The prime minister has called it a “moral duty” to ensure all children return to schools in England next month and said the resumption of education is the “national priority”.
Boris Johnson has told ministers and officials there can be “no excuses” for schools not reopening and in an article for the Mail on Sunday, he stated: “Now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so.”
The PM added: “Keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible.”
The paper calls Johnson’s message a “rallying cry” that will “crank up the political pressure” on union leaders “blocking the return of pupils to classrooms”.
‘It should have been a priority right from the beginning’
The head of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Geoof Barton has hit back, saying schools should have been the priority “right from the beginning” of the coronavirus outbreak, and that clarity rather than rhetoric is needed now.
“If the government is always on the back foot, putting us in the position of trying to then make some kind of sense out of their guidance, school leaders will do that, but it is a little bit rich I think to be hearing a prime minister say this is a priority,” Barton told the BBC. “It should have been a priority right from the beginning.”
Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England echoed Barton’s comments, telling BBC Breakffast that schools “should be the last to close their doors and the first to open”, and called for more testing and tracing systems for schools.
Last week Longfield criticised the government for treating children as an “afterthought” as ministers scrambled to create policies for the lockdown, and said pupils must be at the heart of planning for a potential second wave of the virus.
Williamson’s ‘head is on the block’
Government advisers already have warned about the risks of a second coronavirus wave by further opening up society, but pressure is on education secretary Gavin Williamson to ensure the pupils return to schools.
The Daily Mail reports the PM has warned Williamson his “head will be on the chopping block” if schools don’t reopen in September – more than five months after they were closed on March 20.
Johnson is set to visit a school tomorrow (Monday) to examine “Covid-secure” measures put in place and to keep the focus on the issue, following his article for the Mail on Sunday, supported by a “PR blitz” and government advertising campaign to ensure schools reopen.
The Telegraph reports meetings last week in Downing Street during which the PM “stressed that the harm done to children’s education prospects by not attending school as well as to their mental health is far more damaging than the low risk posed” by the virus.