The Liberal Democrats are backing calls for all primary schools to move to remote learning until 18 January and urged Ministers to use that time to “get ahead of the virus” and publish a clear plan to open schools safely.
While the Party wants schools to remain open for vulnerable children and those of key-workers, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader and Education Spokesperson Daisy Cooper has warned the Tories have “squandered every opportunity to get ahead of the virus” and are “wreaking havoc on people’s lives”.
The intervention comes amidst growing concern for safety in schools, including headteachers launching legal action to force ministers to reveal data behind the decision for some schools to reopen.
The Liberal Democrats are urging the Government to review testing strategies in schools and publish a plan that includes a move to single-school transport and a new pupil bubbling strategy to tackle the new more transmissible strain.
Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader and Education Spokesperson Daisy Cooper 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.”
Southampton Lib Dems Chair Richard Blackman commented:
"It is plain for all to see that the Tory Government, and particularly Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, are not up the job. In this context it’s important that Southampton's Labour-run council is decisive, and does not leave parents and educators to fend for themselves in the face of this public health emergency.
"In a letter from the Labour leader of Southampton City Council, Cllr Hammond states that 'Each school is deciding what it plans to do, so parents should check their child's school website to see the latest updates.'
"This has caused needless anxiety and stress for parents and educators. While other local authorities in England have taken the bold, and we believe correct, decision to move to online learning for the majority of children in their schools, Southampton's leaders need to show leadership, and not push that decision to individual schools and families."
James Read, Southampton Lib Dems Health spokesperson, added:
"According to government data, in the week to 29 December 2020, cases of COVID-19 in Harefield are up 42.1%; St Denys up 46.7%; Freemantle up 50%; Thornhill up 66.7%; and Aldermoor and Lordswood up 87.2%.
"These case rates - well above the national average - are only heading in one direction, and the need to temporarily close schools in order to prevent further unnecessary virus transmission, illness and death could not be clearer.
“Southampton's children and teachers are being failed by government, national and local, Conservative and Labour. In times of crisis, citizens look to their elected representatives for clarity and leadership. Sadly, leadership and clarity are in short supply.”