Dividing up playgrounds and restricting class sizes are among the measures schools will be expected to consider before opening up to more pupils, a leading county councillor has suggested.

At a meeting of Hertfordshire County Council’s cabinet on Monday, executive member for education, libraries and localism Cllr Terry Douris highlighted the plans to open up schools from June 1.

Schools across the county have been closed to the vast majority of youngsters since March 23, as part of a drive to halt the spread of Covid-19.

But now there are plans for a phased return to the classroom for all children to begin as early as June 1 – starting with those in reception, year 1 and year 6.

At the meeting of the cabinet Cllr Douris backed the government’s plans for schoolchildren to return – but stressed that those plans would only be implemented if certain tests were met.

He  assured councillors that the welfare of pupils and staff in the county were “absolutely paramount” in the planning.

And he said that – with leaving the house already becoming a ‘real challenge’ for some children – it was right that they returned to school.

He stressed that schools had remained open for the past eight weeks for the children of key workers and those in vulnerable situations.

And he said the plans to bring in pupils in reception, year one and year six relied on the government’s five tests being met and the so-called ‘R’ number being ‘right’.

“We need to be driven by the science,” said Cllr Douris.

“And we need to recognise that although government have said that they plan to open schools or extend schools  [. . . ] they are only going to expand this if the five tests are met  and if the ‘R’ number is right that we are able to do this.”

Cllr Douris said that comprehensive guidance had been drawn-up and issued to headteachers, to help them create plans for their own schools.

And he pointed to the division of playgrounds and a maximum number of children in a single classroom as being among the measures to maintain social distancing.

“We have a wide range of schools in the county, from  modern schools with wide corridors  to vikllage schools  where the corridors are quiterestricted and classrooms quite small,” he said.

“Headteachers know their schools best and will be able to create their own plans.”

But Cllr Douris stressed that parents and carers would have a role in ensuring social distance from each other at the school gates too.

“I would urge and ask and request parents and carers of children to observe social distancing when they are at the school gates, collecting and delivering children at the  beginning and the end of the day,” he said.

“[. . . ]We have achieved so much through social distancing over the last eight weeks, that we really don’t want to let that go.”

At the meeting Cllr Douris also pointed to the need for social integration and the advantages of children returning to the classroom as quickly as possible.

And he said that after the past eight weeks, there were children for whom it was becoming a real challenge to leave the house.

“We can’t keep children locked up out of school forever,” he said. “It would be entirely wrong.

“[. . . ]We need to actually get these children out – to be able to meet their friends, and to be able to communicate and collaborate with the other children in the school.”

Cllr Douris said the “absolutely fantastic” teachers and headteachers across the county would rise to the challenge.

And he said he was “immemsely proud” of the teachers and staff who had contributed to this work.

At the meeting, council leader Cllr David Williams recognised the “tremendous amount of work” ongoing in the county council to planning for children in reception, years one and six to go back to primary schools.