LONDON (Labour Buzz) - Labour’s demand for clarity from the government over schools is a bit like requests for Boris Johnson to comb his hair. Neither is likely to happen and in both cases, the problem lies in the character of Johnson. This is a Prime Minister who has proved himself incapable of making decisions time and time again. With the pandemic at a crucial stage, the costs could be profound.
The problem for the government is that cases are rising and schools are one of the most likely sources of infection. The chances of getting the R rate below one while keeping schools open feels remote.
This explains why reports emerged in the Telegraph over the weekend that the government might decide to keep them closed after all.
If they did it would represent another U-turn. Last week they had announced a staggering return to school with provisions being made for mass testing. Schools, unions and organisations issued a joint response, calling them ‘inoperable’. Today Michael Gove appeared to confirm the stance.
However, we’re entering into a familiar pattern for this government:
- They make a statement flying in the face of expert advice.
- Events start to prove them wrong.
- The dithering starts. Rumours circulate that things may change.
- Full reverse. The government finds itself surprised by fresh news which leads them to do what experts had told them to several weeks before.
Currently, we’re at stage three. The government insists it is sticking to its strategy despite all evidence lining up against it.
The National Teachers Union has already called for schools to stay closed over the holiday after it emerged that the new variant may affect children slightly more effectively. Nobody will be surprised if we get a last-minute Tweet telling teachers to stay home.
The problem for teachers is that the continuing dithering leaves them in no man’s land. Labour’s Kate Green and Wes Streeting have written to the Education Gavin Williamson asking for the missing clarity.
Commenting on the letter to Labour List.
“Once again when schools, pupils and parents need certainty, the government has created chaos. The government has lost control of the virus and children’s education is suffering as a result,” she said. “Gavin Williamson’s late announcement on testing has created huge stress and confusion, and now the Prime Minister has said these plans published just five days ago may not happen.”
Under the current proposals, test kits would be sent to schools. Any pupil who has had close contact with someone who has tested positive would be able to get a test. Staff would be able to get weekly tests.
The GMB has said staff without medical training should not be administering the tests. They highlighted the tendency for tests to give false results (20% when used by scientists rising to almost half when self-administered).
They have also called for the government to begin vaccinating education staff and for local public health bodies to manage the mass testing. The government has rejected the calls with Robert Jenrick saying, without a hint of irony, that there has to be a clear message across the country.
The government’s proposals are not statutory but they have not said if schools who do not comply will face any sanctions. Before Christmas, Williamson launched legal action against Greenwich Council for its plans to close schools early before the holiday.
Yet again, then, the government is making unreasonable demands of people on the front line as it bumps up against the reality of their bungled response. Whether schools return or stay closed teachers will have to prepare. However, with the clock ticking down, they have been given no certainty about what they are being asked to prepare for.
(Written by Tom Cropper, Edited by Klaudia Fior)