All school children who show symptoms of coronavirus will be able get a COVID-19 test when pupils return to the classroom, the education secretary has confirmed.
Gavin Williamson told MPs that tests would be made available for all symptomatic pupils and teachers when schools begin to reopen as early as 1 June.
The government hopes to start a phased reopening of schools at the beginning of next month, providing the infection rate of coronavirus has dropped sufficiently by that point.
Williamson said: “Crucially all children and staff will have access to testing if they develop symptoms of coronavirus.
“This will enable a track-and-trace approach to be taken to any confirmed cases.”
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Responding to an urgent question on schools reopening in the House of Commons, Williamson acknowledged that allowing pupils to return to the classroom will be “challenging”.
He said: “We continue to follow the best medical and scientific advice and believe that this phased return is the most sensible course of action to take.
“I know that this will be challenging but I know that nursery, school and college staff will do everything in their power to start welcoming our children back to continue their education.”
The department for education published guidance for schools to reopen as part of the government’s “roadmap” for lifting the coronavirus lockdown.
Boris Johnson outlined some details of the lockdown plan in an address to the nation on Sunday evening.
The transmission rate of #coronavirus has decreased.
So we are asking primary schools in England to plan for wider opening from 1 June for children in key transition years – nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6.
— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) May 11, 2020
Under the plan, schools will reopen from 1 June in a “phased manner” so long as ministers judge it is safe at that point.
The department for education said in a statement: “The aim is that by 1 June at the earliest it will be safe for a greater number of children and young people to return to education and childcare.
“As a result, the government is asking schools and childcare providers to plan on this basis, ahead of confirmation of the scientific advice.”
Schools will be advised to reduce class sizes, stagger start times and breaks, and to increase cleaning measures.
Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey warned that social distancing for younger school year groups would be “virtually impossible”.
Williamson responded: “I have always been clear that we would give the sector as much notice as possible and we have said that if we are allowed, which it seems likely that we will be able to, we’d like to see schools opening from 1 June, giving schools as much forward notice as possible in order for them to get ready.
“We think this is a responsible and sensible approach in terms of the phased return.”