Boris Johnson admits it will take children a year to catch up as it emerges education secretary wanted schools to reopen after half term but Prime Minister overruled him


  • Boris Johnson announced that March 8 is the earliest date that ministers hope to start reopening schools 
  • He made clear wider lockdown won't be eased until then, when vulnerable groups should have vaccine cover
  • Prime Minister admitted to MPs that closures would have a 'huge impact' on education of millions of pupils
  • He pledged £300million - on top of previous £1billion package - to help fund tutoring and summer schools  
  • The PM said there were no 'easy' answers' as Keir Starmer highlighted the UK death toll topping 100,000 
  • Mr Johnson said 'perpetual lockdown is no answer' as he said he will unveil a road map out of lockdown soon   
  • Covid infection figures were down from 68,000 cases recorded on January 7 to just over 20,000 yesterday 

 Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has overruled his education secretary concerning the reopening of schools. While the education secretary advocated for end of February, Johnson overruled based on covid number.

 Boris Johnson has admitted it could take children a year to catch up from the impact of Covid school closures, as it last night emerged the education secretary wanted pupils to return at the end of February - only to be overruled by the Prime Minister.   

As he finally put an end to weeks of speculation and wrangling by announcing schools would not reopen until at least March 8, Mr Johnson last night conceded to fellow MPs that the closures were having a 'huge impact' on the education of millions of pupils.

In a bid to mitigate against further damage by extending the current school closures beyond half-term, Mr Johnson yesterday announced a £300million support package. The money, he said, would be used to help fund targeted tuition.

However last night it emerged the decision to extend school closures was one pushed through by Mr Johnson himself, amid a split in his cabinet.
According to the Times, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had wanted to reopen at the end of February - straight after half-term.

But Mr Johnson is said to have overruled him, insisting the continued closure of schools would 'buy the extra weeks needed' to vaccinate the UK's most vulnerable residents. 

One source told the Times: 'Gavin was pushing very hard. He wanted schools to reopen after February half-term and believed it could be done safely. But in the end the data on hospitalisations and infection rates won the argument.'

Yesterday the PM delivered the grim news - which means the worst-hit school years in some areas will have had only 73 days of lessons since the pandemic began last March - to millions of children and struggling parents in a statement to the House of Commons this afternoon, saying he knew how 'frustrated' they will be.

He made clear there is no hope of any lockdown easing until well after the mid-February review date - finally ruling out the idea that some more pupils could return to classrooms after half-term.

Currently only the offspring of key workers are in schools, with everyone else remote learning.

Mr Johnson said fast progress was being made on vaccinations with doses given to more than 6.8million people - 13 per cent of the adult population - and the NHS is on track to hit the goal of covering the four most vulnerable groups by February 15. The jabs should give them full protection three weeks after that, he insisted. 

'We hope it will therefore be safe to begin the reopening of schools from Monday 8 March,' the premier said - while warning that even that is contingent on pressure on the health service easing. 

However, fronting a Downing Street press conference yesterday, Mr Johnson  warned parents March 8 was the 'earliest' date that was 'sensible' and safe for children to go back, adding: 'It depends on lots of things going right.' 

In a statement to the House of Commons he accepted the closures would be disruptive to the education of millions of children, adding: 'We recognise these extended school closures have had a huge impact on children's learning, which will take more than a year to make up.

'So we will work with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan to make sure pupils have the chance to make up their learning over the course of this parliament.' 

He pledged that the Government would continue funding free school meals during the closures, and announced a £300million package to support extra tuition and summer schools to help children catch-up with their learning.

The money is on top of the £1billion announced in November for the funding to support children and young people - with £350million set aside to be spent on a National Tutoring Programme.

Mr Johnson has earlier rejected calls from Sir Keir Starmer to allow teachers to jump the vaccine queue as he told the Labour leader to 'explain which vaccines he would take from which vulnerable groups to make sense of his policy'.

Meanwhile, teaching unions warned that coming out of the third national locThe PM's announcement means some children in non-exam years at state secondary schools - years seven, eight and nine - will have missed around 111 days of the 184 they should have received since the first lockdown came in, depending on holiday length at their individual school. 

Primary pupils and years 10 and 12, which went back early in the hope of salvaging exams, and the children of key workers, will have had more.

