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Starmer refuses to back education unions' call for a phased return to schools

Trade unions warn a full return of England's 10 million pupils and staff to classrooms would ‘reckless’

KEIR STARMER has refused to back education unions’ call for a phased return to schools from March 8, saying the country should “work towards” a full return of all pupils. 

The Labour leader’s comments fly in the face of calls made last week by nine education unions and organisations which warned that a full return would be “reckless” and risked triggered a spike in infections. 

In a joint statement on Friday the groups said the PM, who has previously stated he wants all students back in classrooms on Mach 8, should opt for a “phased return” of pupils over a period of time.  

Asked which side he was on in an interview with Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday, Sir Keir replied: “Ideally, I’d like to see all schools back open on March 8 and all children back in school.

“I’ve been worried through the pandemic, a number of people have, about the impact that being out of school has on particularly vulnerable children and the attainment gap is getting bigger,” he said. 

The Labour leader said that the data would have to be considered first but that a full return on March 8 is “what we should be working towards.” 

The interview came ahead of PM Boris Johnson’s announcement on Monday unveiling the “road map” out of lockdown in England, with the aim of first reopening schools. 

Former Chancellor John McDonnell said that trade unions should be listened to on the issue of schools reopening.

He told Sky News: “The teaching unions are saying, very similar to Keir, that of course we want the schools to open but it’s got to be safe and I can’t think of anyone better to listen to than those on the frontline, and that is the teachers’ unions.” 

Trade unions have warned that a full reopening of schools would bring nearly 10 million pupils and staff into circulation in England, noting this is “not a small easing of lockdown restrictions” but a “massive step.”

Labour MP Richard Burgon said: “Last month the PM called schools ‘vectors of transmission.’ A safe, phased reopening can help ensure this is the last lockdown.”

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