Robert Halfon, who chairs Westminster’s education committee, is alarmed at reports of children going back to remote learning in the wake of Covid outbreaks. He said: “Basically, we seem to be having school closures by stealth… We are damaging their life chances, we’re damaging their mental health, and we’re damaging their educational attainment… “This is potentially causing them immense upset. We’ve got to keep our kids in school.”
Mr Halfon wants Government ministers to get directly in touch with schools that close their doors. He wants a change in the law so that schools would be classified as “essential infrastructure” on a par with power stations and hospitals, and for a vote in Parliament to be required before future closures.
Last week St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Credenhill, Herefordshire, made headlines when it announced it would stage a “circuit breaker” and send pupils home in a bid to “cease the transmission of Covid-19”. Teenagers at the Darwen Aldridge Enterprise Studio, in Darwen, Lancashire have also switched to remote learning, and other schools have emptied their classrooms of entire year groups.
A mother of two children at Thorpedene Primary School in Shoeburyness, Essex, which has sent year five and six pupils home, said: “The impact of returning to remote learning without warning has been devastating.”
Molly Kingsley, founder of parent group UsForThem, said: “The level of disruption we are seeing in schools is incredibly alarming. Closing schools and switching year groups to remote learning is the worst possible solution for children who have already been disproportionately burdened for the last year and a half.
“We must stop seeing school closures as an acceptable pandemic policy lever. They are not. They are a political choice that has caused unprecedented harm to our young people – both their education but more fundamentally their well-being and health. To do this at a time when adults are freely socialising, going to bars, restaurants, pubs and parties in the run-up to Christmas isn’t just unfair – it’s cruel.
“It’s not good enough for the government to wash their hands of this. They need to get a grip on this deteriorating situation and stop it – now.”
A Department for Education spokesman insisted the vast majority of children are still in school. He said: “Attendance is a top priority for the government and the latest statistics show that 99.9 percent of schools remain open. Our guidance is clear that schools should be doing everything possible to keep children in face-to-face education.
“Schools should not be routinely restricting attendance and should instead ensure other preventative measures, such as supervised testing, are deployed on top of existing measures including testing, ventilation and hygiene if needed to respond to an increase in case rates.”