The announcement came after the UK's death toll hit the grim milestone of 100,000, with scientists claiming the victims could have been reduced by tougher Government action.

Lockdown 'too early' could ultimately lead to a fourth national squeeze.  

In the Commons, Mr Johnson admitted that 'perpetual lockdown is no answer'. But he also confirmed that borders are being tightened, with enforced 10-day stays in 'quaranone hotels' for arrivals from countries on a 'red list' with high infection rates. 

'We will not persist for a day longer than necessary, but nor will we relax too soon,' he said. 'Reopening schools will be our first priority.' 

Pleading for the public to stick with his strategy, Mr Johnson said: 'Our goal now must be to buy the extra weeks we need to immunise the most vulnerable and get this virus under control, so that together we can defeat this most wretched disease, reclaim our lives once and for all.' 

Mr Johnson has already said that he hopes to reopen schools and return to the 'tiered' restrictions when possible. News that work on the exit strategy is under way came after Prof Chris Whitty said he believed the UK had reached the peak of the latest wave of infections. 

The chief medic said cases were falling fast - down from 68,000 cases recorded on January 7 to just over 20,000 yesterday, while the vaccine rollout is gathering speed. 

However, deaths are still high as they lag behind infections - with some scientists suggesting another 50,000 could fall victim before the crisis 'burns out'. 

Professor Neil Ferguson told the BBC that if action had been taken 'earlier and with greater stringency back in September' then the 60,000 deaths over the past 'four or five months' could have been significantly reduced.

Tory MPs yesterday urged the PM to focus on whether the NHS can cope, rather than the grim death total or high infection levels, when deciding what areas of lockdown can be eased. 

Senior backbenchers pointed to the wider balance of 'lives saved now versus lives saved later', pointing out that 'poverty kills' as well as the virus.  

Meanwhile Robert Halfon, the Tory chairman of the Education Select Committee, welcomed the announced of £300million of new funding, as he urged the PM to reopen schools as soon as possible. 

Mr Halfon said: 'I know he wants schools and colleges to open sooner rather than later and I really welcome what he has said today about catch up, the extra funding, free school meals and above all the education plan for a Covid recovery.
'Will he ensure the catch up fund also helps children with mental health problems and will he work with the coalition of the willing such as the children's commissioner and other educationalists to get all our children back in the classroom?'

Mr Johnson replied that the Government is 'putting extra funding into mental health problems particularly for children and young people'. 

Conservative MP Joy Morrissey urged Mr Johnson to have the 'courage' to bring children back to school as quickly as possible, warning a 'lifetime of problems' are being stored up for the youngest.

The MP for Beaconsfield told the Commons: 'As a mother of a nine-year-old, I can see that young children are struggling and their cognitive development is determined at this age.
'We're storing up a lifetime of problems of anxiety, mental health, obesity by having all of our young primary aged children at home.

'Please may I urge the Prime Minister to have courage in these final months to bring children, particularly primary aged children, back to school as quickly as possible.'

Mr Johnson said: 'You are completely right and I know you speak for millions of mothers and millions of parents across the country who want our kids to be back in school, and anxious about the gaps in their learning that may be arising as a result of this pandemic.'

The Prime Minister said the Government will do 'everything we can' to fill the gaps.
Teaching unions responded to the announcement by warning that 'arbitrary dates' for schools to reopen can be unhelpful to parents and teachers. 

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, said: 'Given previous experience, the announcement of arbitrary dates for schools to reopen to all pupils can be profoundly unhelpful to parents and to those working in schools.

'However, a clear plan for schools will be fully reopened whenever the lockdown restrictions are lifted remains a key question which the Government must now work urgently and openly with the profession to address.'

Union bosses also warned Mr Johnson against reopening schools too early. 
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: 'If we come out too early, we will end up in lockdown again.

She added: The prime minister may now be immune to the embarrassment of U-turns, but school leaders, teachers and support staff , not to mention families and students, are utterly exhausted by them.'

On Tuesday, the PM promised a lockdown exit plan is coming as he was challenged by Keir Starmer in the Commons about whether his 'slow' action had contributed to the UK's 100,000 death toll. 

But while he stressed he grieved with the families and regretted all loss of life, Mr Johnson shot back that there were 'no easy answers' to a problem as large as the pandemic.    

