Coronavirus: Labour accuses ministers of being ‘asleep at the wheel’ on schools reopening

Labour has accused the government of being “asleep at the wheel” over plans to reopen schools as the coronavirus lockdown is relaxed.

Rachel Reeves said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was “set a test, he has failed it miserably”.

The shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and shadow minister for the Cabinet Office warned of a “generation who are left behind and locked out of future opportunities because of mistakes made during this pandemic”.

Ministers have unveiled a £1bn catch-up programme for children who have missed out on months of schooling during the coronavirus lockdown.

Mr Williamson has also promised further guidance on safety measures for schools will be published in the next two weeks.

Schools closed in March as the government took action to try and halt the spread of COVID-19, with only vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers able to attend.

A phased reopening of primary schools began at the start of this month, with pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 returning to the classroom.

Some secondary pupils in Years 10 and 12 have also returned.

But ministers abandoned plans to get all primary pupils back before the end of the summer term.

Mr Williamson has said the government would like to see schools who “have the capacity” bring back more pupils before the end of the summer term where possible.

Announcing the government’s catch-up programme, Boris Johnson said the cash would “help headteachers to provide extra support to children who have fallen behind while out of school”.

The prime minister has also said he is “sure” all children can be back in school full-time from September, with further guidance on safety measures set to be published in the next two weeks.

Ms Reeves said: “I would like to see more children return to school safely, but the truth is the government have failed in the commitments that they made to parents and to the country which was to return all primary school children to school safely before the summer holidays.

“Frankly I don’t know what the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been doing for the last three months.

“He should have been using this period of lockdown to prepare schools to ensure that the space is available, because many schools are cramped, particularly in inner city areas … were going to struggle with the smaller bubbles in which children need to be taught in.

“The government should have been working with libraries, with community centres, with leisure centres to open them potentially as school settings or putting temporary buildings in.

“The government didn’t do that, they were asleep at the wheel.

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