders earlier revealed that half of secondary head teachers have struggled getting permission from parents for testing.

Mr Barton blamed this on ‘misinformation’ about the tests. 

It comes as Boris Johnson yesterday batted away concerns around today’s school return – saying the real risk to children was in not going back to class.

The Prime Minister warned that youngsters remaining at home longer than necessary would suffer in the future.

Teaching unions warn schools may have to CLOSE again if children refuse to wear masks – as millions of English pupils prepare to go back this morning 

A teaching union has suggested schools may have to close again if not enough students wear face masks – as millions of pupils return to their classrooms this morning.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)’s chief, Geoff Barton, has warned that a wave of non-compliance from students over the Government’s face mask rules could create ‘ramifications’ for school insurance policies.

The union, which represents secondary school heads, is writing to parents who object to new masks rules, according to the Telegraph. 

Students are being told to wear masks anywhere indoors, including classrooms, where it is impossible for secondary students to keep two metres apart.  

Ahead of millions returning to their classrooms, Mr Johnson was asked about lingering fears over Covid infections.

But he replied: ‘You ask about the risk [of schools returning] – I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen.’

His comments came as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson proposed changes he likened to the sweeping reforms of the 1940s to help pupils make up for lost time.

Innovations set to be phased in next year include longer school days and shorter holidays.

With children returning to school after two months in lockdown, Mr Johnson said he was ‘very hopeful’ of a resounding success.

He added: ‘I’m massively grateful to parents who have put up with so much throughout the pandemic and teachers who have done an amazing job of keeping going.

‘I do think we are ready, I think people want to go back, they feel it, they feel the need for it.’

Mr Williamson has pledged that today’s resumption of face-to-face teaching for all is part of ‘an irreversible approach’ to reopening.

But the return to classrooms is likely to be significantly slower than expected for some families, as most secondaries take days to set up new practices, before resuming properly next week.

However, Mr Williamson told Andrew Marr on his BBC1 show yesterday: ‘This is our first step, our real first step in terms of moving out of national lockdown and it is our schools that are leading the way. We are very much factoring in as part of the roadmap that actually schools will be staying open.

‘That is why we are taking a cautious approach because we intend for it to be an irreversible approach and that schools will continue to remain open.’

Most of Britain's primary schools will reopen their doors this morning - despite major pushback from teaching unions who call for a more staggered approach. Pictured:  Student Leah Anderson takes a coronavirus lateral flow test at Outwood Academy Adwick in Doncaster

Most of Britain’s primary schools will reopen their doors this morning – despite major pushback from teaching unions who call for a more staggered approach. Pictured:  Student Leah Anderson takes a coronavirus lateral flow test at Outwood Academy Adwick in Doncaster

He also promised that schools would reopen after the Easter holidays, even though the impact of today’s return on the virus will only become evident to scientists during the April break.

Among the most immediate concerns for secondary schools will be testing every pupil twice in the first two weeks of term, before encouraging a shift to testing themselves at home.

All secondary pupils are to be regularly tested to try to avoid schools becoming ‘vectors of transmission’. But problems with getting consent may threaten the plans. One head teacher in Halifax has said only a quarter of parents had agreed for their children to be tested, while in Tower Hamlets, east London, a school has reported that the ‘vast majority’ have opted out.

There is also concern over mask-wearing by secondary pupils, as advised by Public Health England. Some teachers fear they cannot insist on them being worn due to weak government guidance. But that will be reviewed at Easter.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)'s chief, Geoff Barton, has warned that a wave of non-compliance from students over the Government's face mask rules could create 'ramifications' for school insurance policies

It comes as Boris Johnson yesterday batted away concerns around today’s school return – saying the real risk to children was in not going back to class

Geoff Barton (pictured left), from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)’s, has warned that a wave of non-compliance from students over the Government’s face mask rules could create ‘ramifications’ for school insurance policies. It comes as Boris Johnson (pictured right) yesterday batted away concerns around today’s school return – saying the real risk to children was in not going back to class

Meanwhile Mr Williamson indicated that a ‘transformative’ reform of the entire academic year could be on the table in a review led by catch-up tsar Sir Kevan Collins. ‘We are looking at holidays, we are looking at lengthening the school day, we’re looking at a whole range of measures and we’ve asked Sir Kevan to leave no stone unturned’, he told Sky News.

He added: ‘I would see this as one of those moments, a bit like the 1944 Education Reform Act, that came out of the Second World War, about how we can be transformative in terms of changing and improving the opportunities for young people.’

