THE chief executive of a group of schools in Kidderminster and Stourport says a staggered return to school would have been preferable to the set date due to be announced by the government.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce the government's "roadmap out of lockdown" this afternoon, with schools due to open to all pupils on March 8.

But Chris King, chief executive of the Severn Academies Educational Trust, which includes Kidderminster’s Baxter College, Stourport High School and several primary schools in and around Wyre Forest, believes the government should have agreed on a staggered start back for pupils.

He said: “We desperately want all our children back in their schools when it’s safe to do so and we are following government advice on that.

“However, a staggered start, rather than all in on the same day, would have been preferable, starting with the youngest children first then years 11 and 13 in high schools, followed by the other years.

“That would have given time to re-integrate them properly and support the mental health and anxieties of pupils and staff in a far better way.”

Mr King said, despite today’s announcement, there would have to be some staggering in the return of high school pupils to ensure they are all tested for Covid-19.

He added that more information was also needed on the testing of pupils at home, if that is what is decided.

A coalition of education unions and professional bodies has also warned reopening schools to all pupils in England at the same time could risk another spike in Covid-19 infections.

A joint statement from the nine education organisations says they are “increasingly concerned” that the government could go ahead with a full return of all pupils on March 8.

“This would seem a reckless course of action," the coalition warned. "It could trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education and risk throwing away the hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus over the course of the latest lockdown."

The PM is due to address the nation at 3.30pm. He's also expected to announce that outdoor after-school sports and activities may also restart on March 8.

And on the same date, outdoor recreation with one other person will also be permitted, meaning people will be allowed to sit together in a park with a coffee, drink or picnic.

From March 29, larger groups are expected to be able to meet outside - including in private gardens - up to a maximum of six people or two households.

Tennis courts, golf courses and other outdoor sport facilities will also reopen on March 29, which is the first Monday of most schools' Easter holidays.

At the same time, organised adults and children's sport, including grassroots football, will restart.

The relaxation of measures is the first stage of a four-part roadmap expected to include the reopening of non-essential retail and hospitality in the coming months.

But restrictions will be eased step-by-step across the whole of England, avoiding a return to the previous system of regional tiers.

According to government sources, there will be five weeks in between each stage of lockdown easing, with four weeks to analyse the latest Covid data, and one week to give notice to businesses.

With the first stage of lockdown easing to begin on March 8, it means the earliest the second stage of the PM's four-stage roadmap could begin is April 12.

And the whole roadmap could be completed as early as late June.