SCHOOLS should reopen with caution, says a county teaching union representative.

On March 8, all schools in England can reopen, with the Government lifting lockdown restrictions.

Since the turn of the year, most pupils have been learning from home, with the third lockdown coming into force on January 6.

In two weeks, pupils should be able to return, however the decision has been criticised by Leigh Seedhouse, joint district and branch secretary of the National Education Union in Oxfordshire.

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She said: “The damage done to children by the months of isolation, cut off from play and social interaction is real and growing.

“So too are the intense strains on families as they struggle to cope.

“But an unsafe return would lead to more lives lost, on top of the horrific death toll already.

“No educator, no parent and no school student wants a return to the chaos and stop-start situation we faced in schools in the run up to Christmas, with year groups and bubbles in and out of schools in a chaotic yo-yo fashion.

Oxfordshire teacher Leigh Seedhouse

Oxfordshire teacher Leigh Seedhouse

“All the scientific advice is that we should proceed with caution around schools opening.

“While infection rates have come down during lockdown, the decline has been slowest among children – with most scientists saying this is due to the numbers still going in to school during lockdown.

“The full reopening of schools will bring nearly 10 million pupils and staff into circulation in England – close to one fifth of the population.

“This is not a small easing of lockdown restrictions, it is a massive step.

“What we need is a phased approach, an approach which will help to ensure that once schools open to more students, that they do not have to close again.”

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John Howson, deputy chairman of Oxfordshire County Council’s education scrutiny committee, said opening schools could increase the Covid-19 transmission rate.

“We’ve always known the number of younger people dying has been low but the problem is the transmission rate, particularly in multi-generation households, and that’s my anxiety.

“That’s where the biggest risk could be, and what also worries me is areas with low vaccine take-up.

“I would continue to urge everybody to have their jab.”

John Howson receives his Covid-19 jab

John Howson receives his Covid-19 jab

The decision to reopen was one welcomed by Mike Parker, chair of the Witney Labour Party.

He said: “Personally and locally, I think many people are pleased children will be going back on March 8.

“It’s been bad for all children but particularly for those in low-income households.

“The critical thing is that schools need to feel they are safe.

“I’d like to see teachers high up the list for the vaccine and more testing in schools too.”