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The Quiet Storm

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Pressure grows on PM to reopen schools amid warning children are pandemic’s ‘forgotten victims’

Written by on 24/01/2021

The prime minister and education secretary are coming under increasing pressure to reopen schools.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to confirm this week that there will be no return to the classroom after the February half-term break and Health Secretary Matt Hancock has already refused to guarantee that schools would reopen before Easter.

Rob Halfon, the chairman of the Commons Education Committee, said he had written to Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle asking him to summon a minister to Parliament on Monday for an urgent question.

Mr Halfon said on Twitter that he was seeking “clarity” from the Department for Education and “an education route map our of coronavirus to get children learning again at school”.

Former cabinet minister Esther McVey said the government should take into account the damage the prolonged closures were doing to the future prospects of a generation of children.

Primary school teacher Caolan Byrne
Image: Unions have called for teachers and other public sector workers to get priority access to jabs

“We genuinely seem to have forgotten about the children,” she told The Daily Telegraph.

“Millions of them are missing out on an education, not developing socially with their friends and aren’t allowed to enrich their lives by playing sports and music any more.

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“They are the pandemic’s forgotten victims and we’ve got to start thinking about their prospects and futures as well.”

It comes after the health secretary told Sky News that teachers have a “good shout” to be “very high” on the next priority list for a coronavirus vaccine.

So far, more than five million people have had their first dose – with the UK government and devolved administrations aiming to hit 15 million by mid-February.

Only vulnerable pupils and children of key workers are currently able to attend school, and in a blow to parents, Mr Hancock said he wasn’t sure if schools in England will reopen by Easter.

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Hancock ‘worried’ about new COVID variants

Asked if he could promise they will, he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “We have got to look at the data, we have got to look at the impact of the vaccination programme.

“The education secretary has said that we will ensure schools get two weeks’ notice of return.

“I don’t know whether it will be then or before then. We have got to watch the data.”

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Sophy Ridge on Sunday highlights

It comes as The Sunday Times reported the government is preparing to rule out children returning to the classroom after the February half-term holiday, with the prospect of home schooling continuing for several months.

The paper quoted a government source as saying: “We are in this for the long haul.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We continue to keep plans for the return to school under review and will inform schools, parents and pupils of the plans ahead of February half term.”

They added: “We will continue to work to reopen schools as soon as possible.”

 Sky News

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