Starmer calls for unity to open schools ‘as soon as pos­si­ble’

So­cial mo­bil­ity ex­perts and sci­en­tists warned min­is­ters of lock­down im­pact on men­tal and phys­i­cal health

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Christo­pher Hope Chief Po­lit­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dent

SIR KEIR STARMER’S chil­dren have at­tended school through­out the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, the Labour leader has re­vealed, as he urges unions, par­ents and the Gov­ern­ment to work to­gether to get more pupils back in class­rooms as soon as pos­si­ble.

The Labour leader says in an in­ter­view with The Daily Tele­graph that he knows the im­por­tance of keep­ing chil­dren in ed­u­ca­tion be­cause his son and daugh­ter have both at­tended lo­cal state schools in his north Lon­don con­stituency dur­ing the lock­down be­cause Sir Keir’s wife Vic­to­ria is a key worker in the Na­tional Health Ser­vice.

The Prime Min­is­ter is strug­gling against a com­bi­na­tion of more than 50 coun­cils and teach­ers’ unions re­fus­ing to agree to a par­tial re­open­ing of English pri­mary schools from June 1.

But Sir Keir says: “Our chil­dren have been in school through­out [the coro­n­avirus cri­sis]. It’s a re­minder that this per­cep­tion that schools are shut at the moment, and the ques­tion of whether we open them, is wrong. The ques­tion is, can we in­crease the num­bers of chil­dren go­ing back into school? I want that to hap­pen as soon as it can. But, of course, it’s got to be safe.”

The Labour leader adds: “Rather than ac­cen­tu­at­ing the dif­fer­ences here, the Prime Min­is­ter should pull a task force to­gether, and say, ‘Right, we are go­ing to lead from the front.’

“If the Prime Min­is­ter said, ‘I’ll set up a task force of teach­ing unions, par­ents, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and gov­ern­ment, ev­ery­body else who needs to be around the ta­ble, to put your shoul­der to the wheel, let’s get on with this,’ then I would cer­tainly sup­port that.” While not overtly back­ing the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Union, which has set five tests that must be met be­fore any re­turn – cov­er­ing lower Covid-19 cases, a na­tional plan for so­cial dis­tanc­ing, bet­ter ac­cess to test­ing, pro­to­cols for out­breaks and pro­tec­tion for vul­ner­a­ble staff are sat­is­fied – Sir Keir de­scribes them as “per­fectly rea­son­able tests that can be met”.

Sarah Knap­ton, Camilla Turner

Jack Hardy

CHIL­DREN will suf­fer life­long dam­age be­cause of lock­down, min­is­ters were warned ahead of the de­ci­sion to open schools, it has emerged.

Yes­ter­day, doc­u­ments were re­leased de­tail­ing the ev­i­dence seen by the Sci­en­tific Ad­vi­sory Group for Emer­gency’s (Sage) on whether it was safe to al­low pupils to re­turn to the class­room.

One re­port by the Sci­en­tific Pan­demic In­fluenza Group of Mod­el­ling (SPI-M) and the New and Emerg­ing Re­s­pi­ra­tory Virus Threats Ad­vi­sory Group (Nerv­tag) warned of the wider im­pact of lock­down to chil­dren’s phys­i­cal and men­tal health, ed­u­ca­tion and devel­op­ment.

The au­thors said: “A co­hort of chil­dren have ex­pe­ri­enced a shock to their ed­u­ca­tion, which will per­sist and af­fect their ed­u­ca­tional and work out­comes for the rest of their lives. The cur­rent lock­down may lead to an in­crease in ad­verse child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences, for ex­am­ple: do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, poor parental men­tal health, child ne­glect or abuse.”

Al­though the au­thors said some chil­dren “will adapt and be just fine” they warned that the vul­ner­a­ble and poor­est would be hit the hard­est.

Many would suf­fer from lack of out­side space and op­por­tu­ni­ties for play and ex­er­cise, as well as lone­li­ness, lack of so­cial­i­sa­tion, lack of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and hunger, they said.

“Ed­u­ca­tional out­comes are se­ri­ously at risk, es­pe­cially for dis­ad­van­taged pupils,” the re­port au­thors state.

“It is as­sumed that most stu­dents have ac­cess to de­vices and the in­ter­net, though an im­por­tant mi­nor­ity do not.

It can­not be as­sumed that all par­ents have the knowl­edge, con­fi­dence, re­sources and time to sup­port learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren.”

Seven in 10 par­ents said their chil­dren’s men­tal health had been af­fected, the pa­pers show, and one third said it had dam­aged phys­i­cal health.

The Gov­ern­ment is hop­ing to get Year Six, Year One and Re­cep­tion pupils back to school in the first wave in June but has faced re­sis­tance from teach­ing unions who ar­gue it is not safe for teach­ers or pupils. How­ever, the pa­pers in­clude a re­view of stud­ies from Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don show­ing that those aged un­der 20 had a 56 per cent less chance of be­ing in­fected.

Prof Lee El­liot Ma­jor, an ex­pert in so­cial mo­bil­ity at Ex­eter Univer­sity, added: “The longer we leave the school re­turn, the big­ger the chal­lenge in get­ting them back up to speed and the greater like­li­hood we’ll face of a de­cline in so­cial mo­bil­ity.

“It will be a huge task for teach­ers to en­able chil­dren to catch up when they do re­turn to school, and the real fear is that some chil­dren will suf­fer per­ma­nent ed­u­ca­tion scar­ring.”

Mod­el­ling of var­i­ous sce­nar­ios for re­open­ing schools were car­ried out ahead of the de­ci­sion, and show only a small in­crease in the over­all in­fec­tion rate for the pop­u­la­tion.

Bring­ing back Re­cep­tion pupils and a hand­ful of year groups is likely to raise the re­pro­duc­tion (R) value by less than 0.3, mod­el­ling shows, al­though the spe­cific re­turn strat­egy set out by the Gov­ern­ment has not it­self been mod­elled.

Gov­ern­ment sci­en­tific ex­perts said they were still un­sure what role schools played in the R rate and are bas­ing their R rate fig­ures on an imag­i­nary sce­nario where open­ing schools en­tirely would raise the R rate by 1.

Teacher unions wel­comed the publi­ca­tion of Sage’s ev­i­dence, but re­mained op­posed to plans for schools that sug­gested Boris John­son was tak­ing a “cava­lier at­ti­tude” to­wards chil­dren. Dr

Mary Bousted, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Union said: “We are sur­prised that the wider open­ing of schools pro­posed by Boris John­son has not been mod­elled by Sage. This points to a cava­lier at­ti­tude to­wards the nation’s chil­dren.”

Paul White­man, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Head teach­ers, said that sup­port for schools to re­open on a fixed date con­tin­ues to van­ish.

There is also un­cer­tainty about a June re­open­ing be­cause gov­ern­ment ex­perts say test, track and trace sys­tems would need to be in place. It is thought they will not be ready in time.

Sir David King, the for­mer chief sci­en­tific ad­viser, said there was no ev­i­dence that in­fec­tions were low enough, or that con­tact trac­ing was in place.

But Gavin Wil­liamson, the Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary, said that the phased re­turn has been a “care­fully con­sid­ered de­ci­sion based on the best sci­en­tific and med­i­cal ad­vice”.

‘It can­not be as­sumed that all par­ents have the time, knowl­edge and re­sources to sup­port learn­ing’

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