Teachers warn of 'ghost schools' after coronavirus lockdown

Teachers warn of ‘ghost schools’ if ministers try to reopen classrooms as ‘coronaphobic’ parents could refuse to send their children back

  • Boris Johnson to set out lockdown exit plan on Sunday, includes plan for schools 
  • It is thought that there could be a phased return for schools starting in June 
  • Teachers think parents could opt to keep children at home due to safety fears 

Ministers risk creating ‘ghost schools’ across England if they fail to persuade parents it is safe for children to return after lockdown, head teachers have warned.

A plan for the phased reopening of schools is expected to be announced by Boris Johnson when he unveils his lockdown exit strategy on Sunday.

But there are growing concerns that classrooms could be left empty even after the government tells students they can return.

Some teachers believe ‘coronaphobic’ parents could simply refuse to send their children back to school until they are convinced it is totally safe to do so.

For many that could mean waiting until a coronavirus vaccine has been developed and rolled out.

There are fears ‘coronaphobic’ parents could refuse to let their children go back to school until there is a vaccine for the disease 

Boris Johnson, pictured in Downing Street today, is expected to set out a phased plan to reopen schools when he addresses the nation on Sunday evening

Schools are in the process of trying to prepare to reopen by taking steps to ensure social distancing can be adhered to.

Classrooms are being redesigned so that children can stay two metres away from each other, one way systems are being put in place in corridors and deep cleans are being ordered.

Many schools are still open so they can look after the children of key workers with pupil numbers currently estimated at about two per cent of normal levels.

It is thought the government’s plan will see the phased return of schools from June.

But teachers believe work will have to be done by ministers to show parents it is safe for their children to go back in order to avoid a wave of holdouts.

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, who runs Anderton Park primary school in Birmingham, told The Times that many families in the area were grieving for relatives ‘and have seen very poorly family members struggle to breathe for weeks’.

‘Most have said they will not send the children back in June or maybe even until there’s a vaccine,’ she said.

‘Elaborate plans for extended opening could be meaningless if parents choose health over a few hours in school.’

There are also concerns over staffing levels when schools do return because it is unclear how many teachers and support staff will stay at home because of their own underlying health conditions.

A recent survey conducted by the National Association of Head Teachers found more than a quarter do not believe it will be possible to maintain social distancing in primary schools.

A spokesman for the Department for Education would not be drawn on the government’s plan for reopening schools.

The spokesman said: ‘Schools will remain closed, except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children, until the scientific advice indicates it is the right time to reopen.’

Education is a devolved issue which means each of the four Home Nations will take its own decision on schools reopening.

An exclusive poll for MailOnline published yesterday showed almost two thirds of the population are worried about the effects of lifting draconian curbs too early.

It revealed 62 per cent are more worried about lockdown ending too early, while 38 per cent said their main concern is the havoc restrictions are wreaking on the economy now.

Around seven in 10 believe bus and train drivers, teachers, and medical staff should have the right to refuse to go back to work, even if the government says it is safe.

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