TEACHERS and pupils have safely returned to classrooms in France – making a mockery of British unions trying to block schools reopening here.
Extra coronavirus safeguards such as face masks and one-way corridors have been credited with the success of the back-to-school policy across the Channel.
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Ministers said there have been only 70 cases of coronavirus in 40,000 schools and nurseries in the past 11 days and no children or staff are seriously ill.
Emmanuel Macron's government agreed to reopen classrooms after France's militant union barons warned children must not be the "collateral victims" of the Covid-19 pandemic.
By contrast, Britain's teaching unions are locked in a furious row with the government over plans to allow some year groups to return on June 1.
Unions have ordered members not to engage with plans, and hit schools with 22 pages of demands that must be met including a ban on marking.
Scientists say the risk from the virus is low, and children will be harmed more by missing out on critical stages of development.
Ministers and officials in the UK will study the success in European nations where schools have reopened such as Germany, Belgium, Austria and Denmark.
In France around a quarter of children have returned to class if they live in areas with lower transmission rates.
Primary schools reopened on May 11 and middle schools reopened yesterday, with social distancing measures designed to reduce the risk.
All children over 11 must wear masks, and classes are limited to 15, with one child per desk.
Jean-Michel Blanquer, France's education minister, said there had been 70 cases of coronavirus in around 50 schools since reopening.
Seventy schools were closed to stop further infection, including seven in the northern town of Roubaix where just one boy was infected.
The minister said it was believed all the infected children had caught the virus outside school, but they were closed as a precaution.
"This shows that our measures are as strict as we said they would be," he said.
The British government wants nurseries and primary schools here to begin reopening from June 1, starting with reception, year one and year six pupils.
Former PM Tony Blair backed the plan last night, saying some children were receiving "no education at all".
He said: “I don't think they would say that they're putting school opening above health risks. What they're doing is basing it on the evidence, actually.
“There are countries that have reopened parts, at least, of their school system.
“If you look at all the best evidence, especially for younger children, the risks of transmission are actually quite low.”
SCIENTIFIC BACKING FOR RETURN TO SCHOOL
By Oliver Harvey
NOTHING in life can be called “risk-free” — but is there evidence a return to schools is safe for kids and teachers?
The World Health Organization’s chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan has insisted: “There have not been big outbreaks in schools.”
She added that “children are less capable of spreading” the virus.
A test in Iceland found none of 848 under-10s tested positive.
Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter of the University of Cambridge has calculated the risk of kids dying from it is one in 5.3million.
There have been contradictory scientific claims on whether kids can be significant spreaders of the virus.
A recent German study of almost 4,000 coronavirus patients found that “children may be as infectious as adults”. It advised against “unlimited reopening of schools”.
An Australian study found nine members of staff with coronavirus had come into contact with 735 students. But none had contracted it from the children.
A nine-year-old Brit infected in France did not pass it on despite being in contact with more than 170 people.
Early research from Denmark and Norway shows reopening schools has not triggered a spike in the disease.
British scientists Dr Alasdair Munro and Prof Saul Faust found children do not appear to be super-spreaders. They concluded: “Governments worldwide should allow all children back to school.”
UCL’s Professor Russell Viner backed them, but with safeguards.
He said: “Around 150 children die in car accidents in Britain every year. But parents don’t say, ‘Never get in a car’. They buy child seats and wear a seat belt.”
Statistics, of course, fail to highlight the suffering and loss felt by every bereaved family.
Yet the current science seems overwhelmingly to signal that it’s time for primary classes to return.
And the plans got a boost from further evidence suggesting that reopening schools in 22 countries has not been harmful to kids and teachers.
Croatia’s education minister Blaženka Divjak said after an EU meeting: “What has been emphasised very strongly is that these schools have very highly guarded conditions.
"Like smaller groups than in normal classes, usually groups of around 15 and very close cooperation with health ministries and epidemiological services on a national level to provide schools and teachers and parents with very detailed recommendations on how to deal with the new situation."
