Young children will begin returning to classrooms in Scotland and Wales today but their counterparts in England will have to wait until March 8.
The Prime Minister will unveil his roadmap this afternoon but he is facing mounting pressure from teaching unions demanding he adopt a more cautious approach.
There is growing speculation that teaching unions could strike if the premier refuses to back down.
But former head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw today demanded unions ‘do as much as is possible’ to get children back into classrooms as he warned of a ‘lost generation’.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer warned against industrial action as he said Labour would not support such a move.
Schools across England will reopen on March 8 under Boris Johnson’s lockdown exit strategy
Teaching unions warned the PM at the end of last week that it would be ‘reckless’ to send all children back to school at the same time amid warnings it could cause coronavirus infection rates to spike.
Nine trade unions joined forces to demand a phased return for millions of pupils.
But the Government is set to push ahead with a full reopening, with Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi telling ITV’s GMB programme: ‘March 8 is the date that we want to see all school children being back at school.’
Sir Michael said this morning that unions must work with the Government and teachers to ensure there is a smooth return to in-person learning.
He told GMB: ‘The Government has appointed what they are calling a catch-up tsar, someone called Kevin Collins, who… will be co-ordinating schools’ efforts and pointing to good practice.
‘I’m looking forward to the teacher unions really supporting this, and encouraging their members to do as much as is possible and to go the extra mile to support children.
‘It’s really important that this generation of youngsters is not seen as a lost generation – youngsters who feel that fate has given them a very, very bad hand, and they have suffered accordingly.
‘It’s important they get their confidence back and their self-esteem back and they look forward to the future with optimism.
‘That is why teachers and heads really need to pull together, and the unions as well supporting them, to make sure this generation is no longer seen as a lost generation.’
Sir Keir told LBC Radio this morning that Labour supports reopening all schools in England on March 8.
He said: ‘I want all of our schools ideally open on the 8th of March. That is what the Prime Minister has said and we want to see that ideally happen.’
Asked if he would support unions going on strike over the issue, he replied: ‘I don’t think there should be industrial action.
‘But I do think, the teaching unions are right to stick up for their members who have been through a really hard time in the last 12 months.
Mr Johnson’s plans for easing lockdown have been bolstered by the latest data whihc shows Covid-19 infection rates have continued to drop, with 9,834 more cases reported – a fall of 10 per cent on last week – while the 215 new daily deaths brought Britain’s total up to 120,580
‘The stop start schooling, they have been obviously in schools for key workers and there has been a lot of stress and strain on school staff and they feel they haven’t been listened to by the Government.
‘I think Gavin Williamson should get on the phone to the unions and tell them what his plan is so everybody can get round the plan to get our children back to school as soon as possible.’
The return of schools in Wales today will see children aged three to seven head back to classrooms. Some vocational college students are also going back.
The Welsh government is planning for the remaining primary school pupils as well as those in years 11 and 13 facing exam years to return from March 15 in a ‘flexible way’.
A similar approach is being taken in Scotland, with children in primaries one to three due back in Scottish schools from today along with some senior secondary pupils who need to do practical work for qualifications.
All children under school age in early learning and childcare are also returning.