Britain’s top schools have unveiled a bold plan to vaccinate the country’s entire teaching staff and get pupils back into the classroom within weeks.
Headteachers have drawn up a detailed blueprint to get the educational workforce, including support staff, inoculated over the February half-term week.
The ambitious scheme could prove a political lifeline to Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he faces mounting calls to put teachers at the front of the queue for jabs and prevent more catastrophic damage to the prospects of millions of locked-down children.
Under the emergency scheme, 150 independent schools and state academies would become vaccination hubs with medically trained staff inoculating school workers for 16 hours a day.
The plan’s architects claim that ‘most or even all’ of England’s one million school and nursery teachers, teaching assistants and support staff, including dinner ladies and caretakers, could be vaccinated within the week.
It comes as Ministers have been downplaying expectations schools could reopen after half-term, as originally envisaged.
Last week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson could only say he ‘hoped’ children would be back in classrooms by Easter, let alone February.
However, England’s Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, said primary schools must begin to re-open after half-term or children in deprived areas ‘will fall even further behind’ their peers.
The ambitious scheme could prove a political lifeline to Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The new vaccination proposal, which would incur no cost for the Government, has been drawn up by two academy chains, a private school group and the respected Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents nearly 300 independent schools, including the likes of Eton and Harrow.
Ministers have yet to respond to their blueprint, which has been revealed as:
- A Mail on Sunday poll found 40 per cent of people believe their mood and state of mind have declined since the start of the pandemic, and 33 per cent of parents say the mental health of their children has worsened;
- A record 478,248 vaccine jabs were delivered on Friday, taking the total to 6,329,968, of which 5,861,351 were first doses;
- The number of reported positive Covid-19 cases fell by 18 per cent – from 41,346 last Saturday to 33,552 yesterday, but there were 1,348 new deaths;
- Experts accused Mr Johnson of ‘exploiting public fear’ over the virus following disputed claims that the mutant Kent variant was 30 per cent more lethal than the original;
- The medical director of Public Health England rejected calls from the British Medical Association to halve the gap between the two doses of vaccine from 12 weeks to six;
- The Intensive Care Society said one in five nursing staff is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder – more than the rate among war veterans – as more than 4,000 patients are now on ventilators across the UK;
- An ambitious campaign by the Mail to deliver laptops to locked-down pupils struggling with lessons got under way;
- Tory MPs urged the Prime Minister to publish military-style ‘multiple pathways’ out of lockdown with one saying that people would not tolerate ‘living like troglodytes’ indefinitely;
Practice nurse administers the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccination centre in Sheffield
The Government was set to make visitors from some high-risk counties quarantine in hotels – but stop short of a blanket rule;
Chris Whitty’s fury at Guardian for ‘total nonsense’ claim Pfizer vaccine might only be 33% effective amid fears it could threaten jab uptake
Boris Johnson’s medical chief was so infuriated by a newspaper story which claimed that a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine might only be 33 per cent effective that he threatened to report it to a press watchdog, The Mail on Sunday understands.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty – normally one of the more mild-mannered figures at No 10 press conferences – told colleagues The Guardian’s report was ‘total nonsense’ which could threaten the uptake of the jab.
The newspaper quoted ‘Israeli experts’ as saying only a third of people who have received one injection were protected.
No 10’s vaccine advisers say the real figure is 89 per cent, starting 14 days after the first jab.
It was reported yesterday that a single shot of the Pfizer vaccine had led to a ‘major presence’ of antibodies in 91 per cent of doctors and nurses who received it in Israel within 21 days.
A source said: ‘It is not every day that a member of the liberal academic establishment is angered by The Guardian.’
No 10’s options were limited, however, because the newspaper has not signed up to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which regulates newspapers and sanctions them for inaccuracies.
The report quoted Israeli Covid commissioner Professor Nachman Ash as saying that a single dose of Pfizer appeared ‘less effective than we had thought’, once cases of asymptomatic infection were included, although those who had received their second dose had a six- to 12-fold increase in antibodies.
AstraZeneca warned EU countries it will cut deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine in another blow to Europe’s spluttering inoculation drive;
A Mail on Sunday investigation reveals how foreign firms have handed billions of pounds to their wealthy investors after taking out cheap Covid loans backed by the British taxpayer.
