Government Challenged To Explain Its Schools Reopening Plan As "Dismayed" MPs Warn They Cannot Stay Closed Until Easter
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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to announce this week that schools will not reopen immediately after the February half term.
Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Committee, told TalkRADIO that he was “dismayed” by fears the government was planning to potentially keep schools shut for another twelve weeks after the Sunday Times reported that children might not return to classrooms until after the Easter holidays.
Mr Halfon said that ministers seemed “determined” to keep children at home for longer than necessary.
“I am dismayed because the PM said his intention was to reopen schools again after the February half term, and that’d still meant kids missing many weeks of schools,” he told host Julia Hartley-Brewer.
He said he had “written to speaker of the House of Commons to ask for a minister to come in and explain the route map back to schools reopening again,” warning that ministers risked damaging the life chances and mental wellbeing of children by keeping schools closed for much longer.
“We need some sort of idea when our schools are going to open again and it should be sooner rather than later,” Halfon said.
But on Monday it appeared Halfon's request for an urgent question had been denied, after it was confirmed that Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle had not granted any urgent questions for the day.
Halfon added that he wanted teachers and school support staff moved up the queue of people waiting for the coronavirus vaccine, arguing that it’d allow schools to re-open faster.
“If it means schools can open sooner rather than later, and there can be no problem of the unions saying there isn’t a risk, then it would be well worth it,” he said.
It emerged on Monday that twelve Conservative MPs including former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey and senior backbencher Graham Brady had backed the UsForThem campaign for schools to fully reopen as soon as possible.
In a damning indictment of the government’s handling of schools, McVey said: “We genuinely seem to have forgotten about school 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.”
The backlash over schools comes amid growing unease among Conservative MPs that the government could keep lockdown restrictions beyond Easter and into later in the year.
MPs from different wings of the party want the government to set out its plan for easing restrictions, with backbenchers telling PoliticsHome that Johnson will face a major revolt if there are no signs of the government loosening restrictions once the top four priority groups have been vaccinated.