Conservative MPs in the UK have pressed the government to announce its plans for a general re-opening of schools, as the country’s third national lockdown continues amid the ongoing CCP virus pandemic.
Tory MP Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Committee, wrote on Twitter on Monday that he has contacted the speaker of the House of Commons asking for permission to put an Urgent Question to Parliament on a plan for the return.
He said his request to table the question was triggered by “media speculation” that schools will no longer re-open after the February half term, as had been earlier posited by the government.
Given media speculation on schools no longer opening post Feb half-term, I’ve written to Speaker @LindsayHoyle_MP to ask for @HouseofCommons Urgent Question to get clarity from @educationgovuk & an education routemap out of coronavirus to get children learning again at school 👇 https://t.co/thYci63v65
— Robert Halfon MP -Working Hard for Harlow- (@halfon4harlowMP) January 24, 2021
“Over the weekend in the newspapers it was indicated that the schools now wouldn’t open until Easter,” Halfon told the BBC’s Breakfast programme.
“That’s why I’m urging clarity for parents, children, teachers, and support staff as to what the government plans are,” he said.
Halfon said that amid the “enormous uncertainty” he wanted the government to “set out a route map” that shows “what the conditions need to be before children can go back to school.”
Halfon’s call followed Education Secretary Gavin Williamson telling Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday that schools would be given a “clear two-week notice period” of re-opening, and he hoped that would be before Easter.
Call for a Clear Plan
Mark Harper, chairman of a group of Conservative MP lockdown sceptics called the Covid Recovery Group, joined Halfon’s call for a clear plan from the government when speaking to the programme on Monday.
He said that full immunity of the top four vaccine priority groups, which would be gained two to three weeks after their first vaccine dose in mid-February, will have “reduced the risk of people dying from COVID by nearly 90 percent, the risk of hospitalization by about 55 percent.”
At that point, he said, “The first thing that needs to be reopened are our schools so our children can get back, mix with their friends and enable their education and their social development to take place.”
“What we’re asking for now is the government to set out that plan and bring some clarity,” he added.
Also speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield, who in August last year reasoned that amid the pandemic schools should be the “first to open, last to close,” highlighted that the impact on children of schools not being open had been enormous.
Closures amid the first lockdown had caused “a huge rise in children’s mental health conditions and widened the gap in learning,” she said.
Children ‘Really Suffering’
“Children are more withdrawn, they’re really suffering in terms of their isolation, their confidence levels are falling, and for some there are serious issues,” she added, citing a July survey showing that one in six children now have “probable mental health conditions.”
These ranged from “very young children who have lost any confidence in their ability to be able to talk to other children or parents,” through to teenagers “despairing of what the future might hold,” Longfield said.
Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey meanwhile told the BBC’s Breakfast programme that although “the Prime Minister has always been very keen to have face to face learning for all children,” remote learning will currently continue.
Asked if the pre-Easter return to school had now been “written off,” she said that while “infection rates continue to be assessed” she was not aware of any decisions having yet been made.
Schools in England have been closed, except for the children of keyworkers and those designated as vulnerable, since the current third national lockdown curbs were enacted on Jan. 5.
Halfon joins education unions in calling for teachers and support staff to be prioritized for vaccines after the country’s top vulnerable groups have all had theirs.
Since this would make it “less likely that children would have to be sent home from school, we can get our schools open sooner rather than later,” he said.