SCHOOLS will only return to normal when it is safe and appropriate to do so, a headteacher has warned.

Alec Hunter boss Trevor Lawn says he and other headteachers in the district are continuing to work with Essex County Council to devise a plan to get pupils back into the classroom in the coming weeks.

Schools have been closed to the majority of students since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

County Hall revealed its hope to deliver a phased return to normal last week, but insisted everyone would to be flexible in the coming weeks.

A thorough health and safety risk assessment will be undertaken at every school, contact will be minimised through smaller class sizes and mixing between groups will be reduced through timetable changes.

But as the Government looks to encourage schools to carry out a phased reopening in the weeks ahead, Alec Hunter headteacher Mr Lawn insists there remains a number of issues which must be addressed first.

He said: “There are significant challenges associated with achieving a return to the education environment and whilst we recognise that face-to-face contact with teachers is desirable, we will only proceed with welcoming students back in a measured manner when we are convinced that it is safe and appropriate to do so.

“It is important to acknowledge that each school’s context is different and our ability to respond to the Government’s recommendations will, to a certain degree, be dictated by the availability of staff, many of whom may be shielding, living with highly vulnerable relatives or even directly affected by the virus themselves.”

He added: “We also need to take account of the learning needs of students in other year groups, who are continuing to work remotely. Any model for in-school provision must not compromise the service we are offering to those students or result in unreasonable demands on staff. Schools are constantly sharing good practice to refine our strategies for supporting home study, and to guide all those parents who are working hard to keep their children focused and motivated.

“Whilst we are missing our young people immensely, our priority remains the health and safety of our students, our staff and the wider community.

“We should like to extend our thanks for the understanding, support and messages of encouragement as we all attempt to deal with this unprecedented situation.”

Some early years children are expected to be among the first pupils to return to schools from June 1.

Secondary school pupils in Years 10 and 12 due to be taking exams next year may also be able to receive some face-to-face contact with teachers, and special schools may be able to gradually increase the number of children and young people on site, from the same date.

Each school in the district is expected to lay out its individual return plan to parents in the coming weeks.