Tuesday 29 December 2020 / 9:22 AM Kate Green

Labour calls on Education Secretary to provide clarity to parents on the reopening of schools and colleges

Labour calls on the Government to stop hiding and publish SAGE advice on return of schools and colleges 

Labour is calling on the Government be honest with the public and publish SAGE advice about the return of schools and colleges next week, after reports suggest the scientific advisors have said stricter restrictions, including school closures, may be needed. 

Government failures to manage the spread of the virus, with the Health Secretary admitting that the new variant is “out of control”, mean students may not be able to return to classrooms next week. However, parents and pupils, school and college staff are being left in the dark about plans, with media speculation taking the place of government clarity. 

School and college staff have been working flat out during the holidays to get ready for mass testing in January, after the Government announced testing plans in the last days of the autumn term, months after Labour first called for students to be prioritised for testing. 

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green and Shadow Schools Minister Wes Streeting have written to Gavin Williamson urging him to provide answers for parents, students and staff. 

Their letter calls on the Government to: 

  • Urgently publish scientific evidence on the spread of the virus in schools and colleges and the risk this poses to students, staff and wider transmission within the community, including the new strain; 
  • Publish SAGE’s advice on the return of schools in January; 
  • Publish a credible plan to ensure every pupil not in school will be able to access high-quality remote learning; 
  • Confirm whether plans for mass testing will go ahead; 
  • Immediately clarify when school and college staff can expect to be vaccinated against coronavirus Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: 

    “The Government cannot continue to hide from reality and must urgently publish the scientific advice on the return of schools. 

    “Parents, pupils and staff are incredibly concerned about what will happen next week, with the Prime Minister governing through media leaks rather than evidence and clarity.  

    “The Government has lost control of the virus and children’s education is suffering as a result. It’s time for the Prime Minister to own his mistakes and be honest about whether students can return to schools and colleges in a week’s time.”
    Ends 
      
    Notes to editors 

  • Full text of Kate Green and Wes Streeting’s letter to Gavin Williamson: Dear Gavin 

    Less than a week from now pupils across the country would expect to be returning to school at the start of a new term, yet school and colleges, parents and students are still unsure about whether they will go back in person. 

     Reports in The Times, Telegraph and Independent suggest that you and the Prime Minister only met yesterday to discuss this. This will be alarming to school staff who have been working flat out throughout the holiday to prepare for mass testing in January after your Department waited until immediately before the Christmas holidays to announce a plan for testing. 

    If schools are not able to reopen safely for all pupils in January it will be a direct result of the Government’s failure to give schools the support they need and get transmission of the virus under control. Labour have said time and again that school is the best place for the education and wellbeing of pupils. If you and your Government have failed to ensure that they can be there safely, then you must urgently ensure that there is a credible plan in place to keep them learning and safe in the weeks ahead. 

    With the return of Parliament on Wednesday, you should urgently set out the measures you will take to safeguard pupils, so the Members have an opportunity to scrutinise policies that will have a huge impact on all of our constituents. 
      

    Advice from SAGE 

    It has now been reported that SAGE has advised the Prime Minister that stricter restrictions will be needed to reduce the transmission of the virus in January, and that this may include schools being closed. It is completely unacceptable that this information has become public through leaks to the media, instead of you and the Prime Minister being honest with the public about the challenges that we face and the Government’s response. 

    Therefore will you urgently set out:   

  • Firstly, what the scientific advice tell us about the spread of the virus in schools and colleges and the risk this poses to students, staff and wider transmission within the community? Will you publish the scientific advice government receives on this? 

 

  • Secondly, what steps has SAGE advised the Prime Minister to take in order to reduce transmission of the virus in January, and what advice have they given specifically about schools? The public deserve transparency and honest from the Government, and decisions on restrictions must follow scientific advice. Reports that the virus is spread faster among children and young people understandably raise concerns about the safe return of students and staff in January. School and college staff have already lost what confidence they could have in the government after the shambolic end to the term and the chaotic plans to roll out mass testing in January. To avoid further stress and confusion you should immediately publish the most recent advice from SAGE, and, as the Leader of the Labour Party has said to the Prime Minister, this advice must be followed. 

    What will your Department do if schools are not able to reopen safely next week? 

    School is the best place for pupils to be for both their education and wellbeing. If the majority, or all, pupils do not return to the classroom next week then you must immediately outline a plan to keep them safe and learning throughout this period, and ensure that they are safely back in the classroom as soon as possible. 

    Will you urgently set out: 

 

  • What steps will your Department take to ensure that every pupil not in school will be able to access high-quality remote learning? You have had months to work with schools and colleges to get high-quality remote learning in place for all those who need it, but we are deeply concerned that you have failed to do so, and that pupils will once again pay the price for this failure. You must immediately publish a credible plan, and give schools the support they need to make this happen. 

      

  • What progress has been made on testing in schools? Labour have called for mass testing in schools for months, but you repeatedly failed to act. Staff been forced to work flat out through the holidays to get testing in place for the start of term next week. Can you tell me how many schools now have testing provision in place, and what steps your Department is taking to ensure that schools have the support they need to make this happen? 

      

  • When can school and college staff expect to receive a vaccine? The Sunday Times reported that teachers are being moved up the priority list for vaccination, is this accurate? If so, can you say when they can expect to receive a vaccination? Will any change to prioritisation be extended to other school staff, such as the teaching assistants who often work most closely with individual pupils? 

    We wrote to you last week urging you to provide clarity, and answer key operational questions for schools and colleges yet you continue to delay. We do not believe that you understand or appreciate the immense pressure that staff, students and parents have faced throughout this year. Your government has added to that pressure through a combination of poor planning and incompetence. Keeping students learning and the safety of staff and students must be a national priority. We expect you to set out a plan to achieve this immediately. 

    We look forward to your response. 

    Yours sincerely 
      

    Kate Green MP                                          Wes Streeting MP 

    Shadow Secretary of State for Education     Shadow Minister for Schools