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Reopening schools in September is a ‘moral duty’ says Boris
Boris Johnson has described reopening schools as a ‘national priority’ amid reports they will be the ‘last to close’ in the event of a second coronavirus outbreak.
The Prime Minister said the government had a ‘moral duty’ to get children back in the classroom, after thousands spent lockdown learning at home. It comes as scientific advisers warned that more restrictions could be needed to ensure schools can reopen in England next month.
Johnson said: ‘This pandemic isn’t over, and the last thing any of us can afford to do is become complacent. But now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so.’
The PM added that the differences in home-schooling between the richest and most deprived families could also lead to some ‘tumbling out of education, employment or training altogether, never to return’.
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Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said there were also ‘spiralling economic costs’ of parents and carers unable to work with their children not in school.
He noted: ‘Keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible.’
This weekend a Downing Street source also echoed Johnson’s words and said schools would only close as a last resort if a second lockdown occurs.
They said: ‘The PM has been clear that businesses including shops, pubs and restaurants should be forced to close first, with schools remaining open for as long as possible.’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is currently facing enormous pressure to ensure schools reopen smoothly and safely, with union bosses claiming that it will be ‘impossible’ to create an environment in which children can learn risk-free.
At present, government guidance states that pupils will not have to wear masks while at school, and social distancing rules will not be as strict as they were during the earlier months of lockdown.
Earlier this month Children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield said the reopening of schools ‘should be prioritised’ if the UK is put back into lockdown restrictions once more. She criticised the government for treating children ‘as an afterthought’ during the crisis.
However, schools minister Nick Gibb said the government cannot ‘decree’ that classrooms will be the last to close, adding that it would also depend on instructions from local health chiefs.
He said that while all children currently in local lockdown, including Preston, Greater Manchester, Leicester and parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire, will return to school in September, this could not be guaranteed.
Gibb went on: ‘You can’t decree this for every single case and it will depend on the circumstances of a local increase in the infection rate, and that is why it is being led by the director of public health in localities. But we want all children back in school.’
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