'Children must continue learning - even if schools close again'

31 August 2020, 15:29 | Updated: 1 September 2020, 10:52

By Seán Hickey

The Chair of the Education Select Committee feared that closing schools could have caused an "epidemic of educational poverty" and cannot happen again.

Shelagh Fogarty spoke of the anxiety felt by parents and school leaders when new government advice last week listed guidelines for the event of schools being closed because of the pandemic.

Education Select Committee Chair Robert Halfon assured Shelagh that the presence of the guidance should be reassuring.

"The important thing is that the guidance is there there are copious amounts of it," he said, making the case that government must prepare for any and all eventualities as they learn from the first coronavirus lockdown.

If there is another lockdown, Mr Halfon said it is crucial "that we won't have a situation once again for one reason or another...kids aren't learning hardly anything at all.

"If kids are staying at home they've got to keep on learning whatever happens," Mr Halfon insisted.

Mr Halfon urged that under no circumstances can children stop learning because of Covid-19
Mr Halfon urged that under no circumstances can children stop learning because of Covid-19. Picture: PA

Shelagh highlighted the widespread criticism in the early weeks of lockdown for the decision to close schools. Many had argued at the time that an "almost total closure of schools was not necessary, that there was alternatives."

She wondered if the Tory MP knew what alternatives are being looked at going forward.

"I don't know what government is planning," Mr Halfon said, but noted we must not have a situation again where millions of children are at home where they're learning hardly anything if schools are closed.

He feared that government have "potentially created an epidemic of educational poverty, mental health issues for these children," and said "that should have not happened."

"There has to be a proper plan from the government and from Ofsted," Mr Halfon concluded.

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