The clashes at PMQs were bruising even though Sir Keir is self-isolating after being notified he has come into contacted with an infected individual. 

Sir Keir said: 'I am sure the Prime Minister regrets the fact that 100,000 people have lost their lives. The question is why?

'Why has the United Kingdom the highest number of deaths in Europe, why has the United Kingdom a death rate that is higher than almost anywhere in the world?'

The Prime Minister replied: 'When you have a new virus and indeed when you have a new variant of that virus of the kind that we have in this country, when you have the dilemmas as hard and as heavy as this Government has had to face over the last year, I must tell (Sir Keir) there are no easy answers – perpetual lockdown is no answer.'

Mr Johnson told MPs that '6.9million people in our country have had the vaccine', including more than 80 per cent of over-80s.

He added: 'I hope very much to be, in the next few weeks, to be setting out in much more detail how this country can exit now from the pandemic.'

Accusing the Labour leader of 'political point scoring' during the crisis, Mr Johnson said: 'Like (Sir Keir), I mourn every death in this pandemic and we share the grief of all those who have been bereaved. 

'And let him be in no doubt and let the House be in no doubt that I and the Government take full responsibility for all the actions that I have taken and that we have taken during this pandemic to fight this disease.'

Mr Johnson said that 'yes there will indeed be a time when we must learn the lessons of what has happened', but added: 'I don't think that moment is now when we are in the throes of fighting this wave of the new variant, when 37,000 people are struggling with Covid in our hospitals.'

Despite the tentative signs the outbreak is improving, scientists have warned that the victims are likely to keep racking up.

Professor Calum Semple, a member of SAGE, said Britons should be braced for more grim numbers for months to come. 

'It would really not surprise me if we're looking at another 40,000 or 50,000 deaths before this burns out. The deaths on the way up are likely to be mirrored by the deaths on the way down,' he told BBC Newsnight. 

Prof Ferguson - known as Professor Lockdown - made clear his frustration at the speed of response from the government, suggesting deaths in the first wave could have been 'drastically reduced by earlier action'.

On the second wave, he told the BBC last night: 'Had we acted both earlier and with greater stringency back in September when we first saw case numbers going up, and had a policy of keeping case numbers at a reasonably low level, then I think a lot of the deaths that we've seen — not all by any means — but a lot of the deaths that we've seen in the last four or five months, could have been avoided.' 

This morning Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick defended the handling of the pandemic amid criticism that Mr Johnson acted too late to lockdown at crucial moments, stressing that there was no 'textbook' to dealing with the disease and ministers did 'everything we could' based on the knowledge they had.

But, in a round of interviews, he admitted that in 'hindsight' there were things that could have been done differently, and accepted there will 'come a time' when the government's performance will need to be assessed.

As he was battered with questions about why the UK had been hit harder than many other countries, Mr Jenrick told Sky News: 'We took the decisions that we could at the time on the basis of the information that was available to us.

'And we did everything that we could to protect people's lives and help to weather the storm, and take the country through this very challenging period.

'There is no textbook as to how to respond to a pandemic like this, but we do believe that we took the right decisions at the right time.

'And now our focus is on continuing to help the country through the remaining stages of the pandemic and focus on the vaccine rollout.' 

But in a blunt verdict, shadow health secretary said: 'I don't accept they did everything they could.' 

Although he sounded a more optimistic tone last night, Prof Whitty urged the British public not to ease-up and begin relaxing now. He warned that case numbers, particularly those in hospital, as well as Covid death figures, remained high.

The Prime Minister meanwhile said the country would have time to 'learn lessons, reflect and repair' at the end of the crisis, which was now in sight thanks to the roll-out of vaccines.

And he said the nation would then come together 'to remember everyone we lost, and to honour the selfless heroism of all those on the front line who gave their lives to save others'.

Mr Johnson added: 'On this day I should just really repeat that I am deeply sorry for every life that has been lost and, of course, as I was Prime Minister I take full responsibility for everything that the Government has done.

'What I can tell you is that we truly did everything we could, and continue to do everything that we can, to minimise loss of life and to minimise suffering in what has been a very, very difficult stage, and a very, very difficult crisis for our country. 
'And we will continue to do that, just as every government that is affected by this crisis around the world is continuing to do the same.'

