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Boris Johnson urged to 'draw back' from reopening primary schools on Monday in union's final plea

Ewan Somerville
PA

A teaching union has urged ministers to “draw back” from plans to reopen primary schools on Monday after scientific advisers warned it may be premature to ease lockdown.

Boris Johnson is pressing ahead with plans to get pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return on June 1 despite fierce objection from teaching unions and dissent from councils.

But the National Education Union reignited its row with ministers on Saturday, insisting the intervention from three Sage members “changes everything” and “undermines” the plan.

The union, which has 450,000 members, also called for a tried and tested contact tracing system before classrooms reopen to more pupils.

School leaders have given a glimpse into the socially-distanced school future (PA)

It comes after top scientists Professor Peter Horby, Sir Jeremy Farar and Professor John Edmunds - all members of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) - warned the next easing of lockdown from Monday may be too soon.

Professor Calum Semple, another Sage member, insisted that a “brave” political decision had been taken on schools reopening “were everything normal”, but cautioned that high levels of transmission were still being seen, the BBC reported.

“Essentially we’re lifting the lid on a boiling pan and it’s just going to bubble over,” he said. “We need to get it down to simmer before we take the lid off, and it’s too early.”

Pirmary schools across the country are getting ready to reopen on Monday (PA)

In a statement just 36 hours before schools are due to open, NEU general secretaries Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted said: “No-one can now confidently assert that it is safe to open schools more widely from Monday.

“Opening schools more widely runs the risk of increasing the R rate and therefore the level of risk to staff and to parents. That risk can only be mitigated if contact tracing is running successfully.

“Even at this late stage, we call on the Government to draw back from wider opening of primary schools from Monday.

Boris Johnson is pressing ahead with plans to reopen primary schools (PA)

“Instead we urge Government to engage in talks with the profession and the unions, including the NEU, about how to open schools more widely once the contact-tracing system is shown to be working."

Earlier this month the Trade Union Congress spearheaded a joint letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisting it is not safe to reopen schools.

At least 20 local authorities in England have defied the Prime Minister and urged schools not to reopen on safety grounds.

But a new poll of 2,000 heads by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) found that nine out of ten members intended to open their schools.

The school leaders' union also found that most headteachers - 77.6 per cent - said they will take a flexible approach using rotas and a smaller number of year groups when they increase their numbers from Monday and the week after.

Earlier this week, the PM said the Government's five tests had been met so primary schools could reopen.