Stephen Morgan MP, Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister, responding to figures showing that fewer than 6,500 government air purifiers have actually arrived in schools, said:
“The virus will change and adapt and we need to learn to live well with it.
“That means acting now to protect our schools from future waves of Covid chaos, but Ministers are still failing to deliver the basic protections of ventilation and vaccinations
“For the Conservatives our children are an afterthought. The government mustn’t wait until there’s another crisis to secure our children’s education.”
Promised air purifiers will not arrive with schools until 620 days after Sage first warned about the importance of ventilation
5th Jan 2022: The government’s promised 7,000 air purifiers won’t start arriving in schools and colleges until 620 days after Sage first warned about the importance of ventilation for getting children back into school in May 2020.
Responding to a statement in Parliament on the return to education settings, Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson MP will note that for a year Labour has been urging the government to act on Sage’s ventilation advice, but the government’s last-minute actions this week “do not rise to the challenge” of keeping children learning in school. She will call on Ministers to back Labour’s call for a testing guarantee for pupils and staff, ensuring supply problems do not lead to unnecessary time out of class.
Phillipson will also urge the government to go further on supporting children’s education recovery, with attendance data showing a further 10million school days were missed due to Covid last term, on top of the 115 daysthe average childhad out of school between March 2020 and July 2021.
Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:
“Vaccination, ventilation and testing are key to ensuring children and staff can continue to learn together in school, but Ministers are again falling short with a lack of tests, only half of eligible children vaccinated and just a fraction of the ventilation systems our schools need.
“Labour called for decisive action to be taken over the Christmas break to get these problems solved but the government has again failed to get ahead of the virus.
“We’ve got a new Education Secretary, a new team of government ministers, but our children are still being treated as an afterthought with chaotic, last-minute announcements hampering their education. It is incompetent, complacent, and inadequate.”
Full text of Bridget Phillipson’s statement response:
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I should like to thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.
I am glad that children are back at school this term.
I pay tribute to all the staff working right across education, whose commitment, dedication, and hard work makes that possible.
Labour wants children to be in school, learning together and playing together.
Every day missed from school is a day they do not get back, either in their lives or in their learning.
Last term alone, children in England missed over ten million school days for Covid-related reasons.
Over a million children have left secondary school since the pandemic began.
Almost two million of our youngest children have never known a normal school year.
That is why Labour has set out a clear, costed, and ambitious Children’s Recovery Plan that would support our children where they have missed out with after school activities, breakfast clubs, and small group tutoring.
The government’s plans are so limited and so inadequate that their own recovery chief resigned in protest.
The way we get on top of this disease is to drive down transmission, through vaccinating eligible children, ventilating our classrooms, and testing regularly and frequently.
But the steps the government has taken so far and the further details announced at the last minute and in the House today simply do not rise to the challenge we face.
The Christmas break was an opportunity for the government to ensure proper ventilation was in place in our classrooms, to get eligible children vaccinated, and to ensure an ample supply of tests for families.
On ventilation. Eighteen months back, in July 2020, SAGE considered a paper on the aerosol transmission of Covid. It recommended:
“Particular attention should be paid to planning for winter to ensure that spaces can be effectively ventilated without significantly compromising the thermal comfort of occupants.”
In July 2021 we were told that an air purifier trial – a pilot study – was underway in Bradford. But by the time the full report of that study is available it will be more than thirty months since the government first ordered schools to close.
How can anyone look at that timeline without concluding that for this government, our children are an afterthought?
Meanwhile, at the weekend, we heard that a further 7000 air cleaning units are to be issued to schools.
Either the trial will tell us those units are in fact a waste of money, or that with hundreds of thousands of classrooms, seven thousand of them is wholly inadequate to the challenge we face. Which is it?
And while ministers take their time to decide, it’s winter.
Windows are open in schools across England and children are having to be wrapped up in coats.
It is incompetent, complacent, and inadequate.
Our children deserve better.
On vaccination. On 30 December, barely half of eligible children aged 12 and over had received their first vaccination.
We have seen in the last month with the booster jab for adults, what can be done when the political will is there.
For this government our children are never a priority.
On testing. The government has encouraged parents to ensure their children are taking lateral flow tests twice a week.
I looked last night for lateral flow tests online. There were none available for home delivery. We cannot test children twice a week if there are not enough tests available to do it.
In closing I want to ask the Secretary of State some of the questions which were not addressed by his statement:
What are the targets and timelines for children’s vaccination to which he is now working?
What guarantee can he offer parents today about the availability of vaccination slots for their children, in schools or elsewhere?
What is he doing about those who peddle misinformation on vaccines and will he bring in exclusion zones around schools?
How does he plan to ensure that parents can get lateral flow tests for their children?
When does he intend to publish the interim findings of the Bradford air purification trial?
What confidence has he that 7000 air purification devices are enough, and why?
Can he confirm that they won’t be available until the end of February and that he expects children to be sat in classrooms with open windows in the depths of winter?
Has he spoken to the Chancellor, who said last summer he had “maxed out” on supporting our children and was refusing to fund the recovery plan Sir Kevan Collins recommended?
What advice has he had on whether masks would still be necessary if vaccination levels among children were higher and ventilation were better?
Can he explain why he is unable to tell the House how many retired teachers and others have come forward to help in classrooms this term following his last minute call last month?
What guarantees can he give students with exams this month and later this year about whether they will go ahead?
And lastly, but most importantly, when does he plan to return to this House to set out the ambitious recovery plan for our children’s disrupted education that they so richly deserve?