Boris says 'schools won't shut' if second wave of coronavirus hits UK
Boris Johnson said schools would not be closed in any local lockdown amid calls for a ‘plan B’ if there is another Covid-19 spike.
The prime minister said on Monday that getting all children back to the classroom 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 a teachers’ union said ministers should have a back up plan, such as a ‘week-on, week-off’ rota system for pupils, in case of further lockdowns and surges in coronavirus cases.
The PM 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.
‘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.
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‘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.’
Tensions have boiled over between ministers and teaching unions in recent days, particularly after the National Education Union published a list of 200 safety demands for all schools to adhere to.
Tory MP Rob Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, said some unions are ‘imposing significant obstacles and significant tests that no other workplace is following’.
He said: ‘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 in the case of a second wave.
It will be mandatory for all pupils in England to return to the classroom from September.
The latest tensions over Covid-19’s impact on education come as a European study suggested reopening schools was not a major danger in community transmission of the disease.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and a member of the Government’s Sage scientific advisory group, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday that ‘reopening schools is one of the least risky things we can do’.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said heads supported the full reopening of schools in September and the pledge to make it a national priority.
But he added: ‘We are concerned about the lack of a national plan B if there is a second wave of coronavirus and there is a second national shutdown.
‘The Government guidance requires schools to have in place their own contingency plans which are based on a return to remote education in the event of local closures.’
‘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.
The government’s scientific advisers have claimed the nation may have reached the limit of what can be reopened safely.
No10 confirmed yesterday that pubs and restaurants might have to shut to keep schools open in a local lockdown.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: ‘It’s correct to say schools would be the absolute last sector to close in any local lockdown.
‘Other venues would be expected to be closed first in the event that strict lockdown measures had to be applied.’
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