SIR KEIR STARMER: Let’s harness the spirit that has made us the envy of the world – to get EVERY child back to school
This pandemic, with the endless round of lockdowns that go with it, has been devastating for our country. It has taken the lives of more than 100,000 people.
It has done unimaginable damage to our economy, with businesses forced to close and billions of pounds of public debt being racked up every week.
And it has forced the Government to shut our schools for millions of children for weeks on end.
Our teachers and school staff have done an extraordinary job keeping schools open as long as possible and adapting to new ways of learning.
Even when schools were open, learning was constantly disrupted. Children were in school one week, out of school the next, then learning from home again. That is no way to learn, writes Sir Keir Starmer (pictured)
They know more than most the damage that is being done every day that millions of pupils are out of the classroom.
Parents are frustrated and worried. Children are suffering. Across the country, parents are doing their best but there is no substitute for face-to-face learning.
A good education is what makes us a good society. It is the springboard to getting a good job, the chance to go to university or take on an apprenticeship. It allows our businesses to hire the best talent so we can compete on the global stage.
It helps children to develop and grow, to build relationships with others and become well-rounded individuals and citizens of our country.
Those skills simply cannot be learnt from staring at a screen for hours on end or, despite their best efforts, delivered by parents who are having to juggle home schooling with working from home.
Even when schools were open, learning was constantly disrupted. Children were in school one week, out of school the next, then learning from home again. That is no way to learn.
I fear we’re going to see that disruption again in March if we don’t take decisive action now.
Parents are frustrated and worried. Children are suffering. Across the country, parents are doing their best but there is no substitute for face-to-face learning
I share the Government’s ambition to make it a national mission to reopen our schools. I will do everything in my power as leader of the Labour Party to make that happen.
I have offered to work with the Prime Minister on this, including calling for the opening of ‘Nightingale-style classrooms’, and I renew that commitment today.
I believe we can take a further step towards reopening our schools by getting our teachers and school staff vaccinated as soon as possible, as The Mail on Sunday has called for.
Rollout of the vaccine has been a national success story. Our NHS, the pharmaceutical companies, scientists and volunteers have already given hope to millions of people.
The news last week that more vaccines could be on the way is a further boost to getting Britain vaccinated.
We were the first in the world to get the vaccine and I believe we can be the first in the world to get our country vaccinated.
It is right that the most vulnerable are being vaccinated first and we are on course to hit that target by mid-February.
With the extra capacity and new vaccines on the way, we can then use the half-term window to immunise our teachers and school staff, alongside the existing rollout plan.
This is not about de-prioritising existing groups. That is not what I am calling for. It is about having the ambition to do both.
I’ve met the staff at the vaccine centres and I know they are up for this challenge. We can capture that spirit by going further, faster and smarter too.
For example, we should be looking at how we can use our supply more efficiently. It’s estimated that five per cent of vaccines are wasted. That could mean more than 120,000 a week based on recent numbers – or the equivalent of more than ten per cent of school staff in England.
Rollout of the vaccine has been a national success story. Our NHS, the pharmaceutical companies, scientists and volunteers have already given hope to millions of people
This is a practical, constructive, sensible proposal. It has the support of all four Children’s Commissioners in the UK, the Conservative chairman of the Commons education committee, teachers, the public and even Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said it is worthy of exploring.
I was disappointed the idea was dismissed so quickly by the Prime Minister on Wednesday, but I would urge him to reconsider.
We cannot miss this opportunity by making it into a party political issue – or expect the British public to understand why our schools are closed and our borders are still open.
We are only going to get our children back into school, reopen society and secure our economy if we are bold, decisive and working together.
That is our shared goal. Let’s work together to get it done.
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