Lockdown roadmap – Huge boost for schools return on March 8 as Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer defies unions to back plan
26th February 2021

BORIS Johnson’s hopes of getting all school kids back in classrooms on 8 March handed a huge boost after Labour boss Sir Keir Starmer defied his union paymasters to back the plan. 

The Prime Minister is preparing a major school safety campaign this week to convince parents children are safe, despite nine teaching unions saying they want a staggered return. 

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He will also unveil millions in support for a major catch up push and a Covid mass-testing regime for all schools to follow in the coming days.  

But a fresh bout Labour civil war exploded once again after Sir Keir threw his weight behind a “big bang” opening – to the fury of left-wingers in his party. 

And they were backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury who said he was “absolutely sure” the government was right to prioritise the reopening of schools, saying: "That is probably the most urgent thing, it's been the most urgent thing right the way through."

It came as it emerged pupils will be given extra classes during the summer holidays to help them catch up with lessons missed during the pandemic.

Speaking on Sunday morning, Sir Keir told Sky News: "Ideally, I'd like to see all schools back open on 8th March and all children back in school on March 8.

"I've been worried through the pandemic, a number of people have, about the impact that being out of school has on particularly vulnerable children and the attainment gap is getting bigger, so ideally March 8.

"We'll have to see obviously where the data is, see where the science is, but that's what we should be working towards.

"If that means more testing, if that means Nightingale classrooms, if it means other measures, let's do that because I want to get our kids back into school.

But that flew in the face of a joint statement from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the NAHT school leaders' union, the National Education Union (NEU), the NASUWT teachers' union, the National Governance Association (NGA), the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) and Labour-affiliated unions Unison, Unite and GMB.

They all said school return should be staggered by year group and called Mr Johnson’s plan "reckless".

Unison, Unite and GMB are also major donors to the Labour party.

And former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also took to the airwaves on Sunday morning to demand that Labour “listen to the unions.”

Matt Hancock rejects calls for teachers to get Covid vaccine priority

MATT Hancock has again rejected calls for teachers to be given priority for a Covid jab before schools return.

Boris Johnson is tomorrow expected to announce schools will reopen from March 8 after kids were forced to study from home during the third national lockdown.

But the Health Secretary today said there were no plans for teachers to receive a Covid vaccination before going back to class.

He told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "We've asked the expert group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, what order we should vaccinate in, broadly in order to reduce the number of deaths as fast as possible.

"I think everybody can understand why we asked that as the question.

"They set out the priority groups one to nine, which includes those who are clinically most vulnerable and their carers, and includes the over-50s, going down the age range.

"They are currently considering, after that, what might be the best order in terms of clinical priority.

"There isn't strong evidence that teachers are more likely to catch Covid than any other group, but I'll leave it for the JCVI to set out what they think is the best order in which to do this that minimises the number of deaths."

But Mr Johnson’s and Sir Keir’s stance was backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury who said he was “absolutely sure” government was right to prioritise the reopening of schools.

Justin Welby told Sky News: "That is probably the most urgent thing, it's been the most urgent thing right the way through."

Boris Johnson is set to lay out his roadmap out of lockdown tomorrow night – understood to lay out a four-step plan.

Under the plan, Brits are expected to be able to socialise outside with a friend or relative from another household, with current regulations limiting meet-ups to exercise only.

This will be followed by an end to restrictions on close family interaction, meaning children will be able to hug their grandparents again.

Sir Keir said he wanted the road map to be accompanied by published scientific evidence and an extended support package for businesses.

"We all want this to be the last lockdown so we've got to come out of it in a measured way, but make sure we are not back where we started in a number of weeks or months, so roll out slowly, carefully, follow the science," he said.

Labour has called for business rate relief to go on for another six months and VAT cuts for hospitality to keep businesses viable.

"They've got this far; they need to survive beyond the next set of restrictions," he said.

Sir Keir said it was "probably inevitable" that a vaccine passport would be needed for international travel but acknowledged there were no easy answers about whether there could be domestic requirements for people to demonstrate they had received a jab.

"Vaccine passports within the UK, I think, is something we need a national debate about, it is very difficult to see how it would work, but let's tread very, very carefully on this," he said.

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