PARENTS are being urged to send their children back to primary schools in Oxfordshire next week, as the county council dishes out masses of protective equipment.

Across the county, 94 per cent of schools have remained open to vulnerable children and the children of key workers during the lockdown.

But as of Monday, June 1, the government has said primary school-aged children in Years 1 and 6, as well as nursery and reception classes, should return to school.

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To prepare for this, Oxfordshire County Council has given out masses of masks, visors, gloves and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which teachers can use in case a child in their class is ill.

Government advice says children returning to school should not be made to wear PPE automatically.

One Oxford headteacher has said her primary school and others will have to make huge changes to the way pupils are taught when they return, while at the same time still giving virtual lessons to students stuck at home.

Oxfordshire County Council has handed out 151,000 close contact, water-resistant masks to schools across the county.

It has also given out 181,000 aprons, 121,000 pairs of gloves, 900 visors and 7,500 litres of hand sanitiser.

The council’s public health director, Ansaf Azhar, said there was currently little scientific evidence of Covid transmission among children.

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But he added the PPE was being given out because: “The health of children, teachers, support staff, and parents will always come first in Oxfordshire.”

Mr Azhar also said: “Safety, hygiene and social distancing are absolute priorities, and where community testing indicates clusters of Covid 19 – schools will close.”

In preparation for more pupils returning to the classroom, schools are being asked to complete a risk assessment in conjunction with staff and unions.

According to government guidance on reopening schools, class sizes are limited to 15 pupils.

Other measures being put in place include stopping parents from entering school buildings, staggered pick-up and drop-off times at the gates, and making sure older pupils maintain a 2m distance from one another.

The PPE sent out by the council is available only if a pupil becomes ill and a teacher feels like they need extra protection to prevent themselves from becoming unwell.

Lynn Knapp, head teacher at Windmill Primary School, Headington, said she expected 50 to 60 per cent of pupils to return to school next Monday.

Oxford Mail:

Lynn Knapp. Picture: Jon Lewis

Parents across the UK have been told they will not be fined if they choose not to send their children back yet.

Mrs Knapp said: “Life is going to be very different; school is going to feel very different for our pupils.”

The differences will include new split classes and teaching times.

To adhere to government advice of 15 pupils per class, Ms Knapp and her teaching staff will be able to teach half of the returning pupils part time on Monday and Tuesday, before deep cleaning the school on a Wednesday.

The other half of returning pupils will then be taught part time on a Thursday and Friday.

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At the same time, Mrs Knapp’s staff are still sending out work for children to do at home if they are unable – or unwilling – to return.

She added: “We have carried on working, but it could be quite challenging for some of our pupils returning who have been at home all this time.”

Oxfordshire County Council said some schools will be able to welcome back more pupils than others, and each school will ‘act in the best interests of each child and family’.

The council is committed to supporting disadvantaged pupils; existing free school meals arrangements will continue.

Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, the council’s cabinet member for education and cultural services, commended the work of teachers during the pandemic.

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She said: “We will continue to support them by ensuring schools are safe, with the necessary social distancing and sanitation provisions in place, as increasing numbers of pupils come out of lockdown and return to the classroom.”

Though the county council is reassuring staff, pupils and parents a return to school is safe, other areas of the country – especially in the north of England – have said they will not open primaries next week.

A UK-wide survey by the National Education Union has drawn attention to the worries of teaching staff.

The survey of 4,016 union members working in state nursery and primary schools found that 53 per cent reported they had not been offered PPE and 31 per cent thought classroom cleaning arrangements were inadequate.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “No one is saying we can only go back when it is 100 per cent safe, but this has not been thought through properly.”

Oxfordshire County Council maintains a list of schools which have operated emergency closures at its website.

It is updated daily at: