Labour criticises “Conservatives’ staggering failure to keep kids learning”

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Kate Green has criticised “the Conservatives’ staggering failure to keep kids learning” throughout the pandemic after figures were published showing that 623,000 children were out of school due to Covid last week.

Referring to the data collated by the Department for Education, the Shadow Education Secretary said that by failing to control the borders the government has let “the Delta variant take hold, forcing kids out of their classrooms”.

“Parents, pupils and teachers have had days of mixed messages. What they need now is absolute clarity about what measures will be taken to keep kids in school and stop this spiralling of Covid cases,” Green said.

Challenging Gavin Williamson over the easing of Covid restrictions in parliament this afternoon, she welcomed the move away from the ‘bubble’ system but called on the Education Secretary to publish the evidence behind the decision.

“I want nothing more than for children to be in class, learning and spending time with their friends, and it is right for children’s learning that we move away from the chaotic bubble system,” she told the House of Commons.

“Today’s statement offers no clarity on how the government will stop infections spiralling. The Conservatives’ inadequate testing regime, lack of action on ventilation and their recklessness at the border have put our children’s education at risk. This must not continue.”

Williamson used his statement to explain that from July 19th the government will scrap the grouping of pupils into protective bubbles within schools, colleges and nurseries in England, along with other preventive measures.

The Education Secretary told parliament that the government is leaving it up to schools to decide for themselves whether or not they want to keep the bubble system system for the final few days of term after July 19th.

He also confirmed that, from August 16th, those under 18 will no longer need to self-isolate if they are contacted by NHS test and trace, and that there would be no restrictions on in-person teaching at universities.

According to government data, the number of schoolchildren with Covid infections rose from 15,000 on June 24th to 28,000 on July 1st. The number isolating due to suspected contact within school went up from 279,000 to 471,000 last week.

His statement followed Labour’s call this morning for ministers to “learn from their mistakes” and for the government to set out a plan for assessments in 2022 by the time pupils return at the start of the school year in September.

It also came after analysis of Department for Education school attendance figures, which shows that the average Year Ten pupil in England has missed one in four days of face-to-face GCSE or BTEC teaching in this academic year.

Williamson told a parliamentary committee last month that exams in 2022 and subsequent years may be subject to “adjustments and mitigations”, as a result of Covid disruption and to ensure fairness, but he provided no further details.

The Education Secretary told MPs that he would “far prefer to see children sitting exams” in the next academic year but added that “we very much recognise that we can’t predict what we are going to be facing over the coming years”.

Williamson suggested that some of the measures that would have been used for this year’s exams, before they were cancelled, could be applied. They included slimming down the subject areas to be tested and pushing back the dates of exams.

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