Children across England have been returning to primary school, but early indications suggest the number of pupils back in the classroom varies significantly depending on local area.
Schools have begun reopening to pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in England, and nurseries have also opened their doors to more children as lockdown measures have been eased across the country.
But the proportion of schools reopening to more pupils this week is a mixed picture across England – with some local authorities reporting no schools would admit more children on Monday.
A survey of councils by the PA news agency has found dozens of local authorities across England, predominantly in the north, were advising against a return to school on Monday amid safety concerns.
Durham County Council has advised 214 primary schools to delay reopening until June 15 amid a higher Covid-19 infection rate in the area and the local authority believes all schools are following their advice.
None of the 120 primary schools in Liverpool reopened to more year groups on Monday, according to the city council, following opposition from the local authority towards the Government’s plans.
But in some areas of England – such as Kingston in London and Hertfordshire – local authorities report the vast majority of primary schools are providing some provision for priority year groups from Monday.
Nearly all the primary schools in Cornwall have reopened to more pupils, but the council is only expecting 50% of the eligible pupils in over the coming weeks.
Schools, colleges and nurseries closed 10 weeks ago due to the Covid-19 outbreak, remaining open only for vulnerable youngsters and the children of key workers.
It is not yet clear how many parents opted to send their children back to school but a recent survey suggests heads were expecting around half of families to keep pupils at home.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the expected level of pupil attendance was “highly variable”, with heads reporting that between 40% and 70% of families are expected to take up places as they phase in the eligible year groups.
He added that the picture on the wider opening of schools was “very mixed” due to different approaches by councils, constraints on the space available in schools and the availability of staff.
“This means some schools will not open this week, and there will be schools which are simply unable to bring in all the eligible year groups, that is Reception, Year 1 and Year 6,” Mr Barton said.
He warned that an increase in demand for places for key workers’ children will be “extremely challenging” for primary schools to accommodate in addition to bringing in the eligible year groups.
Cathy Moden, headteacher of Hiltingbury Infant School in Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire, said she had anticipated 45 of the 90 children in Reception to attend on Monday but only 39 turned up.
Ms Moden said: “I do expect it to increase, I think some parents have made a decision on what they have heard in the media, I have heard from some parents they aren’t ready yet to send their children.”
Kieron Smith, from Blyth in Northumberland, who has a son in Reception, told PA he will not be sending his child back to school until he has more confidence in the Government’s approach.
He said: “All in all, it’s not worth it. It’s not a risk I’m able to tolerate. The Government have not assured us of our children’s safety.”
The Government’s aim is for all primary school pupils to return to school before the summer break.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “We will be arguing that a full return before the summer break is not possible based on the advice we have from the Department for Education.
“Despite the narrative from the Government, the level of confidence for a return to schools remains low.”
Justine Roberts, founder and CEO of Mumsnet, said: “There seem to have been plenty of tears – from children and from parents – at school gates this morning, and many of our users are saying they’re prepared to withdraw their children again if they judge it necessary.
“We’re also seeing plenty who say they won’t send their children back at all until they are more confident that it’s safe.”
Downing Street said it expected the majority of primary schools in England to open to more children this week.
“This is the start of a cautious and phased return during which attendance will grow over time,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
But the spokesman added that plans for all children in primary schools to have a month in class before the summer holidays “remain under review”.