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I t has become increasingly clear to me, as a parent of an 11-year-old and a 16-year-old in state school education in London, that some schools are probably going to close for the whole of January and possibly up until February half-term. The fact that the government has been neither discussing or admitting this as a strong possibility is a further display of weak leadership that shies away from grasping the Covid nettle.
However, there is an urgent need for proper remote, teacher-led online learning to be put in place. The fact that the government left state school parents to home school was a national disgrace. As was the fact that it was never fully challenged by the mainstream media. We accepted parent-led home schooling like a nation of lemmings. We cannot return to that. Teachers should lead teaching, not parents.
Availability of, and access to, technology is held up as a legitimate excuse. It is not. Different year groups can be taught at different times to allow for multi-year-group households. Tech can – and has – been supplied to children who need it, and in extreme cases children without access to online learning should be treated the same as those with specific educational needs or key worker parents and be taught in school. This is a huge priority and needs to be tackled urgently for the sake of the economy and school-aged children in the UK. Yet the government has been silent.
Teachers also need to be given the same priority for vaccination as frontline health workers. If teachers are exposed to Covid they have to isolate, which has a significant impact on the ability of schools to remain open, and people should not be put at significant daily and increased risk for doing their job.
• Your article (What do we know about the two new Covid-19 variants in the UK?, 23 December) says that the UK variant was discovered during an investigation into why Covid cases continued to rise in Kent during the November lockdown. It follows that not even immediately extending tier 4 to the whole country would halt the rise in cases, unless we change our behaviour. Knowing about the new variant, perhaps we will be more frightened and prudent now than the people of Kent in November. One key preventive measure seems obvious: schools and universities must remain closed in January, as in the first lockdown. While schools and universities remain open, many people must be asking themselves: if young people can mix, is the virus really so dangerous? Closing schools would not only reduce school infections but could persuade us to be more prudent. I expect Boris Johnson, as ever reactive rather than proactive, to announce this the day before the new term starts.
• Should not every student who is old enough to be given work from their school to do online during lockdown have a laptop? Why has the government not provided them for every child whose parents cannot afford it? Failing that, why is there not a charity to organise this? It would not be that expensive and the beneficial return would be enormous. Not only would it give a sense of solidarity that every British student has a chance to maximise their education and are at an important level equal, but also it will prevent destructive behaviour down the line from an underclass of people who have missed out during the Covid pandemic from being able to maintain their education. Is this not urgent and completely doable?