Green light to open schools? Evidence from 22 countries on the continent suggests allowing pupils back to class again has NOT been harmful to children and teachers

  • The reopening of schools in Europe has not seen a spike in coronavirus cases
  • Schools reopened across 22 EU states this week with little or no risk to families 
  • In some European schools, only older children have been allowed back in
  • Pressure is growing on the UK to send children back into classrooms next month
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Reopening schools across Europe has not caused a spike in coronavirus cases.

Evidence from 22 EU states that have restored classes suggests little or no risk to pupils, teachers or families.

The revelation piles pressure on unions resisting plans to send younger children back from June 1. The National Education Union yesterday even claimed it was not safe for teachers to mark workbooks.

The decision to reopen schools in 22 EU states, including France (pictured) where 1.4million pupils went back to their classrooms, has not caused an increase in coronavirus cases across Europe

The 22 countries, which also include Belgium (pictured) and Germany, say that there is little or no risk to pupils, families or teachers in returning students to classrooms

But an EU meeting was told that the gradual return to school had not resulted in ‘anything negative’. 

Denmark reopened primaries and nurseries a month ago and has seen infection rates continue to fall. 

Norway, which is outside the EU, has taken similar action without a rise.

Around 1.4million French pupils went back to class last week and of around 40,000 schools and nurseries only 70 were closed again following virus cases.

Schools in Denmark (pictured) have reopened primary schools and nurseries and the number of coronavirus cases are in fact decreasing

Germany have opened schools for their older children, with some even taking examinations such as this biology class in Dortmund (above)

Germany has reopened schools for older children and plans to allow younger year groups back later in the summer term.

Former prime minister Tony Blair last night backed calls for pupils to go back to school, saying some children were receiving no education at all.

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.’

Schools in Belgium (pictured) have been maintaining strict social distancing guidelines in their classrooms 

Labour-run Bury council yesterday became the latest local authority to reject the Government’s timetable for sending children back to class. It joins Hartlepool, Liverpool and Stockport.

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden refused to rule out penalties for town halls that refuse to reopen schools from June 1. In other developments:

  •  The UK death toll rose by 160, the lowest daily increase since the lockdown began, taking the total to 34,796;
  • In a blow to millions hoping to go abroad this summer, officials revealed quarantine for travellers arriving in Britain could be introduced by June;
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock expanded eligibility for tests – they are now available to all over-fives with symptoms;
  • Losing your sense of taste or smell was added to the official list of symptoms amid fears cases have been missed;
  • Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said we may have to ‘learn to live with’ the virus for several years;
  • There was new hope of a vaccine after early data from a jab developed by US firm Moderna showed it produced protective antibodies;
  • Coronavirus outbreaks have now been reported in almost four in ten care homes in England – 5,889 in total;
  • Two million self-employed workers have applied for grants worth £6billion.

Jonathan Van-Tam (pictured), the UK’s deputy chief medical officer, says we may have to live with the virus for several years

Blazenka Divjak, education minister of Croatia, which holds the rotating EU presidency, told European colleagues yesterday: ‘We haven’t heard anything negative about the reopening of schools, but it is probably too early to have final conclusions.’ 

She noted at the video meeting that schools had imposed ‘very high security conditions’ including smaller class sizes and very close cooperation with health ministries and epidemiological services.

She stressed the results needed ‘to be treated with caution’ as the return to normal life was in its very early stages.

UK officials say they hoped the evidence from other countries would reassure teachers.

A source at the Department for Education said: ‘We looked closely at international examples when drawing up our plans for a phased return.

‘These initial findings from European countries are encouraging and suggest that our similarly cautious approach will minimise the risk of transmission.’

The Government wants a phased reopening from June 1, with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils going back first.

Professor Van-Tam said children were not ‘high-output transmitters’ of Covid-19. 

Mr Blair told BBC Newsnight: ‘If you look at all the best evidence, and my Institute has assembled a lot of the different data on this, especially for younger children, the risks of transmission are actually quite low.

Many significant figures in Britain, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair (pictured) have asked for UK schools to reopen as some children are not receiving any education at all

‘Private schools will have been educating their children throughout this.

‘Parts of the state system will have been. But then there are some children who will have been having no education at all.’

The National Education Union yesterday urged its members to bombard head teachers with health and safety queries.

The union said schools should make it clear that ‘no marking should take place’ for health and safety reasons, while library books should be regularly sanitised. 

The June 1 reopening date applies only to English schools.

IN FRANCE, A LESSON FROM STAFF AND PUPILS ON GETTING BACK TO WORK 

Children returning to school in France (pictured) has been successful due to the strict guidelines put in place by the learning establishments

More than a million children in France are back in class after nearly eight weeks in lockdown.

The success of the back to school policy has been put down to a range of strict safeguards and will be examined closely in Britain.

The 1.4million pupils in around 40,000 schools and nurseries represent around a quarter of the nation’s school children and live in areas deemed less affected by the virus.

It was a similar story in Belgium where primary and secondary schools have been told to restart smaller classes of final-year pupils under strict social distancing rules.

Jean-Michel Blanquer, France’s education minister, said there had been 70 cases of coronavirus in around 50 schools since reopening.

A total of 70 schools were closed as a result, to stop further infection. ‘This shows that our measures are as strict as we said they would be,’ he said.

Schools forced to shut included seven in the northern town of Roubaix, where just one boy was infected but was thought to have come into contact with pupils from other schools. 

He also insisted that children who had picked up Covid-19 had not caught it inside schools, where rigorous health measures are being enforced.

Mr Blanquer added: ‘It is absolutely essential that our children are not the collateral victims of health conditions.’ 

A 57-page education ministry document has been handed to teachers explaining rules on social distancing. 

The 96 ‘departements’, or regions, of the country were initially split into the green, yellow or red categories two weeks before lockdown was to be eased across France on May 11.

By the time this date arrived, the yellow regions were allocated to either a green or red category. 

Green areas were allowed to reopen their primary schools on May 11, as well as ending some other lockdown restrictions, while red areas have had to keep schools closed.

Around 185,000 middle school pupils in green zones also went back to class yesterday. Unlike in nursery and primary schools, all staff and pupils must wear masks.

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