Sir Keir Starmer has warned that plans to get all children back to school next month are at ‘serious risk’ following a ‘week of chaos’.
The Labour leader said that the last fortnight, which should have been spent getting schools properly prepared to welcome pupils back, had been ‘wasted clearing up a mess of the Government’s own making’ over exam results.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was forced to abandon the algorithm-based system for awarding A-level and GCSE grades in England in the middle of the results season last week.
Sir Keir told the Observer: ‘I want to see children back at school next month, and I expect the Prime Minister to deliver on that commitment.
‘However, the commitment is now at serious risk after a week of chaos, confusion and incompetence from the Government.
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‘Ministers should have spent the summer implementing a national plan to get all children back to school. Instead, the last two weeks have been wasted clearing up a mess of the Government’s own making over exam results.’
He added: ‘Restoring public confidence and getting a grip on the Department for Education must be Downing Street’s number one priority this week.
‘Failure to do so will leave the Government’s promise of “levelling up” in tatters.’
Sir Keir’s intervention comes as the chief and deputy chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland issued a joint statement supporting the reopening of schools in September.
They said that while transmission in schools does occur, on current evidence it was not a ‘common route of transmission’.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty added that while the risk to children of Covid-19 was ‘not zero’ – the evidence that not returning to the classroom damages children in the long run was ‘overwhelming’.
He said the joint statement was not guidance to parents, but laying out the evidence of ‘things we know with confidence, the things that we think are probable and also some of the things we don’t know and making clear there is always some residual risk’.
Prof Whitty added that there was ‘clear’ evidence that the chances of children dying from Covid were ‘incredibly small’ and they were less likely to get severe illness and end up in hospital due to the virus.
He went on: ‘So the reason that is important to lay out is the chances of children catching Covid and then getting long-term serious problems as a result of it, solely due to going to school are incredibly small.
‘They’re not zero, but they’re incredibly small.
‘The chances of many children being damaged by not going to school are incredibly clear and therefore the balance of risk is very strongly in favour of children going to school because many more are likely to be harmed by not going than harmed by going, even during this pandemic.’
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