Downing Street has been increasingly pessimistic that infection rates will fall quickly enough for schools to reopen next month, with some officials warning parents should ‘prepare to wait until May’.
However, a chorus of eminent education experts last night urged the Prime Minister to intervene and back the schools vaccination plan to speed up that timetable.
Sir Anthony Seldon, a leading historian and former master at Wellington College, said: ‘It is desperately important to get all schools back fully open for the sake of parents, guardians and their children. This is a really magnificent plan. No 10 needs to start listening to and welcoming ideas like this.’
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools and head of Ofsted between 2012 and 2016, said: ‘I would strongly support the Government putting teachers and support staff in schools at the very top of the list in terms of vaccination. As soon as that happens, then we can get schools open again. I’m in full support of this.’
Earlier this month, the Headmasters’ and Headmistress’ Conference and Cognita, a private education group with 40 independent schools, joined the Academies Enterprise Trust and Ormiston Academies Trust, which together run 98 state academies, to create their plan.
Top private schools that have volunteered to be vaccination hubs include Shrewsbury School and Oswestry School in Shropshire, South Hampstead High School in London, Bootham School in York, Plymouth College and Ipswich School.
In a letter sent to Mr Johnson, Mr Williamson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock on January 10, the schools said: ‘The single initiative that could help families cope better with the lockdown, preserve our children’s learning and mental health and help to encourage the economy to restart would be to ensure that schools can open safely after the February half term.’
They said their sites have the refrigerators required to store the vaccine and a ‘large force of medically trained members of staff’ who would be able to administer the jabs.
Last night, Chris McGovern, a former education policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher and chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, described the offer as a ‘no brainer’ He added: ‘The Government needs to wake up, get a move on, get a grip and get this done.’
Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, said: ‘The Government should be doing everything possible to get all schools open after half term.If you get all teachers and support staff vaccinated it means schools can reopen sooner.’
A No 10 source said there were no current plans to change the priority order for vaccines.
‘A magnificent plan… No 10 needs to listen’
‘This will save learning and mental health’
Britain’s coronavirus cases fall again amid ‘scaremongering’ row: Scientists play down more deadly variant claim and admit it’s ‘not a game changer’ as new infections drop by 18% in a week to 33,552 and deaths rise by 4% to 1,348
Don’t blame the public for packed hospitals, urge top doctors after string of medics tell rule-breakers they have ‘blood on their hands’ – and number of Covid patients on ventilators hits 4,000
Top intensive care doctors told NHS staff not to blame people for breaking lockdown rules on Saturday, as the number of people on ventilators with Covid-19 surpassed 4,000 for the first time.
Dr Alison Pittard and Dr Daniele Bryden, respectively the dean and vice dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, chided other healthcare workers for posting messages online which have been critical of lockdown rule breakers.
In an article for the Observer, the pair said media was ‘awash with comments’ from ‘exhausted and understandably frustrated’ healthcare staff suggesting rule-breakers ‘may have “blood on their hands” or need to “f**k off”‘.
Dr Pittard and Dr Bryden added criticising the public runs the risk of ‘feeding the trolls who call us liars when we show the harsh realities of intensive care treatment’.
Among other critical messages posted by medics, cardiology professor Richard Schilling recently said on Twitter that breaking the rules ‘should have the same social stigma as drunk driving’.
It came as the number of coronavirus patients on ventilators in UK hospitals passed 4,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
A total of 4,076 Covid patients were in hospital on ventilators as of Friday, according to official data. The highest number in the first wave was 3,301 on April 12.
Britain’s daily Covid case total has plunged by 18 per cent in a week after experts played down the Government’s ‘scaremongering’ claims that a UK variant of coronavirus is more deadly than the original strain.
A further 33,552 people tested positive for coronavirus today – a nearly 10,000 drop on the 41,346 recorded last Saturday. It brings the total number of cases in the UK since the start of the pandemic to 3,617,459.
Official figures also revealed 1,348 more people have died within 24 hours of testing positive for the virus – a rise of 4.1 per cent on last Saturday’s 1,295.
But, in a positive sign Britain’s third wave of Covid fatalities could be slowing, last Saturday brought a 25 per cent week-on-week rise in daily cases, significantly higher than the increase seen today.
