The Education Secretary has agreed to assess the validity of bringing in a bill that would stop schools being closed again so easily.
The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having a profound impact, not only on people’s health, but also on how they learn, work and live. Among the most important challenges created by COVID-19 is how to adapt a system of education built around physical schools.
There are talks that the Prime Minister could lose his power to be able to close schools without major consultation.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon has tabled a bill in Parliament to reclassify schools as ‘essential infrastructure’ – which would mean they had the same classification as hospitals, nuclear power stations and supermarkets.
If successful, the Schools and Education Settings Bill would include a ‘triple lock’ to stop No10 from ordering a shutdown without:
- consulting with the Children’s Commissioner who must provide advice on whether the closure is necessary and in the best interests of the child;
- holding a specific debate and vote in Parliament on the closure proposal;
- holding a vote on any proposed extension to the closure every three weeks.
The MP told the Commons last week that his plan would stop children ever having to endure another ‘apocalyptic’ year stuck at home and deprived of learning and seeing their friends.
And the bill was given an unopposed first reading in the House of Commons, with Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi agreeing to look at it.
The MP, who heads up the education select committee, said, if successful, his bill would stop the ‘disaster’ of a school shutdown happening again.
‘These closures wielded a hammer blow for students’ education and wellbeing.
‘Their effect was apocalyptic, threatening the futures of millions of pupils and students and stopping them climbing the ladder of opportunity.
‘I’m not a lockdown sceptic but I am a school-down sceptic. Whilst national lockdowns were important to protect the health of the public, school closures have been nothing short of a disaster for our children.
‘Even before the pandemic, disadvantaged pupils were already 18 months’ of learning behind their better-off peers by the time they took their GCSEs.
‘Now, as a result of school closures, these pupils face a widening attainment gap and a worsening mental health crisis, numerous safeguarding hazards and diminished life chances.
‘This is why the triple lock in my bill is so important. By ensuring that any decision taken to close schools is done so following the recommendation of the Children’s Commissioner, is agreed and voted on by a majority of Parliament, and is strictly time-limited, we can make sure the best interests of the child are considered at every stage to keep children in school.’
While some parents vigorously support the bill, others are fiercely against it.
Discussing the issue on Twitter, one parent said:
‘Completely agree – definitely impacted my child’s learning.’
Another completely disagreed, saying:
‘This bill will make it more likely that people will die in future pandemics (or indeed possibly another wave of this one).
‘If the next pandemic is a flu pandemic, those people will be children. It is entirely wrong headed.’
As many parents will remember, there was one period of lockdown in England from March to July 2020, and a further period at the beginning of 2021 in which schools were closed to all but key worker children.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures have resulted in children losing around 58% of all classroom time. Pupils missed 115 days of in-school classroom time during the pandemic, experts have said.
While the shutdown has also taken a huge toll on the mental health of kids and teens.
A string of alarming studies have found that youngsters are less happy and more depressed as a result of the school shutdowns.
As the bill is tabled by a backbench MP, it only stands a chance of becoming law if the government accepts it. The bill will be presented for a second reading in February next year.
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Do you support the bill? Do you think your child’s school is doing enough to keep your child safe at school? Have your say in our chat