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Sir Keir Starmer tells LBC schools should 'ideally' reopen on March 8

22 February 2021, 09:53 | Updated: 22 February 2021, 10:14

By Megan White

Sir Keir Starmer has told LBC schools should "ideally" reopen on March 8, but urged the Government to set up Nightingale classrooms and vaccine teachers and school staff.

Speaking during Call Keir, the Labour leader backed the Prime Minister's decision to get pupils back into classrooms, saying he was "worried about the impact being out of school has had on children."

But he said the Government could be having a "better conversation" about the reopening of schools if they had used last week's half term break to vaccinate teachers and school staff.

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Sir Keir told Nick Ferrari: "I want all of our schools ideally opened on March 8, that's what the Prime Minister has said, and we want to see that ideally happen.

"I've been worried throughout the pandemic about the impact that being out of school has had on children.

"It's been a real struggle, home learning, for many, many children - some of them haven't got proper access to devices etc - and there's a huge wellbeing issue.

"So get our children back into schools on March 8 ideally."

Pressed on his use of the word "ideally," Sir Keir said: "I feel like a broken record on this, and I'm slightly frustrated.

"Back in September, I said to the Government to have a plan, if you're going to get children back you need ventilation, you need proper testing, and I've always said Nightingale classrooms - if you can put them up for hospitals, if you need more space in your schools, put your Nightingale classrooms up.

"It's the space, actually, rather than the teachers which are needed, because a lot of schools, particularly in cities, just don't have the space to spread children out the way you might need to for testing and for teaching purposes.

"The other thing that I've pressed the Government on, which they didn't take up, was we've just had half term, and I said to the Government to use that to vaccinate teachers and school staff before we go back to school, and they didn't do it."

He added: "I do understand the Government can't just have a free-for-all [on vaccination], but I honestly think that if we'd used that last half term, that last week, to vaccinate teachers and school staff, we'd be having a better conversation about children being back to school."

On Sunday, a member of the government’s NERVTAG advisory group said returning all students to the classroom on March 8 would be "reckless."

Professor Andrew Hayward told Swarbrick on Sunday this “will lead to a lot of transmission amongst school children, which will spread up the age groups”.

“I think opening all schools completely on March 8 is reckless in the current circumstances,” he added.“There are still very many people out there who are vulnerable to getting severe disease.

“Also, even in the older age groups, although the overall uptake is very high, there are areas of the country where perhaps only 60 percent of over 70s are vaccinated as yet.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham also said he was "not convinced about the plan for schools," adding: "Primaries yes but bringing all secondary year groups back on the same day sounds risky."