Politics

Draft law seeks Parliamentary veto on future school closures

Education committee chair to introduce bill in Parliament which could class schools as 'essential infrastructure'

Education committee chair to introduce bill in Parliament which could class schools as 'essential infrastructure'

Ofsted safeguarding Spielman catch-up exams committee

MPs will consider a draft law which would deem schools “essential infrastructure” and require Parliament to sign off on any future closures.

Robert Halfon, the chair of the Parliamentary education committee, will introduced a so-called ten-minute rule bill tomorrow which he claims will protect pupils from the “disaster” of future shutdowns.

However, it is not clear whether the bill will receive government support, without which it is unlikely to pass.

Schools have been closed to most pupils twice nationally since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, with substantial disruption to in-person teaching outside those periods. The government announced in September that it was scrapping its power to force school closures.

Halfon said his Schools and Education Settings (Essential Infrastructure and Opening During Emergencies) Bill, which has the support of 10 other Conservative MPs and Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson, would introduce a “triple lock” of protections including a time limit on restrictions.

Bid to class schools as ‘essential infrastructure’

Under the terms of the bill, schools would be classed in law as “essential infrastructure”, like other settings such as power stations, hospitals and food shops.

Any proposed school closure would have to be debated and approved by Parliament, and if agreed, the education secretary would have to return every three weeks to seek its reapproval.

It would also require government to seek the advice of the children’s commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, on whether closures are necessary and in the “best interests” of children.

Halfon said he was “not a lockdown sceptic but I am a school-down sceptic”, saying closures had an “apocalyptic” effect on pupils’ futures.

“Whilst national lockdowns were important to protect the health of the public, school closures have been nothing short of a disaster for our children. These closures wielded a hammer blow for students’ education and wellbeing.”

Among the sponsors of the bill are former children’s ministers Sir Tim Loughton and Edward Timpson.

Bill ‘misses the point’, say leaders

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said although “no-one” wanted to see more school closures, the bill “misses the point”.

He added that disruption to education was “rife because of the government’s failure to do more to prevent the spread of Covid in classrooms”.

“Triple-locking the stable door after the horse has bolted will do nothing to address the learning loss experienced from lockdown and the growing mental health crisis in schools.”

Geoff Barton, the leader of the ASCL union, said he supported defining schools as essential infrastructure and “doing everything possible to keep them open during times of national emergency”.

“However, this would obviously have to take into account public health advice in any future emergency and it must be accompanied by a commitment from the government and from parliament to provide education settings with sufficient support.”

A government spokesperson said it had “acted swiftly during the pandemic to minimise the impact on children’s education and wellbeing and help keep pupils in face-to-face education as much as possible”.

“Protecting face-to-face learning continues to be an absolute priority. We are now at a different stage in our response to the pandemic thanks to the overwhelming success of the vaccination programme, and there are no plans for schools to close again.”



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