Elsewhere, schools have been told to remove anything that is difficult to clean regularly, such as toys and soft furnishings.

But Professor Colin Diamond, a former DfE adviser, said that “feels cruel”, adding: “This, to me, illustrates the absurdity of trying to introduce a safe regime which has to be socially distant. Of course children need cuddly toys and to relax on cushions.

“This is not a very impressive idea. I can’t help but think that whoever wrote the guidance doesn’t know much about a nursery or classroom.”  

Councillor Judith Blake, the chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “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.”

Official advice from the DfE says schools’ risk assessments should “directly address risks associated with coronavirus, so that sensible measures can be put in place to control those risks for children and staff”.

It adds that all employers “have a duty to consult employees on health and safety, and they are best placed to understand the risks in individual settings”.

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