politics

Schools announcement due in 'next few days' – 4 things before they can reopen


Tory ministers have promised an announcement on schools in the “next few days” amid mounting pressure to announce a plan to reopen.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb promised to update MPs as his own party, campaigners and children’s advocates called for a timetable to get kids back.

But he refused to name a date or quash speculation that children will only be able to return from March 1, or even later.

And he was only sent to answer Commons questions because his boss, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, declined to appear.

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said the government had “failed to give parents, students and staff the credible plan they deserve”.



Millions of pupils are stuck learning from home
Millions of pupils are stuck learning from home

She added: ”We simply don’t know what the Government’s plan is for school reopening other than what we read in the newspapers.”

Schools in England are currently shut to all but key workers’ and vulnerable children during the third national lockdown.

That was expected to change from February 22. But No10 has since said a review of lockdown will only be on February 15 – and Mr Gibb promised to give schools two weeks’ notice.

That suggests they may not be able to open their doors until March 1 at the earliest, while Boris Johnson has refused to rule out some staying shut until after Easter.

It’s understood schools might open in a staggered way, with primary and exam years going back first, and areas of low Covid infection having more openings than others.

But Mr Gibb did not confirm any of these details today.

He told MPs: “We’ve always been clear schools will be the last to close and the first to open.”

He added: “We want to give two weeks’ notice so parents can make arrangements for the care of their children.

“And we will be making announcements in the next few days.”

It had been thought the government would announce this week whether schools were going to remain open for vulnerable and key workers’ children over half term. It was not immediately clear if this was the announcement Mr Gibb was referring to.

Meanwhile the minister confirmed four things that will have to happen before schools can reopen.

Those four things will be sufficient progress on “hospitalisation rates, mortality, the rate of vaccination, and the challenge of new variants”, he said.

“Ultimately it was the pressure on the NHS that caused us to move into a national lockdown and the government is monitoring NHS capacity carefully as it reviews whether easing lockdown might be possible,” he said.

Mr Gibb defended the fact that hundreds of thousands of pupils who are due to receive a laptop or device still don’t have one.

He said an order for 340,000 was made in November that are now being delivered, but another order for 300,000 devices on January 12 has not yet arrived.

Conservative Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, raised high levels of anxiety, depression and self-harm among children due to school closures – and the pressures faced by parents – and backed a regional reopening approach.

He told the Commons: “We just need to get our schools open again sooner rather than later. Why not open schools and colleges in the areas where Covid cases and the R (rate) is significantly lower?”

Labour former schools minister Dame Diana Johnson added: “Families in Hull North are struggling and as a nation we’re storing up a timebomb of mental health issues for a generation.”

Kate Green said parents and staff “need answers to these questions and they need them now”.

Nick Gibb responded: “(She) asks for a plan, there is a plan. Schools were closed as part of a national lockdown, a lockdown introduced to tackle the growing pressure on the NHS and there are clear criteria for emerging from the lockdown including hospitalisation rates.

“We’ve always been clear that schools will be the last to close and the first to open as we emerge from the national lockdown.”





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