FOUR weeks ago with the coronavirus crisis at its peak, my dad told me he was going back to work as a headmaster in New Zealand.

The government, which had driven down the country’s R rate with a draconian lockdown, had told his school to open again.

Dad is 66-years-old and I wondered out loud if, given his age, it made sense for him to go back at this stage. Surely his younger staff members would be able to run the school seeing many pupils wouldn’t even be turning up at this point?

But he wasn’t having any of it. His view was that he is the principal; he is responsible for the safety of his students and staff; and he would be there to ensure their education started again without any fear or panic.

And he has done just that, for a number of weeks now, with the full support of the country’s teaching unions.

There are social distancing and hygiene rules for the teachers and children, who are encouraged to engage in “non-contact” playtime. In practice that means no tackling, fighting or hugging.

By contrast, our government’s very sensible and measured plan to start opening schools here from June 1 has been mired by the militant National Education Union, putting left-wing ideology ahead of what’s best for students.

You would think these social warriors would be horrified at a multitude of studies and statistics proving without doubt that keeping schools shut is seriously harming the most underprivileged in society.

Former education secretary Michael Gove correctly put it yesterday when he said "teaching is a mission and a vocation".

But you wouldn’t think it from the politicking going on – including a threat from unions to sue schools that ask teachers to return – which must surely make most good teachers feel ashamed.

Especially given The Institute of Fiscal Studies has today warned that pupils from rich households are spending 30 per cent more time on learning activities, with those children more likely to have private tutors and cultural and sporting lessons online.

We simply cannot allow Covid-19 to increase the already overwhelming inequalities for young British people.

A letter from the bosses of 22 of the biggest academy trusts in England published in The Times today says the decision to keep most students away from schools would be “calamitous” for disadvantaged pupils.

It adds: “If we do not take action and reopen schools soon, the impact of lost learning could be irreparable.”

The academies go on to say they will put the welfare of pupils and staff at the forefront of reopening by “implementing protective measures to keep them safe”.

They also rightly point out there is an economic imperative for schools to reopen from June 1 for Years 1 and 6 in order to allow most adults to return to normal work.

The World Health Organisation says it is safe. Countries all over the world are reopening schools. British kids cannot fall even further behind. Schools must be back from next month, regardless of the hysteria coming from some unions.

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