A phased return to Barnet’s schools is likely after the Government asked head teachers to start readmitting pupils.

Plans are likely to vary from school to school as staff look to implement social distancing and other measures designed to minimise coronavirus infection, council leader Cllr Dan Thomas announced on Wednesday (May 20).

He said the priority is to “ensure that Barnet’s learning spaces are safe for all to be in”, adding that schools are looking to reduce the overall risks for pupils and staff.

While schools across the country were closed to most pupils in March, many have remained open to the children of key workers.

The Government has now asked primary schools to start readmitting some cohorts of pupils from June 1 at the earliest as the Covid-19 lockdown eases.

But many teaching unions have opposed the move, warning it will not be safe for staff and pupils.

Dozens of councils – including some run by Conservative administrations – have warned not all their primary schools will be ready to reopen on June 1.

In a statement published on Wednesday (May 20), Cllr Thomas set out Barnet Council’s position.

He said: “The plans for the return of pupils will vary from school to school. Head teachers will work with school staff, governors, and unions to devise arrangements that will allow for social distancing where possible, and a range of other measures to minimise the risk of infection.

“We need to remember that each school is different. They will take into consideration things like the layout of their buildings and the age groups they teach and will only open when they are confident that they can provide a safe environment.

“This means it is likely that the return to school will happen in phases, and that different age groups could well return to school at different stages from June. Currently, Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and 6 pupils are scheduled to return first in primary schools.

“Secondary schools have been asked to offer some face-to-face support to supplement the remote education of year 10 and year 12 students who are due to take key exams next year.

“Schools will consult with parents and carers on arrangements and will keep them informed of how they will start returning their children back into the classroom.”

In a letter to school heads sent out on Monday, John Burgess, branch secretary of Barnet Unison, said his trade union did not believe safe reopenings on June 1 were possible.

His letter states: “I think it is really important that we all stand together to ensure that everyone in the school and community is safe and that we meet health and safety laws.

“This means that we should only open up the school when is it safe to do so. My Union and I do not believe that this is possible by 1 June.”

Cllr Judith Blake, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Councils have worked with all schools to keep them open throughout the coronavirus pandemic for vulnerable children and families of key workers. We know how vital it is for a child’s development to be in school, particularly for the most vulnerable children.

“Councils are keen to support their local schools to get children back as soon as possible. However, the safety of children, their families and staff will always be the top priority.

“As there are different Covid-19 infection rates around the country, schools and councils must be able to work together to decide how and when schools open to more children. Some areas may want to work faster than others.

“Councils also need crucial testing data to be shared with them, to help enable greater confidence for teachers and parents around school openings, and powers to manage outbreaks in places like schools, care homes, businesses and communities if new Covid-19 clusters emerge.”