Covid-19: School Reopening

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:34 pm on 13th May 2020.

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Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Shadow Secretary of State for Education 12:34 pm, 13th May 2020

We all desperately want schools to reopen for the sake of children’s education and wellbeing, but the Secretary of State must appreciate that the guidance provided so far does not yet give the clear assurances over safety that are needed. Anxious shielding families, worried grandparents, teaching staff in fear—sadly, this sums up the theme of the past 48 hours. I hope that, to allay these concerns, he can address the following issues today.

Will the Secretary of State consider changing the focus of the plan so that, instead of asking schools to scramble to implement an unrealistic plan by a specific date, we ask them to plan to meet certain conditions that, when met, would signal that it was safe to open—a subtle but important distinction? Does he acknowledge that, due to the availability of staff and space, splitting classes while simultaneously providing remote learning is incredibly difficult, and will he work with schools to develop a realistic plan for social distancing? Has he modelled the impact of reopening schools on the infection rates, and will he publish that? Will he acknowledge that for younger year groups, social distancing will be virtually impossible and that the current guidance, sadly, gives the impression that those pupils and staff should just accept being exposed? With this in mind, will he rethink the position on PPE?

Finally, most schools break up for summer in mid-July; if the ambition is to get pupils back for a month, that means the whole school would need to be back less than two weeks after the priority years, so how does the Secretary of State expect schools to implement social distancing for the whole school when many heads say this is just impossible? If they do not, then what is the point of schools planning strict health and safety measures for two weeks only to abandon them? The Secretary of State repeatedly states that schools will open only when it is safe, and he referred to the scientific advice, which requires a return in a controlled manner; I do not see much of a controlled manner at the moment, so please will the Secretary of State work with the sector to get this right?