Children who do not return to school next week risk 'huge dent in future life chances', says Gavin Williamson
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (Credit: PA)
Children who do not return to the classroom when schools return next week face a "huge dent in their future life chances", says Gavin Williamson.
In an open letter to parents, the Education Secretary said it is "generally accepted" that children's health and wellbeing is more at risk if they do not go to school, despite the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Government has insisted all students should return to classrooms in September, after six months of remote learning, with the reputations of both Mr Williamson and Boris Johnson riding on its success.
"If a child is not in school, they stand to lose far more than just a few months of learning. It could well put a huge dent in their future life chances," Mr Williamson said.
"Education is a birthright, so let's make sure we get all children back - back to learning, back to playing and back to being kids again."
The Education Secretary, who has been under pressure since presiding over a U-turn on A-level results following an outcry from schools and students, added that an “extensive study” by the British Medical Journal found a “vanishingly small” risk due to Covid.
The research, he said, confirmed the chances of a pupil being admitted to hospital are “tiny” and said the country's top medical advisers, including Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, believe the health risks to children are “extremely low”.
"Huge lengths have been taken to prepare our schools for this moment”, the letter goes on.
Mr Williamson said measures including placing children in class or year group "bubbles" and the wearing of face coverings in communal areas of schools under lockdown would help minimise risks.
"It really is the best place for them to be," he added.
But teachers have raised concerns about the thoroughness of preparations, with some telling PoliticsHome they had not yet been able to finalise their plans.
"I know a lot of teachers from other schools in the area and further away, and most schools haven’t finalised anything yet because they’re still waiting on more guidance which I feel is a bit too late," one said.
Another added: “It feels a bit like the Emperor's New Clothes, like everyone's kind of going along with it, despite the fact that we all know that it's BS, quite frankly.”
The University and College Union (UCU) has also raised fears ministers are risking escalating a second spike in virus cases by pressing ahead with plans to fully reopen campuses this autumn.
Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, said unless the government discourages students from "moving across country, cycling in and out of lockdown zones, of bubbles, of homes, into new cities" universities could become "the care homes of the second wave of COVID-19".
But Stephen Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told Times Radio on Sunday he believed universities "like the rest of the economy, need to come back".
"We've had a bit of this with the schools sector where there's also a damage to school children...if [students] are not able to get back to normal if they miss some of the interactions and some of the benefits that would come from the universities returning," he added.