Boris Johnson must get kids back to school next month or risk 'lost generation', warn MPs and parents
BORIS Johnson must begin getting children back into classrooms next month, his own MPs and parents demanded last night.
The PM was warned that a swift return was vital to avoid risking “a lost generation” of kids from the country’s poorest families.
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The calls came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock hinted teachers will be vaccinated as a priority — but not before Easter.
Tory MPs and parents warned Boris Johnson last night that children risk becoming the “forgotten victims” of the Covid pandemic.
Former Cabinet Minister Esther McVey said “We genuinely seem to have forgotten about schoolchildren.
"They are the pandemic’s forgotten victims. We’ve got to start thinking about their prospects and futures.”
She added: “It’s time to get schools open, to safeguard children’s futures and to make sure we don’t let down an entire generation.”
'LONG WAY TO GO'
Mr Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson faced a furious backlash after the Health Secretary hinted that schools would not reopen until Easter.
Matt Hancock said we have a “long, long way to go” before lockdown can be lifted.
His comment sparked uproar among senior Tory MPs who are demanding more clarity from ministers.
A dozen Conservative MPs have signed up to the “UsforThem” campaign to get schools opened up as soon as possible.
The powerful boss of the Commons Education Select committee, Robert Halfon, said Mr Johnson must use the full “engine of government” to get schools open again after February half term” — beginning in areas with lower Covid cases.
The Essex MP told The Sun: “Long after the coronavirus has gone, our younger children could be mired in a ditch of educational poverty, mental health crises and safeguarding hazards because of the damage of school closures.”
Mansfield MP Ben Bradley said: “Schools must reopen. Each day they’re out of the classroom, the most disadvantaged children are falling behind in their education, and their life chances are poorer as a result.”
Mark Harper, head of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: “As the PM himself said last August, ‘keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible’.”
It is feared some kids in areas with high Covid rates won’t be able to return to class until spring with Mr Williamson set to rule out any kids returning before February half-term.
Mr Hancock yesterday refused to put a date on schools returning.
He said teachers have a “good shout” of being high on the coronavirus vaccine priority list once the most clinically vulnerable have been jabbed.
But health sources said this was unlikely to begin before April.
He rejected an offer from private schools and academies to jab all of the UK’s teachers at half-term at no cost to the Government, saying the challenge was “supply of vaccine”.
Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield told The Sun: “The first lockdown caused a huge rise in the number of children with serious mental health issues and widened gaps in learning, particularly for the most disadvantaged. Closing schools is bad for children.”
“The Education Secretary was right to say he hoped to have all children back in the classroom before Easter.
"If that is to happen, the Government will need to make sure primary schools start going back after the next half-term.”
Many parents claim their kids are suffering emotionally as well as educationally.
Jane Rowland, who has two children aged 15 and 12, said: “They’re missing friends, teachers, sports, the responsibilities going to school brings in terms of managing their day-to-day life — all of which is important for them to develop into confident adults.”
Company director Jane, of Cambridgeshire, added: “If all teachers were offered the vaccine at the earliest opportunity then schools should be able to return to normal.”
Mum-of-two Rachel Bird, of Bromley, South East London, said: “The Government must get schools open for all children — their education and well-being cannot continue to be sacrificed.”
Esther McVey MP, former Cabinet Minister: “We genuinely seem to have forgotten about school children. 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.
"They are the pandemic’s forgotten victims and we’ve got to start thinking about their prospects and futures as well.
"What worries me most is that the schools shutdown is having a disproportionate impact on society’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged children as well, increasing the attainment gap between them and their peers from wealthier areas and families – a gap that is 'widening by the day' according to the Social Mobility Commission.
"Education should not be treated as some sort of optional extra. It is an essential and critical service just like healthcare and the food provision.
"And for the millions of parents who are trying their best to hold down a job whilst performing the duties of childcare and teacher at the same time, the pressure is simply becoming too much.
"It’s time to get schools open, to safeguard children's futures and to make sure we don’t let down an entire generation.”
Rob Halfon MP, Education Committee boss: "Long after the coronavirus has gone our younger children could be mired in ditch of educational poverty, a mental health crises and safeguarding hazards because of the damage of school closures.
"The engine of Government should be directed to do everything possible to get our schools open again after February half term – as was stated previously by the Prime Minister.
"If there are areas of the country with low Covid rates, there should be no reason not to open the schools.
"As the Deputy CMO said to our Education committee, teachers and support staff are at no greater risk than any other profession, nor is there evidence that schools are significant transmitters of the virus. "
Mark Harper MP, leader of the Covid Recovery Group: "The first priority should be to start reopening schools. Why?
"Professor Chris Whitty has said “the evidence that not going to school damages children in the long run is overwhelming”.
"The Education Select Committee took evidence on this just last week and heard from Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who said that “academic publications from the UK and…from elsewhere…tell a very consistent story. It is a story of considerable mental health harms.”
"England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries also said “at the moment, there is no significant evidence” that schools are significant drivers of Covid transmission.
"As the PM himself said last August “keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible.” I couldn’t put it better myself.”
Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner: “The first lockdown caused a huge rise in the number of children with serious mental health issues and widened gaps in learning, particularly for the most disadvantaged children.
"Closing schools is bad for children which is why I don’t want them closed for a day longer than necessary. Schools must be the first thing to reopen.
"The Education Secretary was right to say he hoped to have all children back in the classroom before Easter.
"If that is to happen, the Government will need to make sure primary schools start going back after the next half-term.
"Teachers will need to be a higher priority for vaccines and we need testing regimes that schools have confidence in, alongside catch-up funding, and making sure all schools have an NHS-funded counsellor.”
Ben Bradley MP: “Schools must reopen. Each day they’re out of the classroom, the most disadvantaged children are falling behind in their education, and their life chances are poorer as a result.
"Narrowing the educational gap is fundamental to 'levelling up' and giving people a fair chance in life.
"These school closures are only going to make that problem worse, hold back the communities that put their faith in us even more, and in my view it's storing up huge issues for the future that are being grossly underestimated."
The Conservative MPs backing the UsForThem campaign to get schools open quicker:
Rt Hon Esther McVey MP
Sir Robert Syms MP
Sir Graham Brady MP
Chris Green MP
Steve Brine MP, former health minister
Ben Bradley MP
Andy Carter MP
Philip Davies MP
Lee Anderson MP
Greg Smith MP
Karl McCartney MP
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