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Simon Langton Boys' Grammar School head teacher raises doubt over returning in September, as education secretary Gavin Williamson announces new plans

A head teacher in Kent has expressed his doubts over bringing all schools back in September under social distancing measures, as the government prepares to announce their plan later this week.

Gavin Williamson, education secretary, has promised an in-depth explanation of how all schools pupils will be able to return, with the details be announced by the end of the week.

Langton Boys' head Ken Moffat
Langton Boys' head Ken Moffat

But Ken Moffat, head teacher of Simon Langton Boys' Grammar School in Canterbury, has said the nature of secondary schools mean they would not be able to fully open with social distancing measures in place.

He said: "We cannot socially distance in secondary schools. I've got classes of 32 kids, I can't have them one metre apart, so if we are still required to socially distance in September then you're not going to get all secondary schools back.

"All head teachers want kids back in school - we want it to work and we want to get them back where they belong.

"Who knows whether we can do it by this September, everything depends on whether we get a second spike of the virus."

Mr Moffat said he believes the government will have to remove social distancing measures completely if they are to get every child back to school.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

The issue of social distancing in secondary schools is more complicated than primary schools.

With teachers from reception to Year 6 covering all elements of the curriculum, it is possible to keep children in small social bubbles in order to reduce the likelihood of infection spreading.

But with pupils from Year 7 to sixth form needing the freedom to move from one class to the next, the logistics of providing a framework for limited contact would be all the more difficult.

The Canterbury head also has a concern about how pupils would even travel to his school in the first place.

He said: "Currently Matt Hancock is saying public transport should be avoided unless absolutely vital, but you can't have kids from Herne Bay walking or cycling to school.

Kent's head teachers react to compulsory return of schools in September

"Nobody in my mind is talking about how we're actually going to get the kids here at the moment."

With an announcement pending, educational practitioners across the county are taking guesses as to what secondary schools might look like at the start of the new academic year.

Alan Brookes, chair of the Kent Association of Headteachers and head teacher of Fulston Manor School, in Sittingbourne, has the same doubts as Mr Moffat.

He said: "Secondary schools in particular are difficult because of option subjects, numbers, because of students moving around the buildings presenting particular challenges.

Alan Brookes is also struggling to see how secondary schools could operate under social distancing. Picture: Paul Amos
Alan Brookes is also struggling to see how secondary schools could operate under social distancing. Picture: Paul Amos

He said: "Currently it does look extremely challenging, even with social distancing reduced to one metre.

"They've talked an awful lot about bubbles - at this stage I don't know how you would create bubbles within secondary schools, even bubbles that would encompass the entire year group which could be 250 to 300 students."

Mr Brookes speculated on whether the government could announce plans to use community spaces and village halls to help with capacity issues in September, but says the education sector remains in the dark for now.

He said: "At the moment it's very hard to be definitive about this because the department simply haven't been definitive with schools."

Some primary schools have taken unusual methods to welcome back as many of their school children as possible.

The school acquired a marquee which it has used to take on an additional year group outside
The school acquired a marquee which it has used to take on an additional year group outside

St Paul's Church of England Primary, in Swanley, became the first school to welcome back all of its pupils thanks to the purchasing of a marquee and portable toilet.

Head teacher Ben Hulme said: "The big thing we needed was one extra space to bring back all the year groups, which is where the marquee came into play."

"There's no substitute for being in school and being with each other and their friends - you can't get that online, you can't get that at home on your own."

But not all primary schools will have the resources or space to operate within social bubbles, and will be in similarly difficult situations to that of secondary schools.

Warren Chambers, joint branch secretary for the National Education Union in Kent, said capacity is an issue at Bromstone Primary School, in Broadstairs, where he works as a teacher.

He said: "Our plan is 540 children, but we've only been able to open to reception and Year 1, then building up to Year 6.

"We would really struggle to then have Years 2, 3, 4, and 5 come back with the building size we have and still maintain social distancing."

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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