Sir Keir Starmer blasts Government over reopening of schools

Sir Keir Starmer claims ministers have been ‘asleep at the wheel’ over reopening of schools as Gavin Williamson insists he will publish a ‘detailed plan’ for getting all students back in September this week

  • Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said all children should already be back at school
  • Sir Keir said the Government had been ‘asleep at the wheel’ on the crunch issue 
  • Gavin Williamson said he will publish this week plan for reopening in September

Sir Keir Starmer has accused ministers of being ‘asleep at the wheel’ over the delayed reopening of the nation’s schools as Gavin Williamson said he will publish a plan this week for a full return to classrooms in September.

The Labour leader said there had been a ‘total lack of planning’ by the Government which meant many children were still unable to go back to school. 

He said the swift construction of Nightingale emergency hospitals during the coronavirus crisis showed ministers could have established temporary classrooms if they had wanted to.  

Sir Keir said if ‘there been work on this from the day the schools closed down, I genuinely think we could have had all our children back in school by now’. 

Meanwhile, Mr Williamson, the Education Secretary, announced this morning he will publish a plan to get every pupil in England back in school in September within the next few days. 

However, he refused to be drawn on exactly how the Government intends to get round social distancing rules which will make it impossible for many schools to welcome back all of their students. 

It came as Boris Johnson unveiled a decade-long schools rebuilding strategy which will see £1 billion injected into new construction work and another £560 million into school repairs.  

Sir Keir Starmer today accused ministers of being ‘asleep at the wheel’ over the reopening of schools in England

Many primary schools in England have already welcomed back pupils in reception, year one and year six. 

But the Government was forced to drop its ambition to get all primary year groups back before summer. 

Meanwhile, secondary schools remain largely shut with only some pupils in year 10 and year 12 allowed to meet with teachers before the summer holidays ahead of exam years. 

Sir Keir said that every student should already have been back at school as he blasted the Government’s handling of the issue. 

He told Sky News, he said: ‘There has been a total lack of planning. From the day the schools were shut down, it was obvious what needed to happen to get them back open again.

‘You needed a risk assessment, and you needed to look at the space. I’ve talked to loads of headteachers, and the points they have made to me were obvious and practical and could have been overcome.’

He added: ‘If you could put up Nightingale hospitals – a good thing to do – you can certainly put up temporary classrooms, you can certainly take over libraries, community centres.

‘Had there been work on this from the day the schools closed down, I genuinely think we could have had all our children back in school by now. 

‘But the Government was asleep at the wheel, didn’t get to this until too late in the day, and now we’re in the situation where children will be able to do other things this weekend, but not be in school on Monday.’

Mr Williamson was asked during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if there will be a ‘detailed plan’ for a full reopening in September published this week and he replied: ‘There will.’ 

Asked if it will spell out exactly how schools will achieve full attendance in September, he said: ‘Yes, it will. As both the Prime Minister and myself have made clear that we are going to be seeing the full return of all children in all year groups to our schools, whether that is primary, whether that is secondary, whether that is further education colleges. 

‘Because we realise and understand the real importance that children get and benefit from being in school. 

‘We are already seeing, at the end of last week, almost one and a half million children back into school. We have got seven year groups back into school. 

‘But we want to see every child back in school getting their education.’ 

Mr Williamson would not be drawn on the approach which will be taken in the plan to social distancing. 

The current two metre social distancing rule means many schools simply do not have enough space to welcome back more than a fraction of their pupils.    

Gavin Williamson will publish a plan this week setting out how all pupils will return to the classroom in September

Setting out the Government’s schools spending announcement overnight, Mr Johnson said: ‘All children deserve the best possible start in life – regardless of their background or where they live.

‘As we bounce back from the pandemic, it’s important we lay the foundations for a country where everyone has the opportunity to succeed, with our younger generations front and centre of this mission.

‘This major new investment will make sure our schools and colleges are fit for the future, with better facilities and brand new buildings so that every child gets a world-class education.’   

Details of the programme, along with eligibility for funding, will be laid out in full at the next Spending Review, according to Number 10.

Investment will be targeted at school buildings in the worst condition across England – including ‘substantial investment’ in the north and the Midlands.

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