PARENTS across Oxfordshire are now waiting to see whether schools will ask them to send their children back in next week – and whether other parents will comply.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Sunday night that the government wants pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to go back to school on Monday.

He also said that he expected up to a quarter of students in Year 10 and Year 12 to get 'some contact' with schools from June 15, to help them prepare for exams.

Schools will all be expected to ensure children are socially distancing, to stagger lunch and break times and put extra hygiene measures in place, but parents and teachers are still divided.

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The situation is complicated further because most schools are now academies, run independently of local authorities, and can decide for themselves if they want to follow the government guidance.

Helen Wimalarathna, an infectious disease epidemiologist and Oxfordshire parent, said although she had confidence in her daughter’s school, she would not be allowing her to return.

She said: “I have no doubt that high standards will be in place to protect children as far as is possible at the current time, but my husband and I are of the opinion that it is too soon for our daughter to return.

Oxford Mail:

Children of essential workers eat lunch in segregated positions at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester. Picture: Jacob King/PA Wire

“Our main concern is that the risk of transmission remains too high.

“It is too soon to have any data on how the recent relaxation of restrictions has impacted the effective reproduction number."

She went on: “I understand that the balance of probability is that children in my daughter’s age group would be unlikely to suffer severe disease if infected with Covid-19, which is a blessing, but it also carries with it the public health problem that our children may be carriers and there would be no symptoms that would cause alarm bells to ring.

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“My specific worry for my four-year-old daughter, beyond the transmission risk, is that the unfamiliar behaviours she and her friends and teachers will have to adopt, and the changes to the classroom furnishings and toys will cause confusion and anxiety.”

In Oxfordshire, all secondary schools are now academies except Carterton Community College, which is still run by Oxfordshire County Council and will therefore reopen when the council decides.

John Howson, deputy chairman of the council's education scrutiny committee, said: “There are clearly concerns from the teaching associations and the parents.

Oxford Mail:

Children of essential workers are socially distanced in lessons at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester. Picture: Jacob King/PA Wire

“There needs to be frequent washing down of surfaces, such as the retail industry has been doing, and some schools are going to have to employ more teachers, such as trainees who haven’t been able to get a job, in order to help with smaller class sizes.

“It won’t be acceptable for children to be taught in corridors.

“It’s going to be difficult to implement smaller class sizes, luckily there’s a large number of smaller schools in the villages in Oxfordshire so there shouldn’t be the problem of bussing more children.

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“I suspect the heads will make announcements during the week, however the real responsibility lies with parents as the law states that parents must educate their children.

“The default is that they are sent to a state school for an education – however if schools don’t reopen it’s down to the parent to educate their child.”

All children are currently off school for half term, even vulnerable children those of key workers who have still been going since schools were generally closed on March 20.

Joanne Harper is the chief executive officer at Activate Learning Education Trust which runs The Bicester School.

Oxford Mail:

Children of essential workers eat lunch in segregated positions at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester. Picture: Jacob King/PA Wire

She said the trust would not be bringing back wider openings across its schools and colleges yet, and is only expecting vulnerable students and children of key workers to return for now.

She added: “Our main concern is that parents and pupils feel we are listening to them.

“We’ve seen the number of pupils increase in recent weeks and we’re doing the same as everyone else – doing risk assessments and listening to the guidance, and what will suit best for our pupils and staff.

“There are lots of procedures and protocols in place and we’re speaking to pupils and parents to ascertain what they want us to be doing.”

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A spokesperson for Oxfordshire County Council said: “We are in regular contact with the Department for Education and other Government bodies at this difficult time.

“The Government will decide when schools might reopen and the safety of pupils, teachers and residents is our absolute priority.

“The Government has set out an aim for more children to attend school from June 1... and has published several sets of guidance for schools, academy trusts and local councils on this.

“Like all councils, we will publish details once agreed with central government, based on their instructions and guidelines.”