The United Kingdom has partially reopened schools after 10 weeks of a coronavirus lockdown despite warnings that one of the world’s worst-hit countries is removing restrictions too quickly.
Primary school children in England started returning to classrooms on Monday, but schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland will not reopen until August and September respectively. Wales has yet to make a decision.
About 20 local authorities across England have also told their primary schools to stay closed.
In some other European countries, pupils returned to school weeks ago. But in the UK, there has been intense debate about the risks to children and teachers, and whether resuming classes might create a second wave of infection.
The main teaching union, which represents 450,000 members, wanted UK’s reopening postponed for another two weeks.
A poll by the Early Years Alliance education charity found that only 45 percent of the parents whose schools are opening are ready to send their children to class.
But communities minister Robert Jenrick said a return was essential because a lack of classes and school lunch provision was hitting disadvantaged families especially hard.
“All of the evidence suggests that it is children from the most deprived, the poorer households who are losing out,” Jenrick said on Sunday. “I don’t want that to continue.”
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from London, said children returning to school came back to a very different environment to the classes that they had left.
“Desks are ‘socially-distanced’, there are face masks and there are much smaller class sizes than before,” he said. “And amidst all of this, an ongoing debate as to whether children should be going back to school at all, given the fact that ‘test and trace’ is not fully operational yet.”
Elsewhere in Europe, most school pupils in Slovakia also headed back to school on Monday.
Education Minister Branislav Grohling said between 70 and 80 percent of students were back at primary school and up to 60 percent at kindergartens.