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.”
Around 20 people involved in mass brawl ‘with knives’ in Piccadilly Gardens
The violence spilled out into the street
A large group of people were involved in a mass fight ‘with knives’ in Piccadilly Gardens last night.
Around 20 people were caught up in the large brawl on Monday evening, and according to reports some were armed with knives.
The fight took place outside Morrisons on the end of Oldham Street, and happened around 9:30pm.
Witnesses reported seeing some of the suspects carrying knives, although police didn’t recover any from the scene, and busses were forced to stop as the violence spread out onto the road.
Someone who witnessed the fight said on Twitter: “Piccadilly gardens is the roughest place on earth… a lovely night out helping ruined by a group of young kids kicking each others faces in”.
Officers responded to the incident, but no arrests were made or serious injuries reported.
This incident was the third of serious violence in just a few days.
Saturday afternoon saw another incident outside Morrisons in Piccadilly Gardens, in which a man was slashed in the face.
And on Sunday a brawl involving two tables at Barca bar in Castlefield happened, with some involved arming themselves with weapons like bar furniture and a baseball bat.
Leading scientists call for end of face masks and social distancing by June
Do you agree?
Leading scientists have written to the UK government calling for social distancing and face masks to be scrapped from June.
In total 22 scientists have signed the communication, saying that these measures should finish on June 22nd – the same date limits on social contact are set to be scrapped in England.
One of the scientists who has added their name to the letter is Dr Roland Salmon, the former director of the communicable disease centre in Wales.
Dr Salmon told BBC Radio Wales: “I am not venting my frustration but I do think some dialogue is well overdue.
“I have always felt that there has been little credible evidence benefit for many of the measures that we take.”
According to him, the letter was written to encourage the government to focus on protecting vulnerable people rather than the masses as we move forward.
Dr Salmon said we need to deal with the ‘here and now’ when asked about the threat of variants, going on to add that the vaccine has shown it helps prevent severe disease and death.
He added: “We can’t stop living forever while we wait for things to happen”.
Scientists who’ve signed the letter include Prof Robert Dingwall from Nottingham Trent University, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).
There’s also Prof Anthony Brookes, a geneticist and health data scientist at the University of Leicester, and Prof Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University.
The letter reads: “We are being told simultaneously that we have successful vaccines and that major restrictions on everyday life must continue indefinitely. Both propositions cannot be true.
“We need to give more weight to the data on the actual success of the vaccines and less to theoretical risks of vaccine escape and/or surge in a largely vaccinated population.”
It continues: “Covid-19 no longer requires exceptional measures of control in everyday life, especially where there have been no evaluations and little credible evidence of benefit.
“Measures to reduce or discourage social interaction are extremely damaging to the mental health of citizens; to the education of children and young people; to people with disabilities; to new entrants to the workforce; and to the spontaneous personal connections from which innovation and enterprise emerge.”
Boris Johnson is regarded as ‘untrustworthy’ by six out of 10 voters
It follows weeks of allegations against the PM
According to a new poll Boris Johnson is seen as ‘untrustworthy’ by six out of 10 voters in Britain, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer seen as more trustworthy.
The poll from Ipsos MORI was shared by the Evening Standard, and comes after weeks of leaks and allegations about sleaze aimed at the prime minister.
The research found that Mr Johnson is trusted by just 35% of voters and deemed untrustworthy by 59%, while Sir Keir is seen as trustworthy by 42% and is untrusted by 41%.
Gideon Skinner, head of political research at Ipsos MORI, said: “On honesty Boris Johnson is clearly trumped by Keir Starmer, so this is an area of potential risk for him.
“However, his own supporters still trust him, and the public overall have never seen it as one of his strongest attributes … and as previous leaders such as Tony Blair have shown, you don’t have to be ahead on trust to win elections.
“The key question is whether and if these stories continue and start to change the public’s overall view on him as PM.”
The poll was taken following weeks of reports about murky donations being used to refurbish the prime minister’s flat, as well as disclosures about covert lobbying.
However, it was undertaken before the most recent allegations that Mr Johnson said he’d rather see ‘bodies pile high’ than have another lockdown, so those reports won’t have been taken into consideration by those polled.
Despite all the recent controversy, the prime minister and government’s net satisfaction hasn’t changed much since March, with both Mr Johnson (44 satisfied/50 dissatisfied) and Sir Keir (36/46) having net negative ratings.
Ipsos MORI interviewed 1090 adults across the UK by telephone from April 16th to the 22nd – you can find full details here.