Schools across the UK have been closed to the vast majority of pupils since the end of March.
When – and how – will they return to anything approaching normal again?
Will schools reopen before the summer holidays?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday that primary schools in England might start to reopen from 1 June at the earliest. Any reopening would be conditional on both the R number, which is the virus’s reproduction rate, and the number of new infections staying low.
He said pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 might be able to return in stages.
Mr Johnson added: “Our ambition is that secondary pupils facing exams next year will get at least some time with their teachers before the holidays.”
However, there are no plans to reopen schools yet in the rest of the UK.
A phased return could mean that a few year groups would be the first to return to school, or that pupils would take turns to study at home and in school. This would allow schools to maintain some level of social distancing.
It might also mean staggering break times and putting limits on class sizes.
A phased return may also mean that some pupils will not return until the autumn term – or at least for anything like a regular timetable.
However, the government’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, responded that while schools were “not dangerous” for children during the pandemic, the decision to close them would slow the rise of infections.
On top of how to manage social distancing, any school seeking to reopen has to consider other questions:
Should children return to school if they live with family members who are vulnerable to Covid-19?
How many vulnerable staff would need to be shielded?
What protective equipment might be needed for teachers?
Which pupils should be the first to return?
Robert Halfon MP, who chairs the Education Select Committee, thinks primary schools should be the first back. This would help parents and stop disadvantaged youngsters falling behind at an early stage, he argues.
But Geoff Barton, of the head teachers’ union, says the priority should be Years 10 and 12, who are due to sit GCSEs and A-levels next year, and Year 6, where children are about to move to secondary school.
Others say it should be up to each school to decide the order in which its pupils return.
Summer exams have been cancelled in England, Wales and Scotland. This includes GCSEs and A-levels in England and Wales, plus primary school Sats national curriculum tests in England. In Scotland, Highers and Nationals will not be going ahead.
Exam watchdogs have been working together on alternative arrangements.
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