Why reopening schools is far harder than Conservative MPs suggest

Vaccinating teachers won’t stop schools becoming vectors of infection in the wider community. 

 

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Close the borders, vaccinate the teachers, reopen the schools? That's the growing clamour among Conservative MPs. 

England's lockdown is working: cases are falling. Added to that, the UK’s vaccine rollout means there is genuine light at the end of the tunnel. But as a result of the failed tier system, the decision to keep London’s economy as open as possible in the run-up to Christmas, the country still has a very large number of cases: making it hard to reopen schools without once again having an uncