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UK school closures outstrip EU countries

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary

@UKLabour exposes @GavinWilliamson’s #BackToSchool failures 

Labour has today [Thursday] published a ‘back to school report’ of Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s biggest failures from the last year, as new data shows the UK has outstripped European countries in the length of school closures.

The data, analysed by the House of Commons Library, shows the UK has had longer school closures than any European country other than Italy. Since January 2020, shortly before Covid hit, UK children have been out of their classrooms on nearly half (44%) of days.

Over the last school year Labour has called for proactive measures from establishing nightingale classrooms to increasing ventilation to keep children in class, with Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green MP writing eight times to Gavin Williamson urging him to get a grip on the situation.

However, the Conservatives have failed to learn from their mistakes as their scientific advisors warn that their removal of Covid safety measures could see rates spiral as schools return. Alongside his failure to keep children learning, Labour’s back to school report highlights that Williamson’s leadership has seen:

  • Over a million children out of school in the last week of the 2020/21 school year as Covid rates rose again;
  • The resignation of the Government’s catch-up tsar, criticising the Conservatives’ catch-up plan as “too small, too narrow and too slow”;
  • Unequal A-level and GCSE results which saw private school results soar compared to pupils in state schools;
  • Children miss out on over 24 million meals this summer as his holiday programme failed to get food to children.

Sector Response

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“The Conservatives’ failure to respond to the Covid crisis has kept kids out of class for far longer than their European counterparts.

“As the new school year starts, Gavin Williamson is again burying his head in the sand, ignoring the advice of scientific experts and risking creating a climate of chaos for schools if Covid rates rise.

 “Rather than ignoring reality, the Conservatives should be listening to the pleas of parents, teachers and Labour to get proper ventilation and Covid secure measures in place to keep children learning together in class.”

Commenting as the Labour party’s analysis of Oxford University’s Covid-19 response tracker suggested that the UK’s schools and universities suffered with longer school closures in the UK than almost all other European nations during the coronavirus pandemic, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“This analysis of the amount of time schools and universities have remained closed lays bare the challenges education has faced over the past 18 months. Unfortunately, the disruption looks likely to continue next term.

“The best way to minimise disruption to children’s education and keep them in the classroom is to keep Covid cases low. Parents and school leaders will therefore be looking to government to do everything in its power to ensure this.

“The government has chosen to remove many of the mitigations that were in place in schools last year, and it has done very little to look to replace these with alternative safety measures. Its reason for removing bubbles and isolation requirements was to stop children missing school. But if an increase in cases means more children getting ill, lost learning could actually increase for many.

“A strategy of ‘hoping for the best’ is not good enough, at the very least they must ensure that we have a properly functioning test and trace system that parents can have confidence in, a quick and effective public health response should additional mitigations be required in some schools, and support for schools to improve ventilation wherever needed.

“If numbers do start to rise, a quick and effective public health response will be essential to keep pupils and staff safe.”

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