Children’s commissioner urges government and teaching unions to ‘stop squabbling’ and get back to school – The Sun
THE children's commissioner for England has urged the government and teaching unions to "stop squabbling" and agree on a plan for kids to return to school.
Anne Longfield called for both parties to agree on a safe, phased return to school, accompanied by "rigorous" Covid-19 testing of teachers, children and families.
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As a potential return date of June 1 looms, the commissioner released data suggesting that NHS nurseries that have remained open during the Covid-19 lockdown have not suffered from coronavirus outbreaks.
Ms Longfield has urged the sector to aspire for all children to return to school in some form before the summer, and to use school buildings for summer schools and family support over the holidays.
She said: "We cannot afford to wait for a vaccine, which may never arrive, before children are back in school.
"It's time to stop squabbling and agree a staggered, safe return that is accompanied by rigorous testing of teachers, children and families."
Her comments came after teachers' unions called for more answers from the Government about the safety of reopening primary schools in England from June 1, after a meeting with chief scientific advisers.
We cannot afford to wait for a vaccine, which may never arrive, before children are back in school.
One union leader said the scientific evidence presented at the briefing with the Government's chief medical officer and other experts on Friday was "flimsy at best".
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that everyone in the sector had "a duty to work together" to get children back to school, in a piece written for the Daily Mail on Friday.
"Of course safety comes first, but we must also be aware of the potential damage to a child's education from not getting them back in the classroom," he wrote.
Ms Longfield said: "I am disappointed that the debate about when some primary school kids can return has descended into a squabble between Government and the teaching unions.
I am disappointed that the debate … has descended into a squabble between Government and the teaching unions.
"All sides need to show a greater will to work together in the interests of children."
New research from the children's commissioner has found that only three out of 62 nurseries attached to NHS hospitals in England have reported a confirmed case of Covid-19 among children.
Ms Longfield warns that decisions about returning pupils to school cannot wait until a vaccine is available as there are other risks being posed to vulnerable children during the lockdown.
School closures will worsen social mobility and damage the mental health of children, she said.
Patrick Roach, general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, said: "There has been no squabbling on behalf of the NASUWT.
"The issue is very clear. We want to see schools reopening as soon as practicable.
"And that's what our members want, and what our members are saying, very clearly, is that schools need to reopen in a manner which is safe to do."
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: "We are merely asking the Government questions about the scientific basis for its approach in order to ensure that everybody can have confidence that it is safe to return, while at the same time supporting our members in preparing to reopen schools for eligible children from the agreed date."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "Getting children back to school and nurseries is in their best interests and all those working in education have a duty to work together to do so."
The British Medical Association has backed teachers' unions anxieties, by saying they are "absolutely right" to say it is unsafe for schools to reopen as early as June 1.
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In a letter to the National Education Union on Friday, the union warned the number of coronavirus cases was still too high.
“We cannot risk a second spike or take actions which would increase the spread of this virus, particularly as we see sustained rates of infection across the UK," the BMA council’s chair, Chaand Nagpaul, said in the letter to his NEU counterpart, Kevin Courtney, as reported by The Guardian.
"Until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools".
Meanwhile, Liverpool has become the first local authority to rule out reopening its schools until at least 15 June.
Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson branded the Government plan of a June 1st return as "reckless".
Speaking at the Downing Street press briefing on Friday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that reopening schools is an "incredible challenge".
He added: “The risk to children is much, much lower than to anybody else in society, to any other age group.
"…And that means that we are able to propose going down this route of reopening schools. I wouldn’t support a proposal to start to reopen schools unless it was safe to do so, and it is safe to do so."
Ministers have drawn up proposals for a phased return that could see primary school children start to return to schools in England on June 1.
And schools across the globe are slowly reopening as kids greet each other with “air hugs” and work behind plastic shields.
Children in Germany, Canada, Australia, China, Switzerland, Denmark, Greece, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Israel, Finland and the Netherlands have so far been allowed to return.
The UK has seen more than 238,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 34,000 deaths from COVID-19.
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