Boris Johnson yesterday revealed that the Kent coronavirus strain – responsible for the soaring Covid cases recorded in the last month – could be 30 per cent more deadly than older versions of the virus.
However the PM has been accused of ‘scaremongering’ after failing to present any evidence to back up the terrifying development.
And the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) – the body of scientists which has advised the Government throughout the pandemic – are only 50 per cent sure the new variant could be more fatal.
Professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) – the subcommittee of Sage which discussed the deadliness of the new strain on Thursday – said the claim that the variant is 30 per cent more lethal is on a ‘very fragile’ base of evidence and accused the Government of ‘exploiting public fear’ over the virus.
He told website Reaction: ‘ The 30 per cent more lethal claim about the virus rests on a very fragile and uncertain base of evidence. NERVTAG has expressed limited confidence in this figure, which should not be the basis for public alarm.’
‘It is right not to hide possibly bad news but it is also quite wrong to exploit it to increase public fear and to try to shut down debates about the exit strategy from the current restrictions.’
Chief Scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said during the press conference that evidence the strain is indeed more deadly is still ‘weak’.
Public Health England medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle today revealed it is not ‘absolutely clear’ if a mutation of the virus first found in Kent is more dangerous.
Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it is an ‘open question’ but not a ‘game changer’ in terms of dealing with the pandemic.
He said: ”The question about whether it is more dangerous in terms of mortality I think is still open. There is evidence it is more dangerous but this is a very dangerous virus,” he said.
‘In terms of making the situation worse it is not a game changer. It is a very bad thing that is slightly worse.’
And Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of Sage subgroup the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, said it was still too early to be drawing ‘strong conclusions’ about the suggested increased mortality rate.
He said he was ‘quite surprised’ by the announcement and recommended waiting ‘a week or two more… before we draw really strong conclusions’.
PHE’s Dr Doyle said it is still not ‘absolutely clear’ the new variant coronavirus which emerged in the UK is more deadly than the original strain. She said more work was needed to determine whether it was true.
The Sage paper cited three studies of the Kent strain: A London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study (left) based on 2,583 deaths that said the hazard of death within 28 days of test for the mutant strain compared with non-mutant strains was 35% times higher An Imperial College London study (centre) of the Case Fatality Rate of the new mutant strain that found the risk of death was 36% times higher A University of Exeter study (right) that suggested the risk of death could be 91% higher. Both the Exeter and the Imperial studies were based on just 8% of deaths during the study period
Nervtag concluded there was a ‘realistic possibility’ – detailed on the yardstick above as a probability between 40 and 50 per cent – that the variant resulted in an increased risk of death when compared with the original strain
She told the Today programme: ‘There are several investigations going on at the moment. It is not absolutely clear that that will be the case. It is too early to say.
‘There is some evidence, but it is very early evidence. It is small numbers of cases and it is far too early to say this will actually happen.’
Figures released today showed there were a further 1,079 cases of coronavirus in Wales and another 27 deaths.
Meanwhile, a further 76 people have died from coronavirus in Scotland, while 1,307 more positive cases have been confirmed.
There have been 12 more deaths due to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, while a further 670 positive cases of the virus were also confirmed there on Saturday.
Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 113,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.
The Government also said that, as of 9am on Friday, there had been a further 33,552 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.
Government data up to January 22 shows of the 6,329,968 jabs given in the UK so far, 5,861,351 were first doses – a rise of 478,248 on the previous day’s figures.
Some 468,617 were second doses, an increase of 1,821 on figures released the previous day.
The seven-day rolling average of first doses given in the UK is now 328,882.
Based on the latest figures, an average of 397,333 first doses of vaccine would be needed each day in order to meet the Government’s target of 15 million first doses by February 15.
It comes after Sage’s warning revealing scientists are only 50 per cent sure the variant could be more fatal was handed to ministers just hours before the official address to the public from Downing Street last night.
Ministers were only informed about the development yesterday morning after members of Nervtag discussed the issue on Thursday.
The group found there was a ‘realistic possibility’ the variant resulted in an increased risk of death when compared with the original strain.
But evidence for increased mortality remains thin – Nervtag papers reveal the term ‘realistic possibility’ is used when scientists are only 40 to 50 per cent confident something is true.
