Perhaps you think it’s not a big deal.
Ever since Boris Johnson announced that he wants schools to reopen at the beginning of June, the idea has become a raging controversy.
He didn’t say that scientists support this notion – for a very good reason, it seems:
This ought to be a major scandal but will probably just disappear in the froth about Keir Starmer's letter.
The Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for Education 'admits' the decision to re-open schools was a political and not a scientific one.
Political. Not scientific. https://t.co/AUvwsBQ9ER
— simon maginn (@simonmaginn) May 13, 2020
Let’s have a look at the article, from Schoolsweek:
The Department for Education’s chief scientific adviser admitted he has not assessed whether guidance on reopening schools is effective, adding the current advice is “draft” and “will be developed”.
Appearing in front of the Parliamentary science and technology committee today, Osama Rahman also admitted the DfE had done no modelling on the impact on transmission rates of starting to reopen schools after the May half term break.
During a hearing that left some MPs visibly bemused, Rahman also suggested the government guidance issued yesterday on safety is a “draft”, and will be reissued after further consultation with Public Health England.
He also said the decision to reopen schools was made by cabinet, not the DfE.
Asked about the transmission rate among children during the hearing, Rahman said the evidence is mixed, and there’s a “low degree of confidence in evidence they might transmit it less”.
SNP education spokesperson Carol Monaghan then asked for clarification. Was it true that “we’re putting together hundreds of potential vectors that can then go and transmit. Is that correct?”
Mr Rahman’s response – “Possibly, depending on school sizes” – may have contributed to Ms Monaghan’s conclusion that, as a former teacher, she “did not think the profession will be satisfied or put at ease with what they are hearing”.
Asked what scientific evidence base underpinned the decision to reopen schools to pupils in reception, year 1 and year 6, and what modelling had been done, Mr Rahman said the Department for Education had not done any modelling at all.
He was unable to provide any proof that any scientific evidence had contributed to the decision to seek the reopening of schools at the beginning of June. He believed the Cabinet had made that decision, following advice from SAGE – albeit filtered through Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.
Rahman also admitted he had made no assessment on how effectively actions proposed by the government for schools to reopen safely can be implemented.
Perhaps it is unsurprising, given this background, that education unions united to declare that they would only support the reopening of schools “when it is safe to do so”:
Joint union statement published by @The_TUC today shows education unions are united in reopening schools only when it is safe to do so.
Read the statement in full 👇https://t.co/9l5A1Mlrwt
— National Education Union (@NEUnion) May 13, 2020
The statement says:
“We all want schools to re-open, but that should only happen when it is safe to do so. The government is showing a lack of understanding about the dangers of the spread of coronavirus within schools, and outwards from schools to parents, sibling and relatives, and to the wider community.
“Uniquely, it appears, school staff will not be protected by social distancing rules. 15 children in a class, combined with their very young age, means that classrooms of 4 and 5-year olds could become sources of Covid-19 transmission and spread. While we know that children generally have mild symptoms, we do not know enough about whether they can transmit the disease to adults. We do not think that the government should be posing this level of risk to our society.
“We call on the government to step back from the 1st June and work with us to create the conditions for a safe return to schools based on the principles and tests we have set out.”
The principles and tests include:
- Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle
- No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme
- A national Covid-19 education taskforce with government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening of schools
- Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage
- Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments
- Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new covid-19 cases
Doesn’t that seem reasonable? Not to Gavin Williamson!
He said: “Sometimes scaremongering and making people fear is really unfair, and not a welcome pressure that is to be placed on families, children and teachers alike.”
Amazingly, he has had support from a Labour MP – Barry Sheerman:
I am very unhappy about the teaching unions reluctance to cooperate on the reopening of schools great damage is being caused particularly to children from lower income families by this extended closure & there are safe ways to reopen!
— Barry Sheerman MP (@BarrySheerman) May 13, 2020
Fortunately, this chap faced an instant backlash:
A Labour MP weaponising "lower income families" Sun-style here. Instead of campaigning for schools to open against teachers and unions wishes @BarrySheerman, how about campaigning for financial support to low-income families? https://t.co/3QWREh6rM3
— Susan (@marthasydenham) May 13, 2020
Barry is a 'Labour' MP. https://t.co/2TtVERSE8n
— Chris Williamson (@DerbyChrisW) May 13, 2020
This is a Labour MP. Working people have a right to not be in places where they face a significantly increased chance of death (!)
Is this the 18th century. What on earth is this chap doing on Labour’s benches? https://t.co/IJ01mSx9z1
— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) May 13, 2020
So it seems we are being asked to believe the unions are scaremongering, despite the evidence from Mr Rahman that shows they aren’t.
It’s utterly wild seeing right-wingers and privileged Liberals joining forces to criticise unions for being wary about forcing kids back to school during a pandemic that’s already killed 50k Brits.
We could always test if it’s really safe by starting with their private schools.
— Evolve Politics (@evolvepolitics) May 13, 2020
What do you think?
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