Children’s commissioner and Tory MPs lead calls for ‘routemap’ to end school closures

Fiona Simpson
Monday, January 25, 2021

Conservative MPs and the children’s commissioner for England are leading calls for the government to provide a “routemap” for schools reopening across England.

Schools will remain closed until at least mid-February, the government has said. Picture: Adobe Stock
Schools will remain closed until at least mid-February, the government has said. Picture: Adobe Stock

Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England, issued a stark warning over the impact of school closures on children’s mental health and educational attainment.

Speaking on the Today programme, she said: “We’re looking at children with sleep disruption, who have lost the ability to cope, who are fearful about their future.

“This is a very serious issue for those children, and for their families.”

She said both parents and students “will need hope and clarity about what comes next”, and she called for a testing system for schools, and the possible use of vaccinations.

“It can be done, and I think that’s what parents need to know now,” she said. 

“I would like a slide on every No 10 briefing to show progress back to school, to keep parents and children informed.”

Meanwhile, MP Robert Halfon, chair of the education select committee, said he had written to Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle calling for an urgent question “to get clarity [on the reopening of schools] from the Department for Education and an education routemap out of coronavirus to get children learning again at school”.

MP Mark Harper, chair of the Covid Recovery Group, made up of 70 Conservative MPs, has reiterated the group’s calls for schools to reopen as soon as possible.

“The Prime Minister himself said last August that 'keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible'. I couldn’t put it better myself,” he said. “The government needs a plan to ensure this.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson today said the reopening of English schools was a “priority” but added there was no date planned for the move yet amid speculation over the weekend that closures could last until after Easter.

"Believe me there’s nothing I want to do more than reopen schools, I’ve fought to keep schools open for as long as I possibly could.

“We want to see schools back as fast as possible, we want to do that in a way that is consistent with fighting the epidemic and keeping the infection rate down,” he told the Guardian.

Meanwhile, new research published by the Office for National Statistics into Covid-19-related deaths found that 139 teachers, senior education professionals, education advisers and school inspectors died between March 9 and December 29. 

Over the same period, 46 teaching assistants and educational support assistants died.

Fifty-two of those who died were secondary school teachers, equating to a death rate of 39.2 deaths per 100,000 men and 21.2 deaths per 100,000 women.

These rates were higher than those seen nationally – 31.4 and 16.8 deaths per 100,000 among men and women respectively.

However, the ONS said the differences “were not statistically significantly different than those of the same age and sex in the wider population”.

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