PM urges parents in Suffolk to send their children to school

Some primary school children in areas with the highest Covid infection rates will not be returning immediately after the...

Some primary school children in areas with the highest Covid infection rates will not be returning immediately after the Christmas break - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

PM Boris Johnson has today urged parents in Suffolk to send their children back to school tomorrow despite increasing calls for the Government to close all schools for at least two weeks.

The new term starts on Monday, and primary schools across Suffolk and in Tendring and Colchester, will open as normal. Those in other parts of Essex, including Braintree and Chelmsford, where rates are much higher will remain closed.

The return of secondary school students will be staggered, with exam classes back from January 11 and other year groups due back from January 18.

But with confirmed cases higher than 50,000 for the fifth consecutive day when UK figures were released on Saturday, there have been calls for all schools to be closed.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr show this morning Mr Johnson said parents should send children back to primary school tomorrow "in areas where schools are open".

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He added: "What we are doing, clearly, is grappling with a new variant of coronavirus which is surging particularly in London and the South East. And that is why we have had to take exceptional measures."

The prime minister said that he understands the anxieties around the reopening of schools.

Asked if he would take legal action against councils which have decided not to reopen primary schools, the Prime Minister said: "We'll work very hard with authorities across the country to get our message across that we think schools are safe; that schools are safe, there's absolutely no doubt about it.

"I understand people's frustrations, I understand people's anxieties but there is no doubt in my mind that schools are safe and that education is a priority.

"And if you think about the history of the pandemic, we've kept schools going for a long, long time in areas where the pandemic has really been at really high levels."

Mr Johnson added: "We will keep this under constant review but we will be driven by public health considerations and by the massive importance of education."

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Dave Lee-Allan, a headteacher in Suffolk, expressed his frustration that teachers were not being prioritised for Covid-19 vaccines.

He told BBC Breakfast: "It seems highly frustrating to me that we're constantly being told by the government that keeping children in school is a national priority and that we are key workers.

"Yet, apparently, we don't qualify, along with other key workers, to get early access to the vaccine.

"It just seems another common-sense decision that could help belay the fears and increase the safety of staff, and this is in primary and secondary."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, and former headteacher of King Edward VI School, in Bury St Edmunds, said: “The government needs to give complete reassurance that they are following the science. 

“If the SAGE committee is saying schools should be closed for two weeks, why is it that government ministers think they know better than the scientists? Parents, as well as everyone working in schools, is going to need reassurance about that.”

Hundreds of new vaccination sites are due to be up and running this week as the NHS ramps up its immunisation programme with the newly approved Oxford University and AstraZeneca jab.

Some 530,000 doses of the vaccine will be available for rollout across the UK from Monday and more than a million patients have already had their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Meanwhile, a  group of head teachers has called for the scrapping of GCSE and A-level exams this summer.

More than 2,000 head teachers, from the campaign group Worthless?, say pupils, parents and teachers should not be put at risk of contracting Covid for the sake of protecting exam timetables.

“Wider public health, pupil and staff safety should be prioritised ahead of examinations,” the head teachers from WorthLess? were quoted as saying in The Sunday Times.

“Public safety should not be risked or driven by an inflexible pursuit of GCSE and A-levels.”

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