He added: 'I offer my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one: fathers and mothers; brothers and sisters; sons and daughters and the many grandparents who have been taken.'

The 100,000 death toll is five times the 20,000 once described as a 'good outcome' by the Government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

The UK is only the fifth country to lose so many lives, after the much larger United States, Brazil, India and Mexico.   
Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne told MailOnline: 'My concern is the lack of a real sense of urgency about the need to lift restrictions, and mission creep beyond what was the key issue: avoiding the NHS being overwhelmed.

'The focus must be on the the point at which vaccination of people that, had they been infected, would have been admitted to hospital has proceeded sufficiently to reduce the risk to the NHS
'The danger is that we are focussing on the number of deaths and the total level of infections.

'To achieve the original mission we need only concern ourselves with infection that is likely to lead to admission.'
The Archbishop of Canterbury said he prays for Mr Johnson and any 'regrets' he has about the Government's response to the pandemic.

He told BBC Breakfast: 'I pray for our politicians each day, our political leaders, including the Prime Minister, because they're human, they're deeply, deeply human.

'There will be things they've got wrong, because they're human.

'Today is a day for solidarity and support, there will be inquiries in the future, that is quite right, but today is for solidarity.
'They will have regrets. I'd say to all of them, take it to God in prayer, confess it, and we have to move on and get the next decision right, and care for people better as a result.'

Labour's Sir Keir Starmer described the current death toll as a 'national tragedy' and accused Mr Johnson of being 'behind the curve at every stage' when responding to the pandemic, particularly on testing, PPE and imposing lockdowns.
Another 1,631 deaths were recorded within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test yesterday, taking the total to 100,162.

Tory MPs also admitted that mistakes had been made. Defence Committee chair Tobias Ellwood was asked on the BBC last night whether the infection rate was fuelld by locking down too late in March, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, the Christmas relaxation of restrictions and not closing airports.

'Looking back, you have to say yes to all of that,' he replied.

'These are the very tough decisions that not just this Government but every government is making in trying to balance tackling Covid-19 while keeping the economy open.'

Professor Whitty warned that deaths were likely to remain high for the next few weeks, before the effects of the vaccine were felt.

He said positive tests were falling but remained very high. 

He added: 'We need to be careful that we do not relax too early. The number of people in hospital with Covid is still an incredibly high number – over 35,000.'
The professor said hospital cases were decreasing in areas including London and the South East but not in some other regions.

And though he said death figures had 'flattened', he said they still remained 'very high'. He warned the death  figures were likely to come down meaning there would 'unfortunately' still be 'quite a lot more deaths of the next few weeks'.

His comments match those of Adam Kucharski, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who also warned that tens of thousands of people in the UK were likely to die in the coming month.

In a grim prediction, he told the BBC's World at One that about 30,000 more deaths were likely within the next month 'from infections that have already happened'.

Critics have blamed failures to close the borders, an ineffective test and trace system as well as entering lockdowns too late for allowing the virus to become endemic.

An ageing population and a well-documented obesity crisis are also thought to have left Britain susceptible to the virus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said each death was 'heartbreaking' but jabs 'offer the way out'.   

The figures came as the former CPS chief prosecutor of the north west who brought down a Rochdale child abuse gang has suggested Boris Johnson could face prosecution for misconduct in public office over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Johnson, in his Downing Street address this evening expressed his regret that more than 100,000 had died of Covid-19.

Nazir Afzal, the former CPS chief prosecutor in the north west said he believes the PM could face prosecution.
'We cannot wait 10yrs for public inquiry.
'I have instructed my lawyers to consider whether anything he did or didn't do amounts to gross negligence or misconduct in public office and what consequences should follow.'

He wrote: '100,000 Covid dead and Boris Johnson has still not met with the family of any of bereaved, he hasn't called for a day of remembrance or even a moment's silence.

'We don't matter. Invitations remain unanswered. We will support each other and give the dead a voice.'

Mr Afzal's brother Umar died in April 2020 of Covid-19.

He continued on Twitter: 'Prime Minister says hundreds of NHS staff 'gave their lives'.

'No, their lives were TAKEN. We didn't prepare. We put them in the line of fire without protection.

'They courageously stepped in but YOU let them down.'

Source: Daily mail

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