The government refuses to commit to reopening schools before the Easter holidays.
The prime minister and education secretary are coming under increasing pressure to reopen schools and provide a ‘route map’ for the reopening plan.
Rob Halfon, the chairman of the Commons Education Committee, wrote on Twitter that he was seeking ‘clarity’ from the Department for Education and ‘an education route map out of coronavirus to get children learning again at school’.
It comes after growing concern that children are the ‘forgotten victims of the pandemic’.
Former cabinet minister Esther McVey says the government need to take into account the damage the prolonged closures will do to the future prospects of a generation of children.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, she said: “We genuinely seem to have forgotten about the children,”
“Millions of them are missing out on an education, not developing socially with their friends and aren’t allowed to enrich their lives by playing sports and music any more.
“They are the pandemic’s forgotten victims and we’ve got to start thinking about their prospects and futures as well.”
Tory MP, Tom Tugendhat added: “Closed schools increases inequality, exposes the most vulnerable, and creates gaps that cannot be filled. We must open schools as soon as possible.”
A senior government source cautioned that the picture has become ‘more pessimistic’ as slowing infection rates were not falling ‘nearly as sharply as had been expected’, reports The Guardian.
Robert Halfon urges ministers to put ‘the whole engine of the state’ behind paving the way for schools to reopen.
He told The Guardian: “The whole engine of the state must do everything possible to get our schools open after half-term as was originally proposed,
“If it means priority vaccinations for teachers and support staff then it is worth it because despite the efforts of individual teachers and support staff who are doing their best we are facing an epidemic of mental health problems and educational poverty.
“This is putting enormous pressure on parents and families, many of whom have to give up their livelihoods to look after their children at home. With all the laptops in the world, you still need motivation from parents and when they are working that is very hard, especially with younger children.”
General secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton said: “At a time when we are worrying about the mental health of young people, the last thing we need now is no one back in school till after Easter,”
Downing Street and the Department for Education are expected to examine the data this week before making a judgment.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said schools will be given a minimum of two weeks notice to plan a return of pupils. He added that he is hoping to be able to give teachers and parents an update this week.
However, it is believed the majority of pupils will not return until at least Easter, despite the government aspiring to have pupils returning to schools from February half-term.
It comes after Matt Hancock told Sky News that we are a ‘long, long, long way off’ easing lockdown restrictions.
The health secretary refused to commit to either mid-February or after Easter as a point for schools to reopen with all pupils.
He told the Andrew Marr Show: “We’re really clear we want to get schools back and as safe as we can, but we have to watch the data,”
“Of course I hope schools go back after Easter and the vaccination programme is going fast. But we’ve got to make sure that we get the cases down and we’ve got to protect the country from new variants coming in from abroad.”
Manchester’s George Floyd mural has been defaced with racist graffiti once again
The mural of George Floyd in the Northern Quarter has been defaced with racist graffiti once again.
A local councillor took to social media to share the news, slamming the ‘racist cowards’ who vandalised the artwork overnight.
The tribute was created by graffiti artist Akse P19 in Stevenson Square after Mr Floyd’s death sparked protests across the world.
Akse recently had to repaint the mural after it was defaced earlier this month. Around the same time two men were also arrested after filming themselves urinating on the artwork.
Councillor Jon-Connor Lyons, representing Piccadilly ward on Manchester city council, took to Twitter to share the news that once again the mural has been hit by a ‘racist vandal’.
The incident occurred at around 5.30am this morning, with a suspect spotted by CCTV operators before being chased and caught by police.
Mr Lyons took to Twitter to share the news, writing: “Earlier this morning, police officers gave chase to another racist vandal who decided to come in the dead of night to attack the George Floyd memorial.
“The man was spotted on CCTV & was chased by police through the city centre & was caught. Thank you to GMP for their vigilance!”
He added in a later tweet: “These racist vandals all come in the dead of night – they are cowards.
“They know themselves how shameful it is what they are doing, attacking a memorial of a man killed by police brutality, but obviously have to do it in the dead of night. Racist cowards the lot of them.”
Face masks and Covid tests for school kids won’t be ‘compulsory’
The guidance on masks and tests won’t be enforceable
News broke earlier in the week that secondary school students would have to wear face masks and take twice-weekly Covid tests when they return to classrooms from March 8th.
It’s now been confirmed that neither of these measures will be enforceable, with schools told they won’t actually be able to make students wear a mask.
This is despite the government saying that secondary school pupils would need to wear them, both in classrooms and in the corridor.
However, according to the finer details of the ‘operational guidance’ for schools, ‘no pupil should be denied education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering.’
While before Christmas a lot of secondary school and college students were wearing masks in corridors and communal areas, the ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ revealed this was being expanded so kids would have to wear them in classrooms too.
The official document states: “The government also recommends that the use of face coverings in Higher Education, Further Education and secondary schools is extended for a limited period to all indoor environments – including classrooms – unless 2m social distancing can be maintained.
“Face coverings are now also recommended in early years and primary schools for staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible, for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas.
“All children will once again be expected to attend school, as they were in the autumn term.”
The move had divided opinion among parents, with some saying they might keep their kids off school if they’re forced to wear masks, while others said they were in favour of it.
As well as face masks, it’s now been revealed that the twice-weekly Covid tests secondary students were meant to be taking are also ‘not compulsory’.
Education minister Nick Gibb confirmed that testing will be voluntary for pupils, saying that it remains ‘highly recommended’ to do so, however.
Mr Gibb added that it will not be a case of ‘no test, no school’, also clarifying that face masks will not be compulsory in schools, even though the government strongly advises pupils to use them.
He told Good Morning Britain: “No, they’re not compulsory but we highly recommend it, it’s everybody doing everything we can to identify asymptomatic cases of Covid, helping to reduce the transmission.
“The first three tests will be taken in the school that will show the students how to do it most effectively and it’s the students themselves that will do it at home with supervision by their parents.”
The UK’s Covid-19 alert level has been downgraded
‘It is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines’
Following the threat of the NHS being overwhelmed receding, the Covid alert level in the UK has been downgraded.
According to the UK’s chief medical officers, the alert level should move from 5 to 4, Sky News reports.
This is because the numbers of patients in hospital are ‘consistently declining and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded’.
Under Level 5, there was ‘a risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed’, while under Level 4 transmission of coronavirus is now ‘high or rising exponentially’ – so there’s still a way to go.
The four UK chief medical officers and NHS England’s national medical director said in a joint statement that they agreed the alert level should be downgraded.
This follows advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre, but is also ‘in light of the most recent data’.
They added: “The health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital, however thanks to the efforts of public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.
“We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer.
“However, for the time being, it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.
“We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic.”