A landmark coronavirus study has found the risk of transmission in classrooms is minimal, ratcheting up pressure on the Education Secretary to fully reopen schools.
Gavin Williamson has been warned his ‘head will be on the chopping block’ if pupils are not back in lessons next month, which Boris Johnson has stressed is a national priority.
Government Sage adviser Professor Russell Viner yesterday said reopening schools is ‘imperative’ and revealed fresh scientific evidence for resuming classes.
‘A new study that has been done in UK schools confirms there is very little evidence that the virus is transmitted in schools,’ he told the Sunday Times.
‘This is some of the largest data you will find on schools anywhere. Britain has done very well in terms of thinking of collecting data in schools.’
Prof Viner, also president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said keeping schools shut would take a toll on both young people’s academic attainment and mental health.
Insisting the reopening of institutions was non-negotiable, he followed chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty in suggesting activities such as going to the pub may have to be sacrificed as a trade-off.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is under pressure to deliver on the Prime Minister’s promise and ‘his head will be on the chopping block’ if he does not succeed
The Public Health England study, which will be published later this year, tested more than 20,000 pupils and 100 teachers.
It is hoped to allay the concerns of wary teacher unions, which thwarted ministers’ initial attempts to resume classes for fears of staff catching the virus.
Reopening schools has so far been a thorny issue because of the opposition from union bosses, who were last night accused of ‘nit-picking’ after releasing an exhaustive list of 200 safety demands.
But the Prime Minister has threatened Mr Williamson with the sack if he does not succeed in reopening schools in September, according to the Sunday Times.
Mr Johnson has today heralded the resuming of lessons a ‘moral duty’ and ‘crucial’ for pupils’ ‘welfare, their health and for their future.’
Boris Johnson has said that getting children back to school is a national priority (pictured during a visit to The Discovery School in Kings Hill last month)
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said: ‘The education of our children is crucial for their welfare, their health and for their future.
‘That is why it is a national priority to get all pupils back into school in September.
‘The message I have given to Ministers and civil servants is this: we can do it – and we will do it. Social justice demands it.’
Dr Mary Bousted, head of the National Education Union, urged schools to ignore ‘threatening noises’ from the Government and refuse to reopen if they feel it is unsafe.
Many parents have been angered after schools told them they will educate their children only until lunchtime on at least one day of the week, on the grounds that they need time to implement extra safety requirements such as deep cleaning and staggered break times.
Leading scientist Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and a member of Sage said: ‘A new study that has been done in UK schools confirms there is very little evidence that the virus is transmitted in schools
The Prime Minister stressed the importance of getting all children back in school in September during a series of No 10 meetings last week, emphasising his expectation that education should be ‘the absolutely last sector’ to be asked to close in local lockdowns – with businesses such as shops, pubs and restaurants forced to close first.
In his article, Mr Johnson argues that it is ‘crucial’ for ‘their welfare, their health and for their future’ that children should return to the classrooms full-time. He writes: ‘We can do it – and we will do it. Social justice demands it.’
He spoke of the ‘uplifting sight… as millions of parents rose to the challenge of educating their children’ amid the added pressures of lockdown, but said that had to end.