Kate Green has argued that parents, students and staff need a “credible plan” for the reopening of schools and urged the government to ensure returning children to the classroom comes first when relaxing Covid restrictions.
Responding to an urgent question from Labour this afternoon, education minister Nick Gibb delivered a statement on the government’s plan for reopening schools that are currently closed to most pupils amid the lockdown.
Gibb insisted that “there is a plan” and said the decision to reopen must be based on public health data including hospitalisation and mortality rates, the progress of the vaccine roll-out and information on new variants.
Kate Green, the Shadow Education Secretary, argued: “He has failed to give parent, students and staff the credible plan they deserve. We simply don’t know what the government’s plan is for reopening other than what we read in the newspapers.
“In recent days, we’ve had reports that the Prime Minister wants pupils back before Easter. The Health Secretary saying he wants pupils back after Easter. Public Health England saying overnight that primary schools are already safe to reopen.
“So which is it? What is the plan for full reopening? The schools minister mentioned some metrics but was vague about the required performance against them. Can he give us some more clarity – will schools only return if R is below one?”
PHE has reportedly said that there is now a “strong case” for reopening primary schools. The Shadow Education Secretary urged the minister today to publish the evidence behind the reports and the advice to the government.
She also called on the government to get the “chaotic system” of testing in schools “back on track”, challenged the minister over the order in which year groups will return and asked what the plan is for universities and colleges to reopen.
Gibbs used his contribution to parliament this afternoon to tell MPs that the government has a “strong desire” to get children back to the classroom and confirmed it will “prioritise” the reopening of schools as Covid restrictions ease.
Ahead of the House of Commons question today, Labour urged the government to commit to reopening schools and colleges first when coronavirus lockdown restrictions in place across England begin to be relaxed.
The government has set a date for reviewing the progress of the lockdown of February 15th, but Boris Johnson said at the start of the week that ministers will be “looking at the potential of relaxing some measures” before mid-February.
The Prime Minister’s remarks on Monday morning, during which he said “we’ll be deciding before then whether we can be getting schools back”, sparked confusion as it put him at odds with recent comments from his own ministers.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, told the public that the full reopening of schools before Easter was a “hope” rather than an expectation and warned that the easing of the current lockdown measures is a “long, long, long way” off.
The Prime Minister and Education Secretary are facing increasing pressure to set out a strategy for schools, to provide certainty for parents, children and schools, from both the opposition and within their own party.
Former cabinet minister Esther McVey has said the government “genuinely seems to have forgotten about the children” as most continue with remote learning. She warned that young people are “the pandemic’s forgotten victims”.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson missed the debate on the reopening of schools this afternoon as opposition parties, and Tory MPs, continue to demand the government set out a plan for what will happen after the February half-term.