John Harris

Journalist & Author

‘Open all schools!’ ‘Close all schools!’ What England really needs is creative thinking | John Harris

The pandemic has sparked a shouting match. Instead we should be working out how to keep everyone in education safe

The crisis enveloping schools, and the noisy resentment it has sparked, reflect just about every aspect of England’s Covid-19 story. The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has taken the government’s grim mixture of arrogance and incompetence to new depths. When Boris Johnson was interviewed by Andrew Marr today it was striking to see so much of the conversation devoted to schools, but there was a wearying familiarity to the vagueness of the prime minister’s position on urgent issues. The fact that there is no clear line even on the proposed opening of all schools in England a fortnight from now hardly answers people’s need for clarity and leadership.

Yet again councils, who are only too aware of local realities, have objected to edicts from Whitehall. In London, boroughs that rejected the demand that their primary schools open on 4 January forced yet another government U-turn. Meanwhile, as concerns grow about the new variant spreading via schools, talk of “a switch to online learning” is now common – yet this could exacerbate many hard realities that have emerged during the pandemic. For plenty of families, “connectivity” amounts to a pay-as-you-go smartphone running on a mobile network; in millions of cases, remote learning is a completely vain hope.

Related: The government has pitted England’s schools against health. It didn’t have to | James McAsh

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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