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BORIS JOHNSON said England’s schools would reopen “as fast as possible” today as he faced Tory pressure to set out a timetable for pupils to return.
The Prime Minister said the government would be “looking at the potential of relaxing some measures” as England’s lockdown restrictions are reviewed on February 15 but could not guarantee that pupils would return to classes before Easter.
“There’s nothing I want to do more than reopen schools, I’ve fought to keep schools open for as long as I possibly could,” Mr Johnson said.
“We want to see schools back as fast as possible, we want to do that in a way that is consistent with fighting the epidemic and keeping the infection rate down.”
But National Education Union (NEU) joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted warned that a premature return to schools will result in pupils eventually missing out on more education.
She said on Twitter: “We have to get this right — something that the government has not done so far.
“Everyone wants schools to open when it is safe. The sad truth is that government safety measures hitherto did not achieve school safety.
“Any road map for return has to take into account community infection rates, vaccination rates and new, rigorous measures on school safety in order to protect school staff and the wider community.”
Dr Bousted also hit out at Tory MPs for “weaponising mental health” in their calls for reopening schools while they “voted for austerity and were prepared to accept an epidemic of child poverty.”
She said: “Perhaps those MPs so concerned about children’s mental health will vote to retain the £20 uplift in universal credit and vote for the provision of free school meals over half term?”
Association of School & College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton called for a “proper plan” for reopening schools, including through a phased and gradual opening by using a rota or prioritising certain year groups first and checking the impact on infection rates “as we go.”
Earlier, Mr Johnson sparked confusion by claiming that he would “look at” relaxing some lockdown rules before February 15, adding that he would be “deciding before then whether we can be getting schools back.”
The statement, which the PM himself could not explain, prompted Downing Street to “clarify” that restrictions will not be lifted earlier.
The PM’s official spokesman said the government would examine the data, “and that will inform what we may or may not be able to ease from [February 15] onwards.”
“It has always been our intention to ease restrictions where we can from that point on the 15th, and schools are obviously our top priority,” the spokesman said.
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