Schools reopening is a ‘national priority’ says Jon Ashworth
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The Shadow Health Secretary said schools must be reopened as he called on the Government to implement strategies to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. But a coalition of unions and professional bodies warned that reopening schools to all pupils in England at the same time would be “reckless” and could risk another spike in Covid infections. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Ashworth said: “I’ve always said that children may not be the face of the pandemic but they certainly being among the biggest victims of this crisis.
“Of course schools have been open for children of key workers but opening up schools to all other workers is important.
“It’s important for their learning, mental health, their wellbeing so we do need to open schools but we need to ensure that as we do measures are in place to keep the schools safe.”
He suggested ventilation and air filtrations systems would be beneficial as well as testing and guidance on mask-wearing and a plan to vaccinate teachers and assistants.
The Labour MP continued: “But we know that opening schools will put pressure on the R and society has to make a judgment about keeping other things closed like pubs and restaurants.”
BBC presenter Justin Webb interjected: “The unions have made a judgment about reopening schools and called it reckless.
“They’ve come together, nine education unions say it should be a staggered return. Why are you saying that they’re wrong?”
Mr Ashworth continued: “You’ve got to make a broader judgment in the end about what is your priority as a society and I think the long-term implications of children being out of schools are profound.
“We need a national effort to get our children back into school.
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“I would ask the Education Secretary to ring the trade unions and talk to them about the plans and tell them what plans he’s going to put in place to mitigate the virus spread.”
It comes as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has rejected pressure from unions to call for a phased return of schools, arguing that “ideally” all children should be back in England’s classrooms on March 8.
Sir Keir said he hoped Boris Johnson would set out a “cautious, careful” exit from lockdown when the Prime Minister publishes his road map on Monday but the full return of schools should be the aim.
The joint statement was from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the NAHT school leaders’ union, the National Education Union (NEU), the NASUWT teachers’ union, the National Governance Association (NGA), the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) and Labour-affiliated unions Unison, Unite and GMB.
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Sir Keir told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Ideally, I’d like to see all schools back open on 8th March and all children back in school on March 8.
“I’ve been worried through the pandemic, a number of people have, about the impact that being out of school has on particularly vulnerable children and the attainment gap is getting bigger, so ideally March 8.
“We’ll have to see obviously where the data is, see where the science is, but that’s what we should be working towards.
“If that means more testing, if that means Nightingale classrooms, if it means other measures, let’s do that because I want to get our kids back into school.”
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