I am glad that the government has seen sense and is no longing pushing primary schools to reopen for all pupils before the end of term.
We all want to get children back to school as quickly as possible but only when it is safe to do so. Schools have varied circumstances, so it is right that the government has now given them flexibility over whether or not to admit more pupils.
It remains the case that it is better for some groups of pupils, such as the children of key workers, to be in school. But Ministers should never have pressed for all primary classes to return before putting adequate safety measures in place.
Many of us warned the government that their plans were unrealistic and that the wider reopening of schools was unsafe without an effective and comprehensive test, track and isolate system. If the government had been willing to work more closely with teachers and trade unions on this issue, this confusing u-turn could have been avoided.
Weeks ago, the National Education Union set out five basic tests that the government should meet before schools were reopened. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister ignored teachers’ warnings, chose to press ahead, and has now been forced to backtrack.
The government must now move heaven and earth to get its tracking system up to speed. Ministers should also learn from this episode and, going forward, heed the warnings of teachers, trade unions, and other workers on the frontline of this crisis.
Sensibly, Sheffield City Council has already advised that the test and trace system should be in place and working effectively for 14 days before local schools begin increasing pupil numbers. I want local families to know that they can also look to me for support if they feel pressured into returning their children to school before it is safe to do so.
While pupils remain at home, Ministers must ensure that they are still receiving an education through online tuition. The government should be providing digital devices to all families who need one, but most headteachers have still not received the free laptops for poorer GCSE pupils that the government promised to supply in April.
To further support disadvantaged children and mitigate the impact of lockdown on inequality, the government also needs to increase the pupil premium and ensure that free school meals are continued throughout the summer. Ministers must not allow holiday hunger to become a crisis within a crisis.
As the pandemic continues, I will continue to scrutinise government decisions, push Ministers to improve their response to this crisis, and work with other MPs, the Council, schools, and trade unions to protect the health of local people.