Kate Green has said that “all children must be safely back in school by September” and reiterated Labour’s call for a “cross-party task force” to make sure that the necessary arrangements are in place.
Responding to guidance issued today by the Department for Education on returning all children to school in September, the new Shadow Education Secretary voiced concerns about the widening of the attainment gap for disadvantaged children.
She criticised the government for having been “asleep at the wheel” during the pandemic, and stressed the need for cross-party working to prepare for the reopening – warning that “heads and staff cannot be left to do this alone”.
Commenting on the guidance, Green said: “All children must be safely back in school by September. By then, they’ll have suffered a six month gap in their learning.
“Officials in the Department for Education have warned this could lead to a widening of the attainment gap of up to 75% as children from disadvantaged backgrounds have lacked access to resources to learn at home.
“Teachers, school leaders, staff, and parents have achieved a huge amount throughout this crisis, and now they desperately need the support of the government.
“With only three weeks to go before the end of term, there is an enormous amount to prepare: finalising health and safety arrangements, ensuring there is space for children to learn, restructuring the school day and providing reassurance to parents.
“The government has been asleep at the wheel, but heads and staff cannot be left to do this alone. Labour is calling for a cross-party task force to focus urgently on getting the necessary arrangements in place so that all students can return safely in September.”
Green’s comments follow the publication of new guidelines this morning with few restrictions placed on how schools can operate, the central one being that they place pupils in bubbles of entire class or year groups.
The new rules say that children and staff will not be required to wear masks on site – but children aged 11 and over will have to wear a face covering on public transport when travelling to and from school.
The move will see a reintroduction of mandatory attendance for pupils, and the departmental guidance states that it expects schools to “secure full attendance from the start of the new academic year”.
The Labour leader has repeatedly called for the Prime Minister to set up a cross-party task force, to work together on the return of children to schools throughout the coronavirus crisis.
The Prime Minister and Education Secretary had previously announced that schools would begin reopening on June 1st. But, according to government figures, just 52% of schools opened with only 25% of children eligible returning.
The June 1st deadline had followed weeks in which parents, teachers, unions and the opposition had raised concerns and 690,000 – or 6.9% of the normal school population – were found to be in school later that week.
Ministers were subsequently forced to back down on their plans for a phased return last month, and U-turn on their commitment to get all primary school children back to school a month before the summer holidays.