Many parents, teachers and concerned constituents have contacted me in recent days regarding the situation facing schools during this second lockdown.
I understand why some are concerned about schools staying open, but it is essential that children do not lose further lose out on time in the classroom and we must do all we can to ensure schools stay open.
I want to pay tribute to the teachers, headteachers, school staff, university and further education college staff and others who have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic to ensure children and young people are able to continue their education in some form or other. The reopening of schools and education settings back in September was a huge relief for parents and children across the country, as millions of pupils were finally able to return to the classroom after six long months.
I have spoken to headteachers across Manchester Gorton throughout this crisis, and they overwhelmingly support the call for schools to remain open. The most disadvantaged children in our communities are most adversely affected by school closures. We are just now beginning to understand the scale of the impact on children of lost teaching time and the widening of the educational attainment gap.
To prevent further irreparable damage to our children’s futures, it is now essential that we keep schools open, ensure parents and teachers are supported, and that pupils get all the help they need to catch up. In order to do this, schools, parents and children must have access to all the tests that they need.
Labour has repeatedly called for the Government to guarantee parents a test for their child within 24 hours and the result back 24 hours later. Without reliable and rapid testing and tracing, schools will be placed in an impossible position. Back in September, Leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer rightfully told the Prime Minister if he did not “get a grip of the testing crisis, children will be robbed of an education” and called for children to be “put at the front of the queue for testing.”
I have no doubt that parents and teachers will be tearing their hair out over the Government’s handling of this second lockdown. For some reason, the Government chose not to heed the call from their own scientific advisors and the Labour Party and implement a short circuit-breaker lockdown earlier to coincide with half term. By ignoring this advice, the Government has had to implement a lockdown that is longer and harder than it needed to be, and more people will sadly lose their lives.
Our priority must always be saving lives, minimising harm, and keeping our children in school. Until a vaccine becomes available, that depends on driving the R value to below 1 with containment measures, social distancing and an effective test, trace and isolate strategy.