Along with Sheffield’s other Labour MPs – Clive Betts, Olivia Blake, Paul Blomfield, and Gill Furniss – I have released the below statement on the wider re-opening of schools from coronavirus lock-down.
Statement on Wider Re-Opening of Schools from Coronavirus Lock-Down
As Sheffield MPs we know how worried parents, teachers, school support staff and pupils themselves are at this difficult time.
In Parliament, we have been absolutely clear as the official Opposition: the Government should only start releasing schools from the lock-down measures once it can fully guarantee the safety of pupils, teachers, support staff and their families. Until safety can be guaranteed, the lock-down measures should remain in full force.
The NEU and other groups, including the BMA, are therefore right to raise the alarm over the Government’s proposal for primary schools to fully reopen on 1st June. Until the full scientific guidance is published, it will be impossible for the public to have confidence in this plan. There are too many unanswered questions about how the full re-opening would work in practice, especially given the conflicting evidence over whether children are just as likely as adults to catch and transmit coronavirus.
Expert advice is that we need the ‘test, track and trace’ system to be fully operational before releasing lock-down measures, and it was good to hear Sheffield’s Director of Public Health make this point in the national media today.
We are also acutely conscious of the dangers that vulnerable children face at home during the lock-down. Tragically, there are children in this city who are less safe with their families than at school. School staff have been amazing at keeping a skeleton service going for vulnerable young people, but it is deeply concerning that a very small proportion of vulnerable children eligible to continue attending are actually going in. As well as the immediate dangers they could face, there will be dramatic long-term effects on their life chances for falling behind in education.
Having said that, we are deeply unhappy that Conservative ministers are using the plight of these children to argue that we must prioritise the reopening of schools over effective public health measures. We are not in fact faced with a binary choice between education and safety: the Government could be doing so much more to both protect vulnerable children, ensure that all pupils receive full education even with partial school closures, and make adequate preparation for eventual re-openings.
Therefore we believe that we must continue to pay the closest regard to advice from Sheffield’s Director of Public Health and that the Government must immediately work with the education unions, local authorities and schools to develop a plan to gradually reopen schools safely, putting in place a package of pastoral support specifically aimed at vulnerable children and closing the attainment gap.
Clive Betts MP
Olivia Blake MP
Paul Blomfield MP
Gill Furniss MP
Louise Haigh MP