The paper states ‘it should be noted that the absolute risk of death per infection remains low’. Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said if the evidence is correct it would mean three to four more deaths per 1,000 cases.
The decision to reveal the new information just hours after learning of the development is a yardstick of how alarmed ministers are.
Critics accused them of ‘scaremongering’ by announcing their fears the Kent strain is more deadly at short notice and without strong supporting evidence.
Professor Dingwall told Reaction: ‘The 30 per cent more lethal claim about the virus rests on a very fragile and uncertain base of evidence. Nervtag has expressed limited confidence in this figure, which should not be the basis for public alarm.’
He continued: ‘It is right not to hide possibly bad news but it is also quite wrong to exploit it to increase public fear and to try to shut down debates about the exit strategy from the current restrictions.’
‘If, as seems likely, the vaccines are as effective against the Kent variant as the previous one, then any increase in risk, which is not proven, is only a temporary problem that will disappear as the vaccine programme rolls onward.’
The gloomy Nervtag report followed positive news from Sage that the R rate was between 0.8 and 1 – down from last week when it was between 1.2 and 1.3.
Covid Recovery Group of Tory backbenchers and business chiefs are growing increasingly alarmed at suggestions lockdown could stretch well into summer despite Britain’s vaccination programme.
The Sage paper released last night cited three studies of the risk of death associated with the new strain. They were all based on a study of 2,583 deaths among 1.2million tested individuals:
Meanwhile professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Dr Medley said it is still an ‘open question’.
Prof Medley was co-author of a report by the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group. But he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme it was not a ‘game changer’ for dealing with the pandemic.
He said: ‘The question about whether it is more dangerous in terms of mortality I think is still open. There is evidence it is more dangerous but this is a very dangerous virus. In terms of making the situation worse it is not a game changer. It is a very bad thing that is slightly worse.’
Dr Tildesley, a member of Spi-M, said it was still too early to be drawing ‘strong conclusions’ about both the suggested increased mortality rates from the new Covid variant.
He said: ‘I was actually quite surprised the news had been announced at a new conference. It seems to have gone up a little bit from about 10 people per thousand to about 13 which is quite a small rise but it’s based on a relatively small amount of data.
‘I would be wanting to wait for a week or two more, monitoring a little bit more before we draw really strong conclusions about this.’
Speaking on BBC Breakfast he added: ‘I just worry that where we report things pre-emptively where the data are not really particularly strong.’
Professor Peter Horby, who chairs Nervtag, said people needed to put data showing increased mortality rates from the new UK coronavirus variant ‘in perspective’.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘Initial data didn’t suggest that this was any more serious than the old virus but now the data has started to come in there are a number of streams of data that are coming in that suggest there might be a small increase in risk of death.
‘There are some limitations in the data so we need to be cautious with the interpretations but it is important that people understand that we are looking at this and this may be true.
‘If you look at it as a relative change like 30 or 40% then it sounds really bad but a big change in a very small risk takes it from a very small number to a slightly bigger, but still very small number, so for most people the risk is very, very small.
‘People need to put it into perspective. This is a risk for certain age groups and that risk may have increased but for most people it is still not a serious disease.’
But Prof Horby acknowledged the new data should be taken ‘very seriously’.
He added: ‘This is an unpleasant virus. It’s throwing things at us that are unpleasant and we’re going to have to manage them.’
Passengers wait at Heathrow Airport yesterday as ministers mull even tighter rules
The number of people developing Covid-19 every day appears to have halved in a fortnight from 70,000 on January 8 to 34,000 yesterday, according to the Covid Symptom Study, which uses self-reported symptoms through a mobile app used by around a million people
His comments follow PHE doctor Susan Hopkins, who cautioned people from reading too much into the findings and suggested the evidence was still murky.
She added: ‘There is evidence from some but not all data sources which suggests that the variant of concern which was first detected in the UK may lead to a higher risk of death than the non-variant. Evidence on this variant is still emerging and more work is underway to fully understand how it behaves.’
Kit Yates, a mathematical biologist at the University of Bath, slammed the Government for causing confusion and panic about the variant.
