Bishop's Stortford MP Julie Marson backs Boris Johnson over schools staying open
Bishop's Stortford's MP Julie Marson has backed the Government on keeping schools open.
The Conservative member for Hertford and Stortford was responding to calls from the constituency Labour party to take lessons online in response to spiralling Covid-19 infection rates.
The opposition also called on Mrs Marson to lobby for more laptops to enable pupils to study at home.
In Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth, along with the rest of East Herts, primary pupils were expected to return to the classroom this week, as planned before Christmas. But in Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Three Rivers and Watford, younger children will switch to remote learning in response to the spread of the new variant of the virus.
Mrs Marson told the Indie: "I want to see schools stay open for as long as it is safe to do so and have been in regular contact with ministers and the leader of Herts County Council on this issue.
"As the Health Secretary [Matt Hancock] made clear this morning, there is currently no evidence of higher infection rates among teachers compared with the rest of the population and children are at very low risk of becoming seriously ill because of the infection. If the scientific evidence changes, so too will my view on whether to keep primary schools open.
"Our local heads and school staff have done a magnificent job of keeping schools open and safe during this crisis and I pay tribute to them again for doing so."
She added: "We know that during the first lockdown children completed an average of just 2.5 hours of school work per day. We also know that the attainment gap has begun to widen for the first time in 12 years as a result of the first lockdown, having a disproportionate impact on our most disadvantaged pupils. It is therefore vital that the Government makes a balanced assessment.
"I am also pleased that 50,000 laptops and tablets are being delivered today alone and the Department for Education remains on track in this unparalleled provision of equipment."
Her views echo those of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who told BBC TV's The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning that parents should send children to primary school from today (Monday, January 4) if they are open. He said that there was "no doubt in my mind that schools are safe" but did not rule out further closures.
That prompted a 5.50pm statement from Herts County Council saying it noted "the firm expectation of the Prime Minister and the Department for Education that schools will remain open wherever possible".
The authority said it was not advising schools to close this week as a matter of policy or infection control unless located in an area identified by the Government's Contingency Framework.
"We fully appreciate that these are difficult and concerning times for people, however, we do need to consider the importance of education for children of all ages and the mental, behavioural and social benefits that come from being in a school environment."
Most secondary students are to stay at home for an extra two weeks, returning on Monday January 18 – a week after those in GCSE and A-level exam year groups, and those in year 12 with exams, go back next Monday (January 11). Only vulnerable and key workers' children were set to return to class from today (Monday, January 4).