Sunday shows: Labour urges government to “publish the science” on schools reopening

Ridge on Sunday

Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Michael Gove’s opposite, warned that the reopening of schools has not been approached in the right way. She called on the government to publish the evidence behind the decision and to work with teachers, unions and parents to ensure confidence.

  • On reopening schools safely: “The government needs to work with parents, teachers and their unions to ensure that the new plans have the confidence of everybody… But also we need more transparency from government.”
  • On transparency: “The PM said last Sunday that all the decisions that are going to be made about easing the lockdown will be based on the science – and here we are a week later and those decisions have not been published.”
  • She added: “Government need to put in place some of the measures to improve confidence and that includes the test, trace and isolate strategy. The government abandoned that back in the middle of March – that was a mistake.”
  • On contact tracing: “The government has now said it wants to bring that back by mid-May – well, it is now the 17th May. The government has contracted out the recruitment of people to that to the private firm, Serco. They’ve only recruited one in ten of the people the government say that they need.”
  • Asked if it is Labour’s position that children should not go back to school before a contact tracing strategy is in place: “We want that to be up and running to ease the whole range of the lockdown restrictions.”
  • On whether state schools should be opening when most independent schools are not: “I would like to see schools in the state sector and the independent sector open, but my biggest concern is about the most disadvantaged children.”
  • On working with stakeholders: “It is so important that instead of dialling up the rhetoric, the government actually start working with teachers and other staff at schools and with parents to build that confidence.”
  • On the approach from government: “The government has still got two weeks to get this right, they haven’t approached it in the right way so far. Please, government, use the next two weeks to get this right.”
  • Asked if it is Labour’s position to avoid leaving the EU without a deal at all costs: “We absolutely do not want to leave the EU without a deal… We want to ensure that there is as good a deal as possible by the end of this year.”
  • On an extension to the transition period: “The government has enshrined in law that the transition period comes to an end at the end of this year… the government is still saying that is possible.”
  • Asked why Labour is not calling for an extension: “We’re saying that they mustn’t rush this and if they are not going to secure a deal, we mustn’t crash out without a deal – and that means taking the time that is necessary.”
  • On negotiating a deal by the end of this year: “It is up to the government to show that they can deliver the promises that they have made to the British people… And that is getting a good deal, and a good deal by the end of this year. And if they are not in a position to do that, they need to come back and explain a timetable.”

Michael Gove announced that the government has recruited “just over 17,000” of the 18,000 people that it says are needed for its contact tracing strategy. On reopening schools, he said children are “less likely to have serious symptoms” than older people, but that “steps are being taken in order to ensure children and those who work in schools are as safe as possible”.

The Andrew Marr Show

Angela Rayner, Labour’s new deputy leader and former Shadow Education Secretary, called on the government to “publish the science” on the reopening of schools. She said the Labour councils refusing to reopen schools on June 1st were trying to “make sure that their citizens are safe”.

  • On whether schools should reopen on June 1st: “Schools have been open throughout this whole crisis for vulnerable children and for children of frontline workers. I think it’s important that schools feel safe in introducing more pupils to the classroom as quickly as possible. I think what Gavin needs to do, the Education Secretary, is publish the science… and ensure there is testing and tracing, which he promised yesterday that on 1st June that would be available but at the moment we’ve not seen any evidence that they can provide that.”
  • On whether it is unsafe for schools to reopen: “Children can catch the virus, and we believe that they could transmit the virus… We have to make sure that social distancing measures where possible are in place. We know that teachers have died as a result of catching Covid.”
  • She added: “We do want as many pupils as possible to go back into the classroom. But we’ve got to reassure the teaching professionals… And that means testing has to be there.”
  • On home learning: “I think that’s patchy. They need to increase that. What we know is that this virus isn’t going away.”
  • On Labour councils such as Liverpool and Hartlepool refusing to reopen schools on June 1st: “The communication from government in terms of safety measures for areas like Greater Manchester, Liverpool, the North East, has been patchy. The information hasn’t been there. We believe the R rate is higher in those areas.”
  • You support those councils? “I urge the government to publish the science, and to ensure that the testing and tracing is in place… Councils want to make sure that their citizens are safe. I support them in trying to do that.”
  • Asked how badly care homes have been let down: “Terribly badly.” Added that “there should be an investigation” into 10,000 additional care home deaths unaccounted for.
  • On whether Labour has been “too aggressive” in its response: “We want to be a constructive opposition. Honestly, I really want them to succeed. I was working with the DfE when I was Shadow Education Secretary, I was working with Gavin to try to make sure the provisions were in place. And I think that’s absolutely the right thing to do. But we also have to call out when things are not done correctly.”

Michael Gove also appeared on Marr. Asked about those same Labour councils, he said: “I respectfully ask them to think again.” He said teaching unions “understandably want to look after their members and they are being cautious”, but he encouraged them to “think about the future of the children”, “look at the science” and “look at foreign examples”.

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