As you will know, the Government took the difficult decision in early January to close schools for most pupils, although especially vulnerable children and the children of key workers can continue attending school in person. This was because, following the spread of the new, more transmissible Kent variant of the virus, it was necessary to further reduce opportunities for the virus, which thrives on indoor settings, to spread between households.
Children's education is vital. It was right to exhaust all other options before deciding to close the schools, and I would like to thank school staff who did everything in their power to make schools as safe as possible. Reopening schools must be a national priority, and I am glad that ministers have confirmed that they intend to reopen schools as soon as possible.
Although this will not be possible immediately after the February half term, the Government will in the last week of February publish a plan for gradually taking the country out of lockdown, so we ease the restrictions in a sustainable way. Schools will have at least two weeks’ notice for this return to on-site provision, so pupils will return to on-site education on March 8th at the earliest.
We must also do everything in our power to ensure no child is left behind after this pandemic. The Government has committed £1.3 billion to enable schools to provide catch up support, and a Youth Mental Health ambassador has also been appointed to help support children and young adults who are struggling due to the pandemic. I have also repeatedly raised with ministers the fact that pupils in Cheadle have lost more in-person teaching time than their peers in other parts of the country, due to our higher case rates in autumn. I will continue making the case for action to ensure that Northern pupils’ education is not unfairly disrupted in the long term.