It is very decent of the Prime Minister to promise £1 billion to improve “crumbling schools”. Build build build! It would be even better if those schools could open first.
Poor infrastructure is a minor problem compared to major subsidence in the foundations of an entire generation’s education. At the present rate of progress, ten-year-olds in France and Germany (already back in full-time schooling) will have had children of their own by the time British teaching unions are completely satisfied that it is “safe” for Henry to sit 1.5 metres from Mila while they watch the “Why We Can’t Hug” video.
I wish I had made that last bit up, I really do. Sadly, socially-distanced infants in Cardiff did, indeed, have to watch Why We Can’t Hug on their return to the classroom this week. When they have problems with their marital relations in the year 2043, I hope they bring a class action against the Welsh government for making them fear physical contact and take the miserable so-and-sos to the cleaners.
So pubs will be reopening on Sloshed Saturday, planes are taking off sardined with passengers eager to escape – and yet, after 100 days, 85 per cent of pupils are still not back at school. Never have so many children been let down by so many incompetent or scheming adults.
Take Sir Keir Starmer. The Labour leader stood atop the moral high ground, opining that “had a plan been in place the day schools were shut we’d be back in schools now”.
But, hang on, what do we see over here? Why, it’s a tweet from Labour MP Richard Burgon posted when Sir Keir sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey last week. “Becky did a great job as Shadow Education Secretary standing with unions against Tory attempts to force schools to reopen,” said Burgon approvingly.
In other words, Long-Bailey was seemingly happy to work with teaching unions to stop the evil Tories “forcing” schools to open, aka giving children the education they desperately need. Surely, her party leader would not castigate the Government for failing to get students back into the classroom while his own Education Secretary was “standing with unions” to obstruct that very thing?
I’m afraid it looks more and more like an unholy alliance of Labour Party, teaching unions and Labour councils, pitted against a weedy-wet Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, have succeeded in dragging out the most outrageous betrayal of British children in our history.
Alarm bells clanged even louder when it emerged that schools may teach a “slimmed-down curriculum” focusing on maths and English when children return to the classroom in September. According to draft Government plans, the full syllabus may not return until next summer.
Parents across the country are slack-jawed with horror. Their sons and daughters, already deprived of so much learning, may be denied a full repertoire of subjects to ensure that they catch up on work they have missed through no fault of their own. A double whammy of deprivation.
How is it that other countries have resumed the education of their young without any difficulty? Norway’s prime minister, Erna Solberg, admitted recently that she took the decision to close her country’s schools during the pandemic “out of fear”. She would not make that mistake again. The same effect could have been achieved by keeping schools open with infection-control measures.
What wouldn’t we give to have some of that political courage and honesty here? The Prime Minister says he wants to be “ambitious” for post-Covid Britain. That ambition should include resuming schooling for all our youngsters, without unnecessary social distancing measures or cauterised courses, at the earliest opportunity.
Now, Gavin Williamson is threatening to fine parents up to £120 for not sending their children back to school in September.
The cheek! It is not parents who failed to get their children to school for 100 days, Secretary of State. If anyone should pay a penalty, it’s you.
Read Allison Pearson at telegraph.co.uk every Tuesday, from 7pm, and listen to Planet Normal, her podcast with fellow Telegraph columnist, Liam Halligan, on the audio player above or subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast app.