All schools in the UK were shut down on March 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Students are set to return for the new school year at the start of September, and the Prime Minister has urged parents to let children return. It comes as scientists and advisers have downplayed the risk of infection from schools as “very small”.
Mr Johnson said that schools have been made COVID-19 secure by staff throughout the summer, and said it is “damaging” to children to keep them away from education.
He added: “We have always been guided by our scientific and medical experts, and we now know far more about coronavirus than we did earlier this year.
“As the Chief Medical Officer has said, the risk of contracting Covid-19 in school is very small and it is far more damaging for a child’s development and their health and wellbeing to be away from school any longer.
“This is why it’s vitally important that we get our children back into the classroom to learn and to be with their friends.
“Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school.”
Boris Johnson news: The Prime Minister has called the reopening of schools ‘vitally imporatnt’
Boris Johnson news: Professor Chris Whitty wrote a statement to the PM calling for schools to reopen
Mr Johnson’s remarks follow Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, calling for children to go back to school.
Prof Whitty, along with 11 other chief medical officers, issued a statement to the Prime Minister saying there could be long-term harm to children if schools do not reopen.
He said: “What is important to lay out is the chances of children catching COVID and then getting long-term serious problems as a result of it, solely due to going to school, are incredibly small.
“They’re not zero but they’re incredibly small.
“The chances of many children being damaged by not going to school are incredibly clear and therefore the balance of risk is very strongly in favour of children going to school – because many more are likely to be harmed by not going than harmed by going, even during this pandemic.”
Boris Johnson news: Opposition MPs have questioned the Governments capability to reopen schools
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But Mr Johnson’s calls have been met with scepticism from opposition MPs.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, agreed with children returning to school, but hit out at the Government’s a-level exam results fiasco.
He said: “I want to see children back at school next month, and I expect the prime minister to deliver on that commitment.
“However, the commitment is now at serious risk after a week of chaos, confusion and incompetence from the government.”
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Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, added parents remain concerned about the Government’s test and trace system for coronavirus cases.
She also called for Gavin Williamson, education secretary, to be fired over the results fiasco.
Teaching unions have also voiced concerns over the safety of teachers and students.
Unison’s head of education, Jon Richards, responded to Prof Whitty’s statement to Mr Johnson by calling for face coverings for staff and regular deep cleans in schools.
Coronavirus news: The UK has seen 327,643 cases and 41,515 deaths
Boris Johnson news: Schools are set to reopen on September 1, amid low cases
It comes after Public Health England revealed two thirds of outbreaks in schools came from staff-to-staff, or staff-to-pupil transmission.
The number of schools open in June was between 20,500 and 23,400, with pupil numbers increasing from 475,000 to 1,646,000.
June and July also saw 200 children and staff affected by the illness.
In total the UK has seen 327,643 cases and 41,515 deaths from coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.