'Immensely difficult' - MPs on primary schools reopening as Covid cases rise

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker said he was getting emails daily from constituents about a lack of tests. Picture: Supplied...

North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker said he was getting emails daily from constituents about a lack of tests. Picture: Supplied by Duncan Baker - Credit: Archant

MPs and councillors from across the county voiced a mixture of concern and support for children returning to the classroom.

It comes as education secretary Gavin Williamson comes under increasing pressure from unions to ask all schools in Tier 4 areas to stay shut, having given the same order to schools in London.

Conservative MP for North Norfolk Duncan Baker said: “I recognise the seriousness and concern that many parents share.

"It is an immensely difficult decision in weighing up children being at school, with many parents then also being able to work, and still reducing the spread of the virus.

"It has always been my belief that we must strike a balance and this will most likely mean a combination of measures, rather than a single approach.
 
"It is right that the most affected Tier 4 areas hold back their children from returning to school, such as in Kent and London.

"In North Norfolk our cases are still around half the national average despite moving into Tier 4 and the decision to close more primary schools is under constant review.  As a parent myself, I do totally understand the worry for all families. 
 
He added: “However, with children's reduced ability to spread the virus, the Government wants to carefully manage primary-age children to return to school and continue their education, having missed so much already during the pandemic.

"I will absolutely monitor and listen to my parents and schools on a day by basis to get through this.”

MP George Freeman. Picture: Matthew Usher.

MP George Freeman. Picture: Matthew Usher.

In a statement, Conservative MP for Mid-Norfolk George Freeman said: “It’s vital we get schools back as soon as possible. We risk a generation of children left behind and a lot of working families struggling with childcare.

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"I would prioritise vaccination of teachers and school staff so we can get schools back as soon as possible.”

Opposition MPs and councillors disagreed with the decision to send children back on Monday.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Pic: Yui Mok/PA Images

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Pic: Yui Mok/PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The spokesperson for Labour MP Clive Lewis, who represents Norwich South, said: “Clive’s view is that schools should remain open for children of key workers and looked-after children, much the same as the first lockdown. 

“At the same time, the evidence is clear that education as a whole contributes between 0.3-0.7 to the R rate, and anything over 1 means the pandemic is growing.

“The new variant contributes up to 0.7 to R, so if you combine education plus the inevitable impact of the new variant, by allowing schools to stay open, you are saying: ‘We are going to let the pandemic spread.’

“Until we reach a point where it is safe to do so, schools should remain closed.

“There is a caveat to that, because there are all kinds of other problems. One of things the government is going to have to do is renew all of the forms of support that are likely to be withdrawn in the next months: the anti-eviction orders, furlough, self-employment support... As well as not reopening the schools, the government has to step up and do what’s necessary to support people.”

Mike Smith-Clare, Labour county councillor. Pic: Labour Party.

Mike Smith-Clare, Labour county councillor. Pic: Labour Party. - Credit: Labour Party

Councillor Mike Smith-Clare, Labour spokesperson for children’s services on Norfolk County Council said: “I fully support the NEU’s call for all primary and secondary schools to be closed. 

“If London has benefited from a U-turn - then why on earth shouldn’t the rest of us?

“It would be an heroic act for colleagues not to become sacrificial lambs in this government’s failing educational herd experiment.”

He added: “Hospitals and our health service, already at breaking point, need this action immediately. If the government can’t make their mind up - then our teachers must take the initiative and lead with decisive action.”

A petition calling for all schools in Tier 4 to remain closed has received 160,000 signatures at the time of writing, meaning that the issue will be considered for debate by parliament.

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