He tweeted: ‘I really dislike the way the news about the increased lethality of B1.1.7 was leaked out and then discussed in a press briefing. Where is the data? We want to be able to scrutinise it and to understand the detail, not just the summary.’
But the long time lag from infection to hospitalisation means there is not a huge amount of data available on the variant, with Nervtag saying analyses will become more definitive over the coming weeks.
One theory as to why it may be more lethal is the stickiness of the mutation and the way it gets into cells and replicates – a behaviour that also makes the variant more transmissible the Telegraph reports.
Boris Johnson told the Downing Street briefing on Friday : ‘We’ve been informed that in addition to spreading more quickly it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant – first identified in London and the Kent – may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.’
Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said during the address that even now the science is still at an early stage.
He said: ‘These data are currently uncertain and we don’t have a very good estimate of the precise nature or indeed whether it is an overall increase, but it looks like it is.’
He said for men in their 60s, the average risk was that for every 1,000 who got infected, ten would be expected to die. But with the new variant it might be 13 or 14. That equates to an increased relative risk of 30 to 40 per cent.
Sir Patrick noted estimates vary and stressed some concluded there was no additional risk. But he said his best guess was that deaths increase by about 30 to 40 per cent.
He added: ‘The death rate is awful and it’s going to stay, I’m afraid, high for a little while before it starts coming down – that was always what was predicted from the shape of this.’
Nervtag concluded death rates have not increased among those in hospital. But evidence suggests it raises the risk of being hospitalised in the first place.
We’re sadder, poorer… and fatter: Mail on Sunday survey finds Britain is suffering under lockdown – but majority say government did the RIGHT thing with Covid response
- 40 per cent say mental health hit during lockdown and third suffer fall in income as firms are forced to close
- Half have piled on weight and our diet has got worse, exclusive Mail On Sunday survey reveals
- Concern over crisis is growing – 84% who say they are ‘worried’ about it is highest figure since end of April
Life in lockdown is leading to a significant deterioration in the nation’s mental health, according to an exclusive poll.
Some 41 per cent have suffered a decline in their state of mind since the start of the pandemic, the Deltapoll survey for The Mail on Sunday found.
Concern over the crisis is growing rather than abating – the 84 per cent who say they are ‘worried’ about it is the highest figure since the end of April.
More than half of respondents (54 per cent) say they have become more anxious, while 44 per cent are more tired. Nearly two thirds (63 per cent) say lockdown has made things more difficult for them, with a bleak 9 per cent saying they feel as if they can no longer cope.
While 48 per cent say they feel the same way now as they did during the last lockdown, nearly a third (30 per cent) say they are finding it more difficult to cope in this one.
Life in lockdown is leading to a significant deterioration in the nation’s mental health, says the Mail on Sunday survey
Psychologists are particularly concerned about the effect on children who are facing separation from friends and interruption to their education, and those fears are borne out by the poll: a third of parents say that the mental health of their children has become worse.
A similar proportion say their children’s quality of life is now poorer – 42 per cent.
The survey also found the crisis has impacted physical health and diet. People are eating more (42 per cent – against 9 per cent eating less) and drinking more alcohol (29 per cent versus 24 per cent). The knock-on effect is that 49 per cent have gained weight, and only 16 per cent have shed the pounds.
Despite partners spending more time together at home, their sex lives have been affected: 30 per cent report less intimacy, while 16 per cent are more sexually active.
In terms of household finances, 34 per cent say their income has dropped since the crisis started, while 10 per cent say it has increased. The poll picks up concerns about the lasting damage to children, with 38 per cent saying the quality of their eduction has got worse and 37 per cent saying it has damaged their future prospects (9 per cent disagree).
A total of 42 per cent believe home schooling puts too much pressure on parents, and four out of ten of those parents who feel their children’s education is getting worse believe they will not be able to catch up once the crisis is over.
The burden of trying to make up for the closure of classrooms with home schooling is falling on mothers, according to the findings, with 39 per cent saying that women have taken on the most responsibility.
Some aspects of family life have, however, improved, with 19 per cent saying that they now have a better relationship with their children, compared to 10 per cent who say it is worse. A total of 28 per cent found the outbreak made them want to spend more time with their partners and 22 per cent were arguing less with their family.
Boris Johnson’s approach to the crisis is broadly supported, with 47 per cent saying his Government is doing the right thing against 41 per cent who say it is doing the wrong thing.
The public backs tough measures: 86 per cent think masks should be worn indoors in public places, and 72 per cent think they should be worn in all public places. Half of voters do not think lockdown rules go far enough, and nearly three quarters (73 per cent) think they were introduced too late.
The survey also finds support by a small margin for people who have received the vaccination to be allowed to enjoy greater freedoms, such as a return to restaurants, while a larger margin back travel bans for the unvaccinated.
A large majority of respondents (71 per cent) indicate they are very likely to want to be vaccinated, but one in ten are still reluctant about a jab.
A majority (62 per cent) feels it is important that some receive the vaccine before others, with fewer than a third (28 per cent) believing that ‘all lives are of equal value’ when it comes to vaccinating.
Meeting up with family, friends and eating in bars and restaurants top the list of things people miss being able to do the most. To fill the void, they are spending more time browsing the internet (the most popular choice), followed, in order, by watching television, using social media, cooking, video-calling family, cleaning, eating, walking, day-dreaming, doing the laundry, tackling DIY tasks and reading.
The uncertainty over travel restrictions means that fewer than a third of people (29 per cent) are planning a summer holiday.
Despite policy U-turns during the crisis, Mr Johnson records a positive approval rating for the first time since last summer, moving to a net score of plus one – although he still lags behind Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (plus 14) and Chancellor Rishi Sunak (plus 26).
Joe Twyman, the co-founder and director of Deltapoll, said: ‘The results show that millions are feeling significantly more anxious, more tired and less hopeful as a result of the outbreak… While the rollout of a vaccine is celebrated by many, British society generally, and the Government specifically, will have to find many more effective and lasting ways of dealing with this ‘feel bad factor’ in the months and years to come.’
l Deltapoll interviewed 1,632 British adults online between January 21 – 23. The data has been weighted to be representative of the British adult population as a whole. Where percentages don’t add up to 100, this excludes ‘others’ and ‘don’t knows’
Children’s tsar: primary pupils must go back after half-term
The children’s tsar has said that primary school pupils must be allowed back in class after the February half-term – and last night backed calls to prioritise Covid jabs for teachers.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, spoke out as an exclusive poll for The Mail on Sunday found almost two-thirds of parents want children to return to school next month.
The poll of 1,002 parents by Mumsnet also found that 75 per cent of parents believed that the school closures had been harmful to children’s education.
Forty per cent of parents of private school pupils said youngsters are actively engaged in five or more hours per day in school work, compared with just 12 per cent of those at state schools.
Nine out of ten parents said children’s social lives had suffered, with 78 per cent saying school closures have been harmful for pupils’ mental health.
Sixty-two per cent said that they wanted Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to reopen all primary schools and Year 11 and 13 classes after the February half-term break. Almost half said they wanted children back in school due to concerns over the impact the lockdown is having on their mental health.
Ms Longfield told this newspaper: ‘The evidence is now overwhelming that closing schools is bad for children’s wellbeing and attainment. That is why I don’t want schools closed for a day longer than necessary and why, since the start of the pandemic, I have urged the Government to do all it can to make sure schools are the last to close and the first to open.’
She warned many vulnerable children ‘slip out of sight during lockdown,’ adding: ‘Reopening schools must be a priority and Gavin Williamson was right to say he hoped to have all children back in the classroom before Easter.
Nine out of ten parents said children’s social lives had suffered, with 78 per cent saying school closures have been harmful for pupils’ mental health
‘For this to happen, Government need to start planning now so that this can be done safely. If all schools are to be open before Easter, primary schools will need to start going back after the next half-term.
‘Teachers need to be a higher priority for vaccines and we need testing regimes that schools have confidence in, alongside a rocket boost for catch-up funding, and an urgent acceleration of providing all schools with an NHS-funded counsellor.’
Liz Cole, co-founder of the Us For Them parent campaign group, said: ‘Most schools are doing their absolute best to do things remotely but nothing can replace the classroom learning experience.
‘I don’t think that we can justify the harm that we are doing to our children by keeping them out of school for so long.’
Ella Medina, a mother of three children, aged 11, 13 and 15, said her children were struggling to keep up with online lessons.
