I know that many of my constituents are concerned about the possible re-opening of schools.
As you may have seen, Leeds City Council has put out this statement.
A lot of schools have, of course, been open throughout the past two months, providing education for vulnerable children and the children of key workers, as well as offering education and pastoral care to children at home. I would like to thank all of those staff involved for their dedication and commitment.
We would all like to see children back in school for the sake of their education and wellbeing; however, this must be done in a way that is safe for pupils, teachers and their families. I share the concerns that many have expressed, and we should not be working to an arbitrary deadline of 1 June.
I believe that the date for a return should be based on whether a number of conditions have been met. Schools, of course, need to have worked through how social distancing can be achieved in practice, but most important of all we need to see a significant and sustained reduction in the number of new cases and the availability of a comprehensive test, track, trace and isolate system so that if we see a spike in new cases we have the capacity to respond. Staff and pupils should have access to comprehensive and regular testing. I also want all available scientific evidence to be published.
As things stand at the moment, I do not believe that these conditions have been met and therefore it would not be right to try and force all schools to return on 1st June.
It may well be that these conditions are met at different times in different parts of the country, so I think the power to reopen schools – and to close them again if there is another outbreak – should rest locally in consultation with Directors of Public Health.
We also need to recognise that there are families of pupils and staff members who will have medical conditions or who are shielding and are therefore particularly worried about the possibility of getting the virus. Arrangements need to be put in place to deal with these circumstances, for example by ensuring that staff can continue to work from home.
I urge the Government to work with the sector to get this right in the best interests of children, families and staff.
MP for Leeds Central