Daisy Cooper: Close primary schools for two weeks to build Covid-safe plan

Lib Dem Deputy Leader and Education spokesperson Daisy Cooper has called on the Government to close all primary schools until 18th January to enable the development and implementation of a Covid safety plan.

We are calling for four things:

  • All primary schools to move to remote learning until Jan 18th, except for vulnerable children and children of key workers.
  • A review of Government plans for Covid testing strategies in schools.
  • A move to single-school transport.
  • A new pupil bubbling strategy to tackle the new Covid strain.

Daisy said:

With the government’s own scientific advisors saying that they cannot provide any analysis on what is required to control the new strain of the virus until mid-January, the Government must think again and adopt a plan to get ahead of the virus.

Time and time again, this Government has squandered opportunities to get ahead of the virus in schools and left pupils, parents and teachers understandably anxious if not terrified about returning next week.

For months, Liberal Democrats have been calling on the Government to come up with a proper plan to keep schools open safely. Instead, this latest botched decision and the Tories top-down attitude has once again led to last minute and inconsistent decisions that are wreaking havoc on people’s lives.

Given this new strain of the virus transmits faster, Ministers must think again to get ahead of the virus.

Moving primary schools to remote learning until 18 January would create time to work out new pupil bubbling strategies, ensure that all school-transport is single-school only, and build trust in the Government’s school COVID testing strategy so schools can open safely.

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  • neil sandison 3rd Jan '21 - 12:42pm

    Parents I have spoken to are relaxed about an extension to this winter break usual remark has been better safe than sorry . More help will need to given to vunerable households and that means more help to local councils to help to local residents .
    Should we have a lockdown until the vaccine is more widely distributed ? We should let the science not the politics dictate that decision .

  • This is sensible. I fully acknowledge that there are many down sides to closing schools, especially for the most vulnerable, but keeping schools closed (to most pupils) for an extra week or two following the Christmas break will provide a better return on investment as far as infection control is concerned than letting them go back, seeing numbers shoot up, then shutting them for the same length of time. By tagging it onto the existing school holidays, we will get greater suppression of virus that was spreading between school aged children, then going on to infect their parents.

    It also gives us some time to see the impact of Christmas mixing, and so many people being in busy shops in the run-up to Christmas, and evaluate the extent of the new variant, not to mention give schools and teaching authorities the opportunity to properly plan the testing which will hopefully allow schools to stay open once they do return.

    I did see someone point out a potential flaw in keeping kids off school, in that some school aged children have part-time jobs, which many have been doing during the Christmas break. Assuming they keep up with that outside of school hours, the break in transmission won’t be absolute, but it’s still an improvement. I’d hope that they have been following proper infection control protocols wherever it is they are working, which are more strict than in schools.

    I suspect there is some confusion about whether or not we are closing schools to protect the children, or their parents (and teachers). It’s the latter case, which seems horribly unfair for the children, but they will benefit from a quicker suppression of the virus as a population level.

    I also suspect that some people don’t realise how common it is in some parts of the country for school kids to take public buses to school, rather than dedicated school buses. As such, they are mixing with more than their class mates.

  • John Marriott 3rd Jan '21 - 12:56pm

    As an ex teacher myself (1966 – 1999) I do see some sense in not reopening all state schools next week under the following conditions:

    1 Those teachers not required to attend to offer ‘education’ to the offspring of so called key workers or to help in preparing for #2 should have their pay temporarily reduced. (I am not convinced from anecdotal evidence that all would be working at full stretch from home during this period.)
    2. All schools should spend the closure time (say at least two weeks) getting a workable ‘test and trace system’ in place, administered by groups such as the military if necessary.
    3. As many teachers and ancillary staff as possible, regardless of age and vulnerability, should receive their first dose of vaccine ASAP. Those, who cannot provide a valid reason for refusing a vaccine should be furloughed until things settle down.
    4. When schools reopen all staff and students above Year One must wear a face covering when moving around and during recreation, unless underlying health conditions prevent this.

    Draconian? Yes. Necessary until the vaccines can make a difference? You’d better believe it!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Jan '21 - 1:15pm

    Absolutely basic and weak, the schools ought not to open at all, until we get a strategy to reduce numbers to lowest possibly a zero covid approach like New Zealand.

    The party acts as if it is ahead of the game. It is not. It is catch up nearly as much as Hm government.

  • David Evans 3rd Jan '21 - 2:41pm

    The one thing we should be saying is that teachers like other front line staff (nurses and doctors, care workers) should be vaccinated in the first wave. Once that is complete then schools should return.

    We need to be a nimble party, the one on the front foot offering solutions, not just saying we need reviews and strategies.

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Jan '21 - 3:15pm

    I agree with David Evans, there has to be a better strategy for the return of school children. When, my 7 year old great granddaughter rings me, explaining how unhappy she is, alarm bells ring. She has been having bad dreams. We are trying to play down the situation. Constantly, the hype continues. I agree, that teaching staff need protection from the virus, but teaching staff know how to explain a situation to their pupils.
    If we don’t stay ahead of the situation, there will be even more depression amongst our youngest children.
    I’ve almost become someone to fear, my great granddaughter now has learnt she could make her grandmother ill, what a lesson to learn for a 7 year old child.
    Is there any psychologists and behaviour specialists in the Party, I think we all could do with some clarity.

  • There is a huge inconsistency from the Govt for my area (Somerset) where on the one hand we are told primary schools are safe, but we are now a Tier 4 area. Tier 4 means virus completely out of control. So messaging is not consistent. I have 3 children in primary school and the autumn term (when we were Tier 1) went without too much incident.

  • Nigel Jones 4th Jan '21 - 10:37am

    It is a sad and major indictment of this government that they have had no contingency plan in place to prepare for the period up to the full roll-out of vaccination. This could have been done even before knowing about the new variant of Covid and they ignored calls for a proper test and trace system for schools that were being made over the summer. They have a simplistic attitude about schools either being open or closed, when in reality schools needed to be prepared to ensure all pupils (especially the disadvantaged) had appropriate opportunities to engage in activities for their mental health and learning, even though it would in most cases not be done in the normal way. For example, some schools may have needed to have a rota system in which not all pupils are in the school buildings at the same time. This is not simple, but a plan could and should have been worked out ages ago as a guide to all school leaders. It could have been worked out last summer by cooperation between the DfE, teacher representatives and local authorities.
    This government has the idealistic view of having all pupils in school for the sake of the economy (as well as the pupils) and then do what is necessary only when forced into an unplanned reaction because lots of people are dying, infection spreading hugely and the NHS and schools finding it nearly impossible to cope in a safe way.
    This is about Boris as well as Gavin Williamson; on Sunday Boris talked about having to introduce harsher measures “in a few weeks time”. This is typical of the inability to plan ahead that has caused harm to our pupils and teachers. We as a party need to remember this in our campaigning.

  • suzanne fletcher 4th Jan '21 - 2:34pm

    I know that we need to keep our messaging simple, but we do need to add each time we demand learning from home, we need to say something about the need to re necessary equipment and access to wifi for children without such.
    Imagine having classrooms where the privileged children could hear the teacher and have access to text books. And the poorer children were in another room.
    And we said nothing about it at every opportunity.

  • Peter Watson 4th Jan '21 - 7:07pm

    @suzanne fletcher “And we said nothing about it at every opportunity.”
    More worryingly, the impression is given (unintentionally, I’m sure) that such children are simply not on the radar when Lib Dems call for a shutdown of schools.

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