‘The delivery can be incredibly one-dimensional. It’s hard for the children to engage. I’m constantly having to hover over them to make sure they’re not switching to games or WhatsApping their friends. I think it is an absolute necessity that schools go back after the half-term, regardless of the Covid-19 situation. It is an essential service.’
Another mother, from Cambridge, who has a 12-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son, said: ‘My son is having no live lessons – just one assembly on Zoom each week. He is expected to log on and complete worksheets and watch videos from the Government’s Oak Academy which drones on.
‘He loses interest in minutes. My daughter is really struggling with it. We are trying to get her to submit one thing a day. She is really demotivated. She misses her friends. I’m worried about her ever being able to re-engage and catch up on what she has missed.’
Click here to visit Mumsnet
I help with classes but can’t replace friends
With a full-time job to hold down, and three children trying to learn from home each day, Jennifer Gray worries that her children may never catch up on the schooling they have lost.
She fears for the mental health of her two eldest children, Isabella, 16, and Calum, 15, who sit in front of laptops all day, watching their teachers giving live video lessons.
But her daughter Delilah, seven, is not receiving any live learning, which means that the exhausted mother-of-three has to sit with her and play the role of teacher.
Jennifer and her husband, Jonathan Bates, worry about the mental health impact the latest lockdown is having on their children
She said: ‘We get a list of to-do tasks each day and are told it will take three hours but it never takes less than six. There are no interactive lessons. I’ve organised an interactive assembly with other parents, just so the kids can have some inter-action.’
Jennifer and her husband, Jonathan Bates, worry about the mental health impact the latest lockdown is having on their children.
She said: ‘I want them to get back to school as soon as possible. I am so surprised by the reaction of people who just say ‘close the schools’, forgetting about the kids. That passion for education and its importance seems to have gone out the window during this pandemic. I can’t tell you how worried I am about their long-term future because of all this.
‘My children are privileged. They’ve got me at home, they’ve got laptops and space. But the kids that don’t have that… I worry about the future, I really do.’
Jennifer, 40, who works in training and events, said there was no way of her children’s secondary school teachers knowing whether they were actually paying attention in class.
She said: ‘Many of the children have their mikes and cameras off and it’s hard to get them to speak in live lessons.
I’m not sure teachers can be entirely sure who is there.
‘I’m sure there are cases of kids just turning the lesson on and going off and doing their own thing.
‘The pressure that is being put on them to keep up with learning as usual is completely unrealistic. I put the blame on the Government, not the teachers.
‘Pressure on teachers is also intense and the expectation that children will simply learn as normal is completely unrealistic.’
Jennifer, from Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, added: ‘Interaction has been missing entirely from the Government’s strategy.
‘The thing I want most actually is anything that would give them some interaction with others.
‘We can cope with the learning here just about – what I can’t be is a teenage boy for my 15-year-old.’
‘I’m not sure if teachers can be sure who’s there’
Seven-day jab blitz for all teachers
It is an audacious plan that a coalition of top private and state schools say could get pupils back into classrooms and prevent the lockdown wreaking lasting damage on a generation of children.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that four groups representing more than 400 leading state and private schools have offered to vaccinate all of England’s teachers and education staff during a seven-day half-term blitz next month.
Elite fee-paying schools, including Shrewsbury, a £12,000-a-year boarding school in Shropshire, and Woldingham, a Roman Catholic girls’ school in Surrey, have joined forces with dozens of state-funded academies and offered to open a network of 150 vaccination hubs in an extraordinary bid to restart education.
The plan last night won the backing of a string of leading education figures, including Sir Michael Wilshaw, a former chief inspector of schools; historian Sir Anthony Seldon, the former master of Wellington College; and former Education Secretary David Blunkett.
Boris Johnson was last night facing calls to step in and approve the plan.
In a letter to Mr Johnson and copied to Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, the coalition of schools wrote: ‘Our plan is to establish local ‘hub’ schools dedicated to administering the vaccine to teachers, childcare workers and support staff, starting with nurseries and special schools so that these can remain open over the coming weeks.’
The schools outlined the plan in more detail in another letter to Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi. They proposed vaccinating all of the 453,000 teachers employed in England’s state-funded schools and nurseries, along with 493,000 teaching assistants and support staff, including dinner ladies and caretakers, plus more than 50,000 teachers and other staff employed in the private sector.
