TEACHERS have spelled out their concerns over the Government’s decision to start reopening schools in less than a week’s time, warning it is “rushed” and “unsafe.”

The Prime Minister has now confirmed he will begin opening schools that shut amid the coronavirus lockdown on June 1 and will take a final decision as part of a lockdown review on Thursday.

The Government says children in nursery, reception and Years 1 and 6 will be able to return to the classroom then and on June 15, up to a quarter of Year 10 and Year 12 pupils will have “some contact” to prepare for exams.

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But the plans have met fierce opposition from unions and local authorities.

Brighton and Hove City Council has already given the move the cold shoulder and was among the first in the country to say schools should only reopen when it is safe.

Now, teachers across Brighton working with pupils from reception through to Year 11 have spoken of their fears, telling The Argus the decision could put lives at risk.

They revealed their worries for their pupils, their desire to return to the classroom, the difficult choices they are having to make and the “mammoth task” they face in getting children back to school safely.

Teachers say getting young children to observe social distancing will be next to impossible.

Nursery and primary schools expect this to be especially difficult.

The teachers The Argus spoke to are all National Education Union representatives. Their role involves standing up for the safety of fellow staff members.

Earlier this month, the NEU hosted a virtual meeting.

The Argus:

Among the panellists was Anna Watson, a teacher at a nursery school in Brighton.

She said even now, with only a handful of key workers’ children at school, social distancing was impractical.

“The children don’t understand it,” she said.

“They gravitate towards each other. We can’t keep them apart.”

Vicky Hemstedt, who teaches reception and Year 1 at Middle Street Primary School in Brighton, agrees.

“I mostly work with pupils aged between four and six,” she said.

“The reality is it’s very difficult for young children to social distance.

“We’re desperate that kids get back to school, but I have a lot of concerns about how that will happen safely.”

There are practical problems.

“The children rarely use a tissue if they sneeze or cough,” she said.

And staff may have to come into contact with children who fall over or have an accident.

“It’s a mammoth task to make schools safe for that age group,” she said.

The Government has told schools they can put “protective bubbles” in place where social distancing is not possible.

This would involve teaching children in small groups, staggering lunch breaks and assemblies and making sure each group has the same teacher at all the times.

But Vicky, like other teachers The Argus spoke to, said social distancing was vital, and all the more important because a mechanism for tracking and tracing the spread of the virus has not yet been rolled out.

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The Government has for many weeks promised to implement a system to test, track and trace Covid-19 cases.

At the daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday, Matt Hancock said he had “high confidence” that the system would be in place by June 1.

Vicky said: “Without track and trace, our only protection is social distancing.”

Two of the teachers The Argus spoke to said they would not be sending their own children back to school on June 1.

One teacher who cannot return because she is in shielding isolation said she was “fearful” for colleagues.

Several were also worried for their own safety, and asked whether teachers would have access to personal protective equipment.

Nick Imrie is a history teacher at Dorothy Stringer secondary school in Brighton.

He said he will not put his two children “in harm’s way” by sending them back until it he feels it is safe.

Nick also asked how teachers could do their job if they and their pupils are sick and cannot work.

One reason given for opening schools on Monday is to prevent disadvantaged children from falling behind.

But Nick said: “It’s not just about teachers getting the virus – it’s about the safety of students and parents, and not spreading it in our community.

“I don’t expect it to be perfectly safe, but it needs to be a lot safer than it is right now.

“And the idea we don’t want to get back to teaching is wrong.

“I wouldn’t give 15 years of my life to a very tough job for no reason – I just don’t want to have people getting ill.”

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Jack Cassidy, 35, is an English and media studies teacher at Portslade Aldridge Community Academy.

He said he would much prefer to return to school than have to set work and mark it remotely.

“I really want to go back, but this whole thing feels rushed,” he said.

“I’ve got serious concerns about the lack of capacity for testing, that people can’t actually get hold of the tests they are eligible for, that the track and trace system isn’t a definite and that the lockdown seems really relaxed now.”

Jack has a four month old child. “I worry about the risks to my family if we go back,” he said.

The Government says classes will be limited to no more than 15 pupils to curb the spread of the virus.

Teachers in Brighton said they will be holding lessons in gyms, dinner halls and outside as much as possible.

But some said they do not have the space to accommodate children safely, and have had to slash class sizes even further – some with as few as five children.

The smaller groups, they said, would require more staff at a time when fewer are available.

Toys will have to be put away and play areas disinfected.

One teacher said: “The children will struggle getting used to it.

“When we do go back, school is going to look completely different.”

All the teachers The Argus spoke with praised their schools’ own efforts, and said they were making sure children would be as safe as possible.