But any such changes are likely to be subject to lengthy debate and phased in gradually, with the traditional teachers’ ‘perk’ of the lengthy summer holiday fiercely guarded by education unions. Paul Whiteman, of the NAHT, said he was not keen on ‘gimmicks or any quick answers done on the cheap’.

‘A properly supported long-term commitment to education and children is the only way forward’, he added.

Among the most immediate concerns for secondary schools will be testing every pupil twice in the first two weeks of term, before encouraging a shift to testing themselves at home

Among the most immediate concerns for secondary schools will be testing every pupil twice in the first two weeks of term, before encouraging a shift to testing themselves at home

Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman also sounded sceptical, telling Sky that ‘a number of schools have experimented over the last couple of decades with things like five-term years and I don’t think many of those have persisted’.

She said it was important that schools ‘go with the grain of what parents will embrace to make sure that all children get the very most out of their education’.

Geoff Barton, of the ASCL union, explained: ‘The next few weeks are clearly going to present challenges in reintegrating children back into the routines of school life and managing Covid safety measures.

‘Secondary schools and colleges are also expected to provide Covid tests and implement policies on face coverings. It is a very demanding situation.

‘But the immediate and overwhelming feeling will nevertheless be one of joy in once again seeing all children returning to classrooms and school communities brought back together.’

Labour is calling for catch-up breakfast clubs at school to help children recover from what it has calculated are an average 109 days of lost face-to-face learning.

Education spokesman Kate Green said of the party’s ‘Bright Future Taskforce’ strategy: ‘Ministers should listen to Labour’s call for breakfast clubs to give every child a healthy breakfast, more time to play with their friends and extra time for teachers to provide targeted catch-up support.’ 

How will lockdown ease in the roadmap?  

Step One Part One: March 8

From March 8, all pupils and students will return to schools and colleges across England.

So-called wrap-around childcare will also be allowed to resume, paving the way for after and before school clubs to reopen.

People will be allowed to meet one other person outside for recreation, for example, to have a picnic or to meet for coffee.

Care home residents will be able to have one regular named visitor.

The Government’s stay at home order will remain in place, with travel for non-essential purposes still banned.

Step One Part Two: March 29

From March 29, outdoor gatherings of up to six people or a larger group from up to two households will be allowed. These gatherings will be allowed to happen in private gardens.

Outdoor sports like tennis and basketball will be allowed to reopen and people will also be able to take part in formally organised outdoor sports.

It is at this point that the Government’s stay at home guidance will end, to be replaced by ministers encouraging people to ‘stay local’.

However, the Government is expected not to define what constitutes local, instead choosing to rely on people using their common sense to decide on journeys.

People will still be told to work from home wherever possible while international travel will still be banned unless it is for essential purposes.

Step Two: April 12

Nom-essential retail will be allowed to reopen as well as personal care premises like hairdressers, barbers and nail salons.

Public buildings like libraries, museums and art galleries will be allowed to welcome back customers.

Meanwhile, hospitality venues and outdoor attractions like theme parks will be given the green light to reopen in some form.

However, there will still be rules on household mixing: Essentially any activity which involves being indoors will be restricted to members of the same household.

Gyms and swimming pools will also reopen from April 12 but only on the basis that people go on their own or with their own household.

Pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen but at this point they will only be able to have customers outdoors.

Any visits to a pub or restuarant will have to comply with the rules on social contact, so no more than two households or the rule of six.

The Government will not be bringing back the old requirement for people to order a substantial meal with alcohol while the old 10pm curfew will be ditched.

All customers at hospitality venues will also have to be seated when they order food or drink, with ordering at the bar prohibited.

Campsites and holiday lets where indoor facilities are not shared with other households can also reopen but trips must be restricted a single household.

Funerals will be allowed to continue with up to 30 people, while the rules on wedding receptions will be eased to allow the number of guests to increase from six to 15.

Step Three: May 17

The two household and rule of six requirements for outdoor gatherings will be ditched but gatherings of more than 30 people in places like parks will still be banned.

Crucially, mixing indoors will be allowed again. The rule of six or a larger group from up to two households will be allowed to meet.

However, this will be kept under review by ministers to see if rules could be relaxed still further.

This is also the point at which pubs and restaurants and other hospitality venues will be able to open indoors, with the rule of six and two household limit in place. But groups meeting outdoors at pubs will be allowed to be bigger.

Entertainment venues like cinemas and children’s play areas will be able to reopen, as will hotels and B&Bs. Indoor adult sports groups and exercise classes can also reopen.

Changes will also be made to sporting and performance events in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half full


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