Easington MP Grahame Morris has called for the government to give parents certainty over school re-opening and has suggested that schools should remain closed for the 2019/20 academic year.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has proposed a phased reopening of schools, colleges and childcare for children in transition years and priority groups. Primary schools will be asked to open for reception, year 1 and year 6 children. Nurseries and other early years providers, including childminders, will be able to welcome back children of all ages. Secondary schools and colleges will be asked to provide face-to-face support for years 10 and 12, who are due to take key exams in the next year.
The British Medical Association and teaching unions have expressed concerns about the safety of reopening schools. “Until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools,” said a letter from the BMA’s council chair.
England is the only UK nation to set a date for schools to start to reopen.
Grahame Morris MP has listened to the concerns of local teaching staff following an invitation to the NEUs all member meeting via Zoom, he said:
“The sooner the country can return to normality the better. However, this cannot be done at the expense of parents, teachers and students health, safety and wellbeing.
The government have failed to deliver a clear and confident message on coronavirus. Parents and teachers are concerned about Ministerial assurances on safety considering the government’s failings on testing, PPE and in our care homes. They must not repeat the same mistakes with our schools.
There should not be a rush to reopen schools, and the government should give themselves time to plan effectively. Coronavirus has massively disrupted the current school year which only has one-half term left. Teachers want to deliver the best for their students, and we should be focusing on creating the best possible opportunities for e-learning, rather than rushing the practicalities of trying to maintain social distancing between young children in the classroom.”
Speaking in Parliament on 13 May, the Secretary of State for Education cited Denmark and the Netherlands as countries the UK would like to mirror, stating:
“In reaching conclusions on how to bring about a phased return of schools, we looked at how it had been done in countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and many others. We will see a mirroring of the approach taken in Denmark here in the United Kingdom.”
Mr Morris questioned the Education Secretary’s belief the UK should ‘mirror’ Denmark:
“Unfortunately, the UK doesn’t mirror Denmark. The UK has the highest number of Covid 19 deaths in Europe, and we are currently only behind Italy and Spain in relation to deaths per million. In contrast to the UK, which has 432 deaths per million of the population, Denmark has only 85 deaths per million.
The government’s covid-19 figures are less than robust, and newspapers are reporting to the true coronavirus death toll could be nearly 40% higher than the selective figures quoted by Ministers.
Italy and Spain have suspended their school year and will not reopen until 1 September. In view of the UK’s high infection and death rate, if we are to mirror anyone, it should be those countries that have had similar Covid-19 experiences.”
Mr Morris concluded:
“I want schools to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so, but it’s not safe yet. The current proposals are reckless and risk contributing to a second coronavirus spike, at a time when the government are still struggling to control the initial outbreak”