PM appeals to parents over getting children back into school as Lib Dem leadership candidates face-off in debate

Published by Scott Challinor on August 25th 2020, 12:30am

Prime minister Boris Johnson has directly appealed to parents of school-age children, informing them that it is “vitally important” that pupils return to school as soon as possible.

The Telegraph quotes Johnson as saying that keeping children out of school any longer than has already been necessary will come as a detriment to their life chances.

His words came amid government concern that some parents could choose to keep their children at home when the new academic year begins, over fears that they may contract Covid-19 at school.

As the autumn term got underway in Northern Ireland, the prime minister sought to reassure that the risk of transmission in schools was “very small” and that keeping children at home any longer would be “far more damaging”.

He said: “It’s vitally important that we get our children back into the classroom to learn and to be with their friends. Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school.”

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics uncovered that while 89 per cent of parents expect their children to return to school or college in September, 62 per cent were worried about them going back, with almost six in ten of those citing fears that their child could contract coronavirus and bring it into the home.

In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced plans for secondary school pupils to wear face masks in school corridors and other communal areas excluding classrooms, over concerns that older groups of pupils are more likely to mix and transmit Covid-19 in such areas.

Sturgeon referred to new guidance issued by the World Health Organization, which suggests that children aged 12 and over “should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults”, particularly in circumstances where social distancing of one metre or more cannot be maintained.

However, education secretary Gavin Williamson has said that the UK government will not recommend that older pupils and teachers wear face masks in schools, because a “system of controls” is already in place to keep the risk of Covid-19 transmission at a minimum.

Williamson said that there were “elements of discretion in the guidance” when asked about older pupils or teachers at schools in England who may be concerned about health risks.

He said: "At every stage we have been guided with the best scientific and health advice that has been provided by Public Health England to make sure schools are safe and controlled environments.... we have seen that happen.

“The issues of avoiding the spread of the virus... has been at the forefront of the advice that has been given".

Elsewhere on Monday, Liberal Democrat leadership candidates Sir Ed Davey and Layla Moran have made their cases for the party hot-seat during a BBC debate as the leadership contest nears its end, with Jo Swinson’s permanent successor to be named on August 27.

Both candidates set out plans for a universal basic income, a green economic recovery and a push for “mass retraining” to help the nation heal from the Covid-19 pandemic, hitting out at the government for its stance on education and arguing that schools were in need of more support to safely reopen following the lockdown.

Both leadership candidates will seek to turn the party around following a poor performance in the 2019 general election, which forced Swinson’s resignation.

Acting co-leader Sir Ed said that the economy would be his “number one priority”, highlighting his career background as an economist.

Meanwhile, his leadership rival Moran, who has only served as an MP since 2017, remarked that her lesser number of years in Parliament compared to Sir Ed would prove useful to her leadership bid as opposed to being a hindrance, because the country is living through “a time when people don’t trust politicians”.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to take its toll on the global economy, the Association of British Travel Agents [ABTA] has called for more “tailored support” from the government to preserve jobs in the travel sector.

Measures to mitigate for the effects of the pandemic have already seen 39,000 travel industry jobs lost according to the trade body, with 65 per cent of ABTA member companies having to make redundancies or undergo consultation processes.

ABTA fears that more redundancies will come after the government’s furlough scheme winds down in October if no new support measures are brought in, particularly since some travel firms have still not fully restarted their operations.

Cruise firms and school travel operators are among those that have not yet been able to reopen.

ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said: "With the government's stop-start measures, the restart of travel has not gone as hoped for the industry, and sadly businesses continue to be adversely affected and jobs are being lost at an alarming rate.

"Coming towards the end of the traditional period for peak booking, we have hit a critical point as existing government measures to support businesses begin to taper off, the consequence of which, according to this survey of ABTA members will be ruinous for more people's livelihoods."

Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

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Authored By

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
August 25th 2020, 12:30am

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