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Coronavirus: Keir Starmer says it is ‘ridiculous’ that betting shops can reopen while schools stay shut

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (PA).

3 min read

Keir Starmer has said it is “ridiculous” that betting shops and theme parks are able to reopen next week while schools in England remain shut.

The Labour leader accused the Government of having a “blind spot” on school reopenings after ministers were forced to abandon plans to allow all primary school pupils to return to the classroom for four weeks before the summer holidays.

And he warned “a generation of children now risk losing out on over six months of education” as he demanded extra support from the Treasury for summer holiday learning.

Boris Johnson told the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday night that he “fully intends” to get “all children” back to school in September, “provided the progress we are making continues, which I hope it will”.

The Government’s reopening plan has faced an angry backlash from teachers’ unions and some councils, who have argued that it has not done enough to reassure both staff and parents that classrooms will be safe. 

Rob Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee has meanwhile demanded a “proper timetable” for reopening as he warned of “an epidemic of educational poverty” and “a growing digital divide“ between rich and poor children if classrooms stay shut.

Writing in The Telegraph on Thursday, Sir Keir said: “I do not underestimate how difficult it is to reopen schools safely in the current climate. But those difficulties were entirely foreseeable. It should have been obvious that serious effort was going to be needed to support children’s education during the pandemic.”

And he said of the latest delay: “It is characteristic of this Government’s handling of the pandemic. Too slow into lockdown, too slow on testing, too slow to get protective equipment to our frontline workers and now too slow on getting a plan in place for children’s education. 

“We now have the ridiculous situation where next week betting shops and theme parks will open, but parents are not clear when their children will go back to school.”

Children in nursery, reception, year one and year six started returning to schools in England last week as part of the latest easing of the Government’s lockdown message.

And while the Government has abandoned its plan to require all primary schools to return before the end of term, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told the Commons that he still would like to see “schools who have the capacity” welcome more year groups “before the summer holidays”. 

Demanding a “national plan” to get schools back open, Sir Keir said he remained “committed to working with the Prime Minister” in bringing “parents, teachers, education unions and council leaders” together. 

“Towns, villages and cities are full of empty buildings and spaces that can be repurposed,” he suggested.

“Theatres, museums, libraries and leisure centres could be repurposed and opened for children.”

And the Labour leader called for “additional resources” in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s next pre-Budget report to fund summer education schemes for children.

“I would also urge the Government to issue guidance requiring all children of school age to have a one-on-one meeting, with a teacher from their school and parents before the summer holidays start,” he added.

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