LONDON: There is a “moral duty” to get all children back into schools in England next month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said it was the “national priority” after months without in-person education during the coronavirus pandemic, reports BBC.Government advisers have warned of risks in the plans to open up society.
Geoff Barton, head of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) union, said schools should have been a priority “right from the beginning”.
The prime minister is understood to have made clear that schools should be the last sector to shut in any future local lockdowns.
A Downing Street source said Johnson believes the harm being done to children’s education prospects and mental health by not attending school is far more damaging than the risk posed to them by the virus.
The source said in the event of future stricter local lockdowns, the PM’s expectation was that schools would be the last sector to be closed, after businesses like shops and pubs.
Schools across the UK closed on 20 March, except to children of key workers or vulnerable children. On 1 June, they began a limited reopening for early years pupils, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.The current plan is for most children across the country to be back in class by next month.
Guidance on reopening has been published for England. There are also separate plans for Wales, Northern Ireland and also Scotland, where schools are scheduled to return from Tuesday.
In his article, Johnson said: “This pandemic isn’t over, and the last thing any of us can afford to do is become complacent.
“But now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so.”
The PM also warned of the “spiralling economic costs” of parents and carers being unable to work.
He added: “Keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible.”
But Barton, from the ASCL union, said that greater clarity - rather than rhetoric - was needed from the government. He cited confusion over masks following suggestions secondary school pupils would be expected to wear such coverings on school buses but not in classrooms.
Barton told the BBC: “If the government is always on the back foot, putting us in the position of trying to then make some kind of sense out of their guidance, school leaders will do that, but it is a little bit rich I think to be hearing a prime minister say this is a priority. It should have been a priority right from the beginning.”
The children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, told BBC Breakfast: “They [schools] should be the last to close their doors and the first to open.” She added that she would like to see testing and tracing systems in place more often in schools.