‘Extreme concern’ Covid inquiry won’t focus enough on education

Inquiry chair urges public to respond to consultation

Inquiry chair urges public to respond to consultation

The draft terms of reference for the UK’s public Covid inquiry has just one mention of education, prompting “extreme concerns” it will not investigate properly the problems schools, parents and children faced.

The inquiry, chaired by Baroness Heather Hallet, will examine the pandemic response and impact to produce a “factual narrative account”. A consultation was launched yesterday on the proposed details of what the inquiry will look at. 

Under a long list about what public-health decision making it will examine, it says: “Restrictions on attendance at places of education.” There is no further specific mention of education or schools in the two-page document

Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the education select committee, told the i newspaper that the impact on education needed to play a bigger role in the inquiry.

He said: “This draft is extremely concerning. The closure of schools was nothing short of a national disaster for our children, pupils and students in terms of their mental health, educational attainment, life chances and safeguarding.

Baroness Hallet

“A significant part of the report must be about school closures and look at whether schools should have been classed as national infrastructure alongside supermarkets, hospitals and power stations.”

Focusing just on attendance may also mean the 2020 exams chaos or the free school meal voucher problems will be glossed over.

However there are wider public sector points, such as looking at the “additional funding for relevant public services” and “consider[ing] the experiences of and impact on health and care sector workers, and other key workers, during the pandemic”.

In an open letter, Baroness Hallet, who led the independent inquest into the 2005 7/7 terror bombings in London, said she hopes to begin public hearings in 2023. Prime minister Boris Johnson had originally pledged the inquiry would begin in spring 2022. 

She said teams will be visiting towns and cities to gather the views of bereaved families, community and support groups and other organisations. 

Hallet said she wants to hear the public’s views on what the “inquiry should look at”. The consultation closes on April 7.

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