A former Conservative education secretary has warned that the government risks "meandering into a real education crisis" if ministers do not come up with a "proper plan" for a wider opening of schools.
Justine Greening, who was secretary of state for education between 2016 and 2018, said the "big risk" for the current government is that, without a "proper strategy", prime minister Boris Johnson "presides over levelling down" in education.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4's World at One programme, Ms Greening said she thinks it is "unrealistic" of the government to expect schools to come up with strategies for opening safely on their own.
"If we are going to avoid meandering into a real education crisis in the autumn then it needs action now from ministers to come up with a proper plan," she said.
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The former education secretary said she could understand why some schools were reluctant to reopen due to safety concerns, and argued that the government must produce a "proper plan" for how schools should open to more pupils.
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"What we need from government is a proper strategy from how we're going to get schools, not only open, but how we can help young people who have been out of the school system for months now [get] time to catch up, and also beyond that, then a proper plan for how we can help schools open in a way that is safe," she said.
"So if social distancing is the approach we are going to be taking for the foreseeable future, then I think – as much as schools can try their best to come up with plans and strategies – actually what they need is a proper strategy from this government to help them actually work a way through delivering education in September."
She added: "The big risk I think for Boris Johnson's government now is that, rather than levelling up, he presides over levelling down. And the way to avoid that is to have a proper plan for our education."
Asked how more space and teachers will be found for schools, Ms Greening said: "I think there is plenty of office space and community space that is currently unused. I think there's no reason why we can't ask teachers who have left the profession to come back in – and, indeed, private tutors."
"My concern is that if government can't even take a straightforward decision like that, then there is a real question about how and when it's going to come up with a much broader strategy that our education system needs, to make sure our children and young people are educated in the autumn – and that those who have suffered most from the school shutdown have a plan in place to help them catch up."