Astonishingly, the schools said they could achieve this in seven days during the half-term break.
‘We can establish a network of 150 school sites, ready from mid-February – we would be able to deliver a programme to vaccinate most (or even all) of the 1 million teachers, and childcare workers in England in the week of the February half-term, while no schooling is taking place,’ the schools wrote. They said the hubs would carry out vaccinations between 6am and 10pm.
The scheme would require 1,500 vaccinators, which the schools would provide from among their medically-trained staff and parents. They would also recruit 2,200 support staff for patient management, cleaning and catering.
‘We are certain that we have more than enough physical space to manage this rollout safely, and we are confident that we could recruit lay volunteers from our own communities to act as support staff.
‘We propose to work in close partnership with local authorities,’ the letter said, adding that it would be ‘an elegant and very practical solution to the problem of ensuring that teachers can be vaccinated, and all schools can fully open, safely and sustainably, as soon as possible’.
The plan has been masterminded by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents nearly 300 private schools; Cognita, a group of 40 private schools; the Academy Enterprise Trust, which sponsors 58 state-funded schools; and Ormiston Academies Trust, a network of 40 state schools.
Leo Winkley, headmaster of Shrewsbury School, said it could be one of the vaccination centres. ‘We have offered to act as a vaccination hub to help speed the process of reopening schools safely,’ he wrote on Twitter.
‘School teaching and support staff across the country should be high up the list for vaccinations.’
Elite girls’ schools offering to open as vaccination centres include Woldingham and South Hampstead High School in North London.
The Ormiston trust, whose highest-performing secondary school is Ormiston Venture Academy in Great Yarmouth, said: ‘By standing together our voices are louder and can be heard by many.
‘It is vital for our children’s futures that our teachers and support staff get vaccinated, so our schools can start to open again.’
Another of the proposed hubs would be at Ipswich School, a private school with annual fees of up to £16,300, where vaccinations would be carried out in its Rushmere sports complex.
Tom Hunt, Tory MP for Ipswich and a member of the Education Select Committee, urged the Government to ‘think outside the box’.
He said: ‘This is not a pie-in-the-sky idea about how to vaccinate people – this is a proper plan and I think we should be snapping their hands off and saying, ‘brilliant, how can we make it work?’ ‘ Mr Hunt raised the proposal with Dr Jenny Harries, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, during a select committee hearing last week. Dr Harries cautioned that ‘the big problem… is the supply of vaccine’.
The schools urged the Government to consider their plan ‘in the event that vaccine supply is no longer a significant issue by mid-February’.
Former Ofsted head Sir Michael said last night: ‘It’s a good idea. What is absolutely essential is that we get schools back open as soon as possible.’ Sir Anthony added: ‘No 10 and the Department for Education should embrace it enthusiastically.’
HANDS UP IF YOU THINK IT’S A GOOD IDEA: The schools say that they can vaccinate more than a million education staff during the half-term break
Top schools tell PM: We have got 1,500 trained staff ready to give injections at 150 sites across the country from 6am to 10pm. Now all we need is the vaccine
‘This is an elegant and very practical solution’
Fearful staff turn away children of key workers
Teachers are asking key workers to keep their children off school if they can.
School staff who are worried about catching the virus if classes are too full have challenged parents who are still sending their children in because they work in essential jobs.
Key workers – as designated by the Government – are permitted to send their children to school as normal during lockdown.
But some schools have been asking key workers whether they could keep their children at home. Early-years schools are operating as normal.
One father from Cheshire said: ‘My partner and I are both key workers and I’m having to look after a six and three-year-old at home whilst working because the school won’t take them.’ A human rights solicitor from Newcastle, who has key-worker status, said her children’s school refused to take them because her husband was not a key worker.
It comes after teaching unions expressed concern that the official definition of a key worker had become too broad, letting more people send their children to class than during the first lockdown.
Figures from Teacher Tapp – an app that conducts teacher surveys – reveal that a third of primary schools had at least 20 per cent of pupils in school this month. One in six primary schools still have 30 per cent of pupils attending school.
Last March, in the first lockdown, only 1 in 100 schools had more than 20 per cent on any given day.