Ministers are launching a new drive to persuade parents in England that it will be safe for their children to return to the classroom in September.
With most pupils having been away from the classroom since March, the move comes amid concerns from some families about the potential risks when children start the new term.
The campaign – involving 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.
Pressure on Williamson
Getting schools back in September is being seen as a key test for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, already under pressure 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 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.”
Writing in the Sunday Express, Mr Williamson said the risks of students not returning to school are “too high to ignore”.
He wrote: “As for the risk from Covid-19 in schools, evidence so far indicates that schools do not appear to be a primary driver of coronavirus infections in the community.
“By grouping children into consistent ‘bubbles’, staggering start and finish times and implementing rigorous hygiene measures, we can be confident the risk is reduced to allow all children to get back into the classroom.”
‘No ifs, but buts’
Sir Keir Starmer has sought to pile the pressure on the Government, insisting pupils must return to the classroom after six months away due to the coronavirus crisis, “no ifs, no buts, no equivocation”.
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, Sir Keir said it was essential for the well-being and life chances of children that they were able to return to normal education next month.
“So, let me send a very clear message to the Prime Minister: I don’t just want all children back at school next month, I expect them back at school. No ifs, no buts, no equivocation,” he said.
“Let me be equally clear: it is the Prime Minister’s responsibility to guarantee children get the education they need and the benefit of being back with their teachers and classmates.
“My offer to help the Government re-open schools still stands, but responsibility for making it happen lies squarely at the door of Number 10.”
Test and Trace
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.”