Schools will be the last places to close, even in a local lockdown, Boris Johnson vowed yesterday.
As the Government’s row with the unions escalated, the Prime Minister said getting all children back to school full-time in England next month was the ‘right thing for everybody’.
His comments, on a visit to a school in east London, came after one teachers’ union said ministers should have a plan B – such as a ‘week-on, week-off’ rota system for pupils – in case of further lockdowns and spikes in Covid-19 cases.
The Prime Minister said getting all children back to school full-time in England next month was the ‘right thing for everybody’
Mr Johnson said he hoped schools would not be forced to close as a result of local action, adding it was the ‘last thing’ that the Government wanted to do.
‘But clearly what we are doing – the way we are trying to manage the Covid pandemic – is to have local measures in place and local test and trace to introduce restrictions where that’s necessary,’ he said.
‘As we have all said, the last thing we want to do is to close schools. We think that education is the priority for the country and that is simple social justice.’
Ministers have become increasingly frustrated with the teaching unions in recent days, particularly after the National Education Union published a ‘nit-picking’ list of 200 safety demands for all schools to adhere to.
Mr Johnson said he hoped schools would not be forced to close as a result of local action, adding it was the ‘last thing’ that the Government wanted to do
Tory MP Rob Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, said: ‘I think that some of the unions are... imposing significant obstacles and significant tests that no other workplace is following.
‘If you’d had all the conditions in supermarkets that some of the unions are proposing, then perhaps you wouldn’t have had any of the supermarkets open during the lockdown. The four most important words in this are “What about the kids?”.’
The unions insist they are not trying to sabotage the back-to-school plans but are asking genuine questions about the Government’s approach and the lack of a plan B should virus cases escalate again.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘This idea that demonising the trade unions lets the Government off the hook with difficult questions we are asking.
‘They ought to be facing difficult questions because we are in the middle of something extremely challenging.’
Mr Barton added: ‘We would like to see more thought given to blended learning as a back-up plan, which could be a rota system of children in for one week and then learning at home for one week. This would be better than children returning solely to remote education.’
Avis Gilmore, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union, called for a more robust test, track and trace system to be in place to ensure the welfare of pupils and school staff.
She said: ‘Government could do much more to assure schools and local authorities that, should a second spike occur, either nationally or locally, there is a clear Plan B in place.
‘This plan needs to spell out what action must be taken in a variety of situations, so that schools and colleges can make the preparations parents expect of them.’
Scientists called for routine Covid testing of teachers and pupils, alongside a robust test-and-trace system
Last night scientists called for routine Covid testing of teachers and pupils, alongside a robust test-and-trace system.
Researchers behind a report from Delve, a multidisciplinary group convened by the Royal Society, said routine testing will be necessary when the majority of children return to school.
Dr Ines Hassan, a researcher in the global health governance programme at the University of Edinburgh, said the group was recommending the widespread screening of all staff, including those who are asymptomatic.
Home-schooled children are among those who will miss out on grades this week.
They have been excluded from Ofqual’s plans because only teachers were permitted to submit assessed grades.
It is believed the majority will need to sit real exams this autumn to get their qualifications – and, due to the delay in getting their results, could be forced into a gap year before they start university.
Schools are ‘minor players’ in the overall transmission of coronavirus, a leading expert has said.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said ‘we owe it to our children’ to re-open schools – or risk doing them permanent harm.
He said parents should be ‘reassured’ by growing evidence from countries including Germany, Singapore and the Netherlands, which shows ‘little significant transmission in schools’.
Professor Viner, who also sits on the Government’s Scientific