UK has "no other option" but to reopen schools - children's commissioner

16 May 2020, 14:46

By Seán Hickey

The children's commissioner insisted that schools cannot wait for a vaccine before returning to normal and must try new ways of teaching.

Anne Longfield is the children's commissioner for England and she was speaking to Matt Frei after teacher's unions were told to "stop squabbling" over the reopening of schools in a meeting between science advisors and union officials. The position of Ms Longfield was that the UK needs to begin sending children back to school instead of relying on a vaccine for coronavirus which may never arrive.

Matt pointed out that in some countries schools were never closed in the first place and in many nations lessons have already restarted. He wanted to know if the children's commissioner could see the same thing being achieved in the UK, where schools open subject to social distancing.

Ms Longfield insisted that "we won't have 100% risk-free environments until we have a vaccine which may never come" and the teacher's unions and scientists need to work together on a strategy moving forward rather than clashing heads.

"We've been looking at workplace nurseries that have been in place for NHS staff since the beginning" she pointed out, sharing the view that there are many instances within the UK that show that schooling can happen in person on par with other countries in Europe that have started to unlock.

The children's commissioner added that it is the children that are missing out if schools don't open soon.

the children's commissioner said we must work to reopen schools so children aren't left behind by coronavirus
the children's commissioner said we must work to reopen schools so children aren't left behind by coronavirus. Picture: PA

Matt Argued that the teacher's unions are "backed up by the British Medical Association who say it is not safe to go back yet" and with a professional opinion like this backing up teachers "there's not much you can do" to bring them around to opening up.

Ms Longfield insisted that she is "not underplaying any of the concerns" of teachers but also pointed out that the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Advisor of England are saying that "risks are low enough" for schools to reopen safely with restrictions in place.

"Let's remember most schools have stayed open" the children's commissioner said, pointing out that schools have been operating for vulnerable children and the children of essential workers.

"This is about adding back children bit by bit overtime" she insisted, arguing "what alternative do we have, we're not gonna have a vaccine and so we have to look at managing that risk."

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