Alan Smithers, a professor in education at the University of Buckingham, said: "The unions have been asking for evidence, and this is it.
"So they should start cooperating fully with the Government so that our schools can open again as soon as possible."
Government scientists insist it is safe for schools to reopen in two weeks.
Calling for “perspective”, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said only two or three people in 1,000 are currently infected and the number is falling.
She said pupils will be treated as “family groups” in classes of 15 to prevent any spread of infections meaning there was no need for PPE.
Each “bubble” will not be able to mix with other kids at the school.
She added: “Teachers are brilliant, and I know as a parent they’re often much more productive than I was at trying to get my children to wash their hands and practise good hygiene.”
Schools have issued advice on how to make sure classrooms and playgrounds are as secure as possible including keeping desks further apart.
A headteachers' union the ASCL has said primaries should open after getting assurances from scientists.
But hardline teaching unions have claimed it is “not safe” for teachers to mark children’s books in case they catch Covid-19.
Almost half a million teachers have been told to refuse even talking about returning to school by the boss of the UK's biggest teaching union the NEU.
They demand teachers are allowed to wear masks and PPE — even though Public Health England says this would usually not be needed.
The Sun understands schools in parts of England could be allowed to delay their reopening — but only if coronavirus rates of infection have shot up locally.
But four unions — the NEU, GMB, Unison and Unite — have ramped up their opposition.
Their 12-step document tells union reps they should only agree to schools reopening more fully if every demand is met.
And they warn that even if every single concern is dealt with, they still expect to oppose plans to gradually reopen schools from June 1.
The document states: “It seems extremely unlikely at present that circumstances nationally will permit that.”
Entire schools should close if staffing levels drop, the document says.
Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, said unions should be “as concerned about the risk to many thousands of vulnerable children” of not being educated.
The Department for Education said: “We want children back in schools as soon as possible because being back with their teachers and friends is so important for their education and their well-being.”
Parents have been warned pupils who do not return to class may not receive online lessons from teachers due to a potential staff shortage.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove last week said the Government was “confident that children and teachers will be safe” when they do return to classrooms.
“The clear scientific and clinical advice is that it is safe to have schools reopen, accompanied with social distancing,” he told the BBC's Andrew Marr show.
The Sun Says
WE’VE heard it all now from the teachers’ unions.
You’d think they would be keener than anyone to heed the science.
But when Government experts or even the WHO contradict their desire to keep schools shut, they ignore it.
Or they wheel out the BMA — as if it represented medical opinion, rather than just being another left-wing trade union.
Their latest wheeze, part of an absurd dossier of 12 demands, is to refuse to mark homework in case members catch Covid from a book. The risk is minuscule . . . nil, if they take precautions.
Most primary kids the Government wants to return on June 1 get minimal homework anyway. And, as Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam says, they neither catch the disease severely nor pass it on like they do flu.
It is impossible to ensure that teachers will be 100 per cent safe before they return — as it is for any worker.
There WILL be a statistically tiny threat as long as this disease persists. Life is full of them. This is another. Unions cannot demand an exemption.
This protracted shutdown is already doing immense damage to pupils, especially the most disadvantaged.
The truth is the unions are capitalising on a mainly middle-class reluctance to return to work because many have lost perspective about the real risk.
In fairness, that reflects the success of the Government’s “stay home” campaign.
But now deaths and infections are falling steadily and the economy is in dire trouble we must shift gear.
Publishing daily figures of Covid recoveries will help. Not least because the total will be in the millions, as opposed to the death toll of 34,796. Awful though that latter figure is, it remains a small fraction of the overall.
So does the recent estimate of those now infected: some 148,000 in England, of a population of 56,000,000. Only one in 400 has Covid, in some areas far less.
The fact we can now test everyone with symptoms, and have 21,000 contact tracers, should drive even those figures down.
Teachers, meantime, should ponder whether their unions have lost the plot.
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