‘Huge shambles’: Top Tory on government schools policy

Robert Halfon says he is 'enormously sorry' for teachers, pupils and parents over government pandemic response

Catherine Lough

Coronavirus: The government's handling of schools in the pandemic has been a 'huge shambles', says senior Conservative Robert Halfon

A senior Conservative MP has branded the government's schools policy during the pandemic as a "huge shambles" after the snap decision to close schools yesterday with the introduction of a national lockdown.

Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, added that he felt "enormously sorry" for parents, pupils and teachers "for what has gone on".


Coronavirus: All schools moving online until half term, says Boris Johnson

Related: GCSE and A-level 2021 exams won't happen 'as normal'

Lockdown: Association of Colleges urges DfE to cancel BTEC exams


Asked today on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour why the government had gone from insisting schools would open on Sunday evening to closing them by Monday night, Mr Halfon said: "I wish I knew the answer to that question and I don’t. In fact, on the weekend I was getting messages from ministers...to say schools were safe, that transmission rates were pretty marginal even when schools were closed, so that’s why they could remain open.

Coronavirus and schools: 'We need a consistent policy'

"I was getting messages saying that teachers were at no greater risk than any other profession...I do not understand it. I wanted schools to open as much as possible – I think it's been a huge shambles.

"This has got to stop, the government has got to offer a consistent policy that doesn't change every couple of days, let alone weeks," he added.

Mr Halfon, a former skills minister, said that with schools switching to online learning, there were still hundreds of thousands of children on the "wrong side of the digital divide", and that "the issue is not just about children having laptops and even an internet connection, the issue is what is going to happen to them at home and they have to open those laptops they have to have parents supporting them – the parents may have to go to work".

Asked whether he understood why parents might have lost faith in his party, Mr Halfon said: "As someone in Parliament, I feel enormously sorry for parents, teachers and support staff for what has gone on.

"I’ve been campaigning for schools to be open because I worry about the risks to mental health, loss of learning, wellbeing, and also safeguarding hazards – because we know that children at home sometimes are subject to domestic abuse, online harms and perhaps joining county line gangs."

Mr Halfon did not answer whether he himself had lost faith in his party, but said: "I hope very much that they will sort it out and make sure that whatever happens that schools are open for children, teachers are prioritised for vaccination and we have a proper route map for education."

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

Latest stories

Covid in schools, GCSEs 2021, teacher safety: LIVE

Coronavirus and schools: LIVE 9/3

A one-stop shop for teachers who want to know what impact the ongoing pandemic will have on their working lives.
Tes Reporter 9 Mar 2021
GCSEs 2021: Don't blame teachers for this free for all

GCSEs 2021: Don't blame teachers for this free for all

A lack of clear guidance on standards for this year's GCSEs and A-levels will make rocketing grade inflation inevitable, writes William Stewart. But it is teachers who are being lined up to take the blame.
William Stewart 9 Mar 2021
Covid in schools, GCSEs 2021, teacher safety: LIVE

Coronavirus and schools: LIVE 8/3

A one-stop shop for teachers who want to know what impact the ongoing pandemic will have on their working lives.
Tes Reporter 8 Mar 2021
Return to college: Why my class and I will miss lockdown

Why my class and I will miss lockdown

This term hasn't been easy - but for some students, the anonymity of online learning has allowed them to thrive, writes this teacher
David Murray 8 Mar 2021