Let’s talk about schools.

A massive frustration of mine throughout this pandemic is the reluctance of government in general, and the prime minister specifically, to act early enough to head off problems before they get out of control. In other words, their inability to be strategic.

We saw it at the beginning with care homes – there was no ‘protective ring’ despite being told what would unfold without action. They did it again when Keir Starmer asked them to release the lockdown-easing plan back in May – there was no plan and chaos ensued. Then came the school exams u-turn, the ‘show some guts’ comment, the September school return nightmare, and the second lockdown which Boris Johnson said would never happen until he changed his mind three days later and it happened…and on, and on, and on.

I’m afraid Boris Johnson is just out of his depth. We all know it and I suspect at times he’s thought it himself. But the question I find so hard to answer is why he never, ever learns from mistakes. He just goes on repeating them again and again.

There was nothing inevitable about being in the mess we’re in today. We didn’t get here by accident, we were led here and never forget that.

Let’s take an example: the reason we have a ‘variant strain’ gripping our country was that there was so much prevalence of covid in order for it to mutate in the first place. The best opportunity we had for vastly suppressing the virus was the summer. Instead of keeping a lid on progress, they blew it off by telling us to go to the beach, go shopping, and even buying us all food. Government had a policy of bringing us together at exactly the time we should have been staying apart.

For those of who, rightly, ask ‘why didn’t you say something at the time’, please look at the record because I did. Not because I’m Mystic Meg and can see the future, but because I listened to the advice, took time to learn how the virus spreads, and read a few things about past pandemics. Boris Johnson has more access to expert opinion than anyone else in the country yet he still manages to get it wrong.

But we’ve been landed in this mess once again. The contagion is rising across the country and it’s still rising sharply here in our city of Brighton and Hove. Our local hospital serves a very large area and it is rapidly filling up. Friends who are doctors tell me that nursing and medical staff are beyond exhausted and when some go off sick it places a huge strain on the system. And worse still, the inevitable increases in hospitalisations and lost life that will result from easing restrictions at Christmas have not yet been felt because hospitalisation doesn’t usually occur until after ten days of infection.

If ‘world beating’ test and trace had ever materialised, if the testing regime promised for teachers and pupils had been delivered, then schools would be far more resilient to periods when covid rate were on the rise. Sadly, government never delivered its promises.

Further, the promises made *during the first lockdown* about equipping every student with the technology to enable remote learning have still not arrived as we approach the third lockdown.

Gavin Williamson is comprehensively useless. Guidance for principles and teachers is often issues the night before its supposed to be implemented and often changed two or three times in the 24 hours before it comes into force. This has happened again over the weekend.

I am full of admiration for teachers and staff who have done their best in the most horrendous circumstances and with a Department for Education that has been working against you rather than supporting you with timely, coherent, and strategic advice and resources. As a result, many teachers have been going to work worried that when they could infect the people they love when they come home in the evening. This is intolerable.

I trust local teachers and educationalists more than I trust Gavin Williamson. They know what is in the best interests of student welfare and learning in our city and I trust them to make the right judgement on this and they have my support in this difficult time.

No principle, no teacher wants students out of school. For me personally who had such a difficult time through education, seeing students kept out of school is painful. But right now, because of the terrible place we’ve been led to, very difficult decisions are being made.

Schools will remain open for key workers and vulnerable students. I will be fighting as hard as I can to finally get the testing, support and resources into schools, plus priority vaccine rollout for teachers and staff that will enable schools to reopen safely as soon as it is possible to.

Once again I find myself apologising for the mess created by incompetent ministers. But I truly am sorry that you are in this position. If you’re a student, please take things a day at a time and do the very best you can to give 100% to your learning however it is delivered. If you’re a parent, I wish you the very best as you juggle so many competing priorities and challenges. And once more I’d like to thank our school leaders, teachers and staff, and local authority educational officials for doing they very best to keep educational programmes on track as much as possible, I know it’s really tough.

And to government my message is clear: get a grip. Make good on your promises and stop living day-to-day and start focussing on an educational strategy that caters for the future, such as exams, before they too are cancelled at the very last moment.

An empty Classroom.
An empty Classroom.
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