MPs are this morning calling for the government to set out detailed plans of how and when it will reopen schools to all children.
They include the Commons Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon, who has asked for a “route map” for a return to the classroom, and says there needs to be clarity following newspaper reports yesterday that schools will now not open to all after the Feburary half-term.
Meanwhile, children’s commissioner Anne Longfield has said today that there are “gaps” in the government’s plan to reopen schools.
However, speaking this morning, prime minister Boris Johnson declined to set out a timetable on school reopenings.
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Mr Halfon told BBC One's Breakfast: “The government said that the intention was to open the schools again after the February half-term – over the weekend in the newspapers it was indicated that the schools now won’t open until Easter, so that’s why I’m urging clarity for parents, children, teachers and support staff as to what the government plans are because there’s enormous uncertainty.
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“What I want the government to do is set out a route map and what I mean by that is set out what the conditions need to be before children can go back to school more fully.”
Yesterday The Sunday Times reported a government source as saying that schools will not reopen straight after the February half-term.
But Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group – made up of lockdown-sceptic Conservative MPs – said schools should reopen two or three weeks after priority groups have been vaccinated, which the government expects to have happened by mid-February.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “At that point, you need to start bringing the economy back to life, and the first thing that needs to be reopened are our schools so our children can get back, mix with their friends and enable their education and their social development to take place.”
Meanwhile, mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham also called on the government to set “a start date” or at least give pupils the equipment to access online learning.
Speaking to Sky News, he said there were around 20,000 young people in Greater Manchester who did not have access to online learning.
He said: “If we can’t give schools a start date, [the government] have to put in place the equipment to get kids online. And it’s just not good enough to do this sort of half-hearted job they have done so far.
“I understand why you can’t set a date, but for goodness' sake, you have to put in place an arrangement that allows every child to learn."
This morning Mr Johnson declined to commit to a timetable for the wider opening of schools.
“I totally understand the frustrations of parents," he said. "I really thank teachers for what they’re doing, the immense efforts they’re going to to teach kids online, and the government has provided a lot of laptops … I know that’s no substitute for direct face-to-face learning.
“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.”
Speaking on BBC's Breakfast, Ms Longfield said she believed the government was committed to its plan that schools should be the last places to close and the first to reopen.
But she added: “This plan to actually get there is where some of the gaps start to appear and…unions are telling me and councils are telling me that with a certain number of factors in place – the vaccines, the testing and the like – it could be possible to start making that happen sooner rather than later."
The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.