“As Conservatives, we believe absolutely in equality of opportunity – the idea that every child, in every part of the country, should have a fair chance. It is not only the most important thing we can do to unleash the UK’s potential, but is at the heart of creating a fair and just society.”
That’s page 13 of the Conservative Party’s winning manifesto last year; a manifesto that secured Boris Johnson an 80 seat majority, saw seats that had always been red change with chameleon-like ease to boast a shade of blue, banished Jeremy Corbyn to the dustbin of history and ensured we could, finally, heal the divide and Get Brexit Done.
That, my friends, will have all been for nothing if the Prime Minister does not face down the teaching unions with Margaret Thatcher-like resolve. With warnings of Covid-19 growing inequalities between our richest kids and our poorest kids, Johnson will be rejected by the aspirational working class that voted for him in large numbers, whose hard slog is made easier in large part by an understanding that they’re ensuring a better lot for their sons and daughters.
The National Education Union, in providing its half a million members with a “checklist” of 200 safety demands for the reopening of our schools, has proven itself to be more concerned with being a thorn in the side of the Conservative Party over being the guardians of children’s interests. One item on the list asks the Government to answer: “Does the timetable include sufficient creative subjects, and space for dialogue and sustained thinking?”. There can be nothing more outrageous than to play politics with the future of our kids.
While Keir Starmer stands idly by as unions attempt to wreck the future of our children, raising questions about just how tough he would be in the top job, the Prime Minister can stand strong knowing that he has the public on his side if he decides to take on the unions. YouGov found that 57 per cent of Brits agree that schools should open after the summer, with only 25 per cent believing they should not.
Evidence from the Public Health Agency of Sweden, in a document titled Covid-19 in schoolchildren: A comparison between Finland and Sweden, compares two similar countries with very different approaches to lockdown: Finland was conventional in its closure of schools, Sweden famously much bolder in its refusal to countenance such an illiberal approach to its economy and society. The report concludes that the closure of schools had no measured effect on the number of cases of Covid-19 among children: “Children are not a major risk group of the Covid-19 disease.”
In a further boost for science-based evidence, on Monday morning, Russel Viner, a member of the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and President of the Royal College of Peadiatrics told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “reopening schools is one of the least risky things we can do.” He then told Times Radio that there’s “at least five studies from around the world” that would suggest “there’s very, very little transmission of this virus in schools.”
How many times have you heard this government boast of how heavily it is following the science, they’re absolutely mad for “the science”! If that’s presently the case there will be absolutely no wiggle room for it not to return our schools to normal without a moment’s hesitation and resist following Labour in kowtowing to union pressure.
While our kids have been banished from our schools, I was delighted to learn of the Invicta Academy, that has delivered virtual lessons in English, Maths and Key-Stages 1-4 via Zoom in the likes of London, Surrey, Oxfordshire and Lancashire. The message from the entrepreneurial and community-minded founders of the project to the obstructive teaching unions is clear: if you try and delay the reopening of our schools, we will find a way to ensure our nation’s kids don’t suffer.
The problem is that it isn’t kids in Surrey or Oxfordshire that will suffer the most. According to the UCL Institute of Education, our kids on average understood 2.5 hours of schoolwork per day during lockdown. This, however, varies widely with 28 per cent of children in the South East doing more than four hours of offline schoolwork a day, compared with only nine per cent in the North East. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 31 per cent of private schools were delivering four or more hours of live online lessons a day, with state schools at a paltry six per cent.
The Prime Minister must be the champion of those who suffer disproportionately from our educational divide and disadvantage that his government’s response to Covid-19 has widened further. If, or when, it comes to future lockdowns, which would be utterly ruinous for the British economy, employment and wider society, our schools simply must keep the doors open from next month.