Tory MPs urge government to add teachers and dinner ladies to the coronavirus jab priority list so classrooms can reopen
- MPs and industry figures have stressed the need for a speedy return to lessons
- Immunisation of teachers and staff is heralded as the key to get pupils back
- Tory MP Rob Halfon said teachers should be prioritised along with vulnerable
Ministers are facing growing pressure to bump teachers up the vaccine priority list to allow schools to reopen.
Senior MPs and industry figures have stressed that a speedy return to lessons is paramount to prevent lockdown wreaking further damage to children’s education.
Immunisation of teachers and staff is heralded as the key to get pupils back in classrooms, as children themselves are at very little risk from the disease.
The Government is currently steaming ahead with the biggest vaccination rollout in British history and by mid-February aims to have administered 14 million jabs to care home residents, all over-85s, the clinically vulnerable and frontline health workers.
Calls for teachers to be among the first in line for jabs are mounting from across the political divide.
Tory MP Rob Halfon, the chairman of the Education Select Committee, said this morning: ‘Surely teachers and support staff must be made a priority alongside NHS workers for vaccination.’
Ministers are facing growing pressure to bump teachers up the vaccine priority list to allow schools to reopen. Pictured: Moulsecoomb Primary School as it remains shut
The Government is currently steaming ahead with the biggest vaccination rollout in British history and by mid-February aims to have administered 14 million jabs to care home residents, all over-85s, the clinically vulnerable and frontline health workers
Boris Johnson was forced to bow to immense pressure earlier this week and close all schools across England until at least February, except for vulnerable children and the children of essential workers.
He has marked out education as a ‘national priority’ and is providing laptops for pupils from the poorest families as schools make the switch to online learning.
But the Prime Minister is being urged by his own backbenches to step up efforts to resume physical teaching, with online learning deemed inadequate.
Mr Halfon told Times Radio: ‘We are damaging their life chances every day that they are not in school, we’re increasing mental health worries, we know there are safeguarding hazards for children being at home, so the priority must be to get our kids back into school.’
Making the case for teachers to get the jab, he added: ‘The Government want to prioritise the elderly and the vulnerable and I’m absolutely in sympathy with that.
‘I think there is an argument about supporting one group of workers over another, but my view is that children – educating our children – is the most important thing we can do.’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson this afternoon did not make reference to vaccines for schools staff, but instead said mass testing would be at the heart of the Government’s plan to resume lessons.
Senior MPs and industry figures have stressed that a speedy return to lessons is paramount to prevent lockdown wreaking further damage to children’s education. Left: Robert Halfon and right: Lord Baker
But the issue may yet be debated by MPs as a petition on Parliament’s website to prioritise teachers for vaccines has already surpassed 307,000 signatures.
Margaret Thatcher’s education secretary Lord Baker has added his voice to the campaign. He told the Telegraph: ‘Teachers should be inoculated and vaccinated as priority cases and people like dinner ladies, anyone who goes into school carries the risk of carrying Covid. If we can do two million vaccinations a week, we can certainly fit teachers in.’
Education union leaders have also been agitating for teachers to receive the jab and said it would pave the way for the reopening of schools.
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT union, said: ‘It is extremely disappointing that the Government has not yet signalled rolling out the vaccine to prioritise schools and education staff.
‘Keeping teachers free from Covid is the best way to ensure that children’s education does not continue to be disrupted going forwards.’
Although the Government has not yet made any promises, there were signs teachers could be earmarked for vaccination following the initial rollout for the vulnerable.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson this afternoon did not make reference to vaccines for schools staff, but instead said mass testing would be at the heart of the Government’s plan to resume lessons
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries suggested to MPs that teachers and other frontline workers could be next in line, HuffPost reported.
‘When the first four groups are completed, then frontline key workers would be vaccinated and this would include consideration of teachers,’ she said, according to one MP on the call.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said there should have been a contingency plan in place in case schools needed to close again.
He told the Commons this afternoon: ‘On schools, we all recognise the huge damage that closing schools will cause for many children and families.
‘But the Prime Minister knew that closures might be necessary so there should always have been a contingency plan.
‘Up to 1.8 million children don’t have access to a home computer and 900,000 children live in households that rely on mobile internet connections.
‘So can the Prime Minister tell us when is the Government going to get the laptops to those that need them?
‘He spoke about the 50,000 delivered and the 100,000 more, but 1.8 million children don’t have access to a home computer so there’s real urgency needed now.’
Responding, Mr Johnson said: ‘He asked about laptops and devices and he quoted a figure of 50,000. In fact, the number is 560,000 that have gone to schools.’
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