Keir Starmer backs plan to get all children back to school on March 8

Head teacher Charlotte Beyazian places plastic bags containing materials on the tables for each pupil to help provide a teaching environment safe from Coronavirus for pupils and teachers at La Petite Ecole Bilingue at Kentish Town, north London, on May 20, 2020, ahead of the Government's proposed recommencing of education for Reception and Year 1 classes. (Photo by Isabel Infantes / AFP) (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images)
Schools in England will find out tomorrow if all pupils will be returning to classrooms (Picture: Isabel Infantes / AFP)

Sir Keir Starmer has backed Boris Johnson’s expected plan to get all children in England back into classrooms on March 8.

The Labour leader said he hoped the Prime Minister would set out a ‘cautious, careful’ exit from lockdown when he publishes his road map tomorrow, but the full return of schools should be the aim.

His stance is a rejection of pressure from unions and professional bodies, who have warned reopening schools to all pupils at the same time would be ‘reckless’ and could risk another spike in Covid infections.

Sir Keir told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘Ideally, I’d like to see all schools back open on 8th March and all children back in school on March 8.

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‘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.’

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

Year 6 pupils at Manor Park School and Nursery in Knutsford, Cheshire, return after the Christmas break. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday January 4, 2021. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said parents should send primary-age children back to schools which remain open this week, despite growing calls from unions for them to close. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Unions have warned about reopening schools to all pupils at the same time (Picture: PA)

‘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.

‘I’d be very worried, for example, if we got to a situation where it was suggested that people would lose their job if they hadn’t had a vaccine.

‘On the other hand, I can of course see the concerns people have about their own safety, perhaps in their home, in their teams at work … and that’s why I really think on this one, we need a proper national debate.

‘Let’s not pretend there’s an easy yes/no answer, because there isn’t one.’

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