On Wednesday 13 May, Mary questioned the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP, during an Urgent Question on the Government’s plans to allow primary schools to partially reopen from June 1st.
Appearing virtually, Mary focused on the question of why the Government has ignored the advice of education unions, as well as the concerns of parents, and pushed ahead with plans for schools to reopen. She also focused on the lack of detail on how staff and students would be protected, how effective this form of education would be – especially in the case of young children learning through interactive play, as well as the inconsistencies between the Government’s plans to reopen schools and their guidance on social distancing.
Mary also paid tribute to school staff in the City of Durham constituency, as well as across the country, for their dedication to continuing to educate and care for children and young people during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Government’s proposals have been strongly criticised by education unions, such as the National Education Union (NEU) and NASUWT (as well as unions, like Unison, who have many school support staff amongst their membership), in particular over concerns about the health and safety of staff and pupils.
Mary, along with the Shadow Education Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, has backed the NEU’s ‘five tests’ that must be met before schools can reopen. These tests are:
– much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases;
– a national plan for social distancing;
– comprehensive access to testing for staff and students;
– a whole school strategy for when a case occurs;
– and protection for the vulnerable.
“Mr Speaker, firstly my thanks to all school staff in City of Durham and across the country for their dedication throughout the pandemic.”
“Education unions are clear: there can be no compromise on health and safety.”
“These proposals are ill thought out and reckless. They will, at best, create a sterile learning environment for young children, who won’t understand why they are unable to interact with their friends. At worst the proposals will set off a chain of new infections back into the households of working people.”
“How can it be right that, without any scientific evidence, school staff and their pupils have to accept lower safety standards than you’d expect queuing at Tesco’s?”
The Secretary of State responded:
“The only consideration behind this decision is what is in the best interests and broad welfare of children and those who work in schools and we recognise the importance of children being able to return to schools. And sometimes scaremongering, and making people fear, is really unfair and not a welcome pressure that is to be placed on families, children and teachers alike.”
You can watch the full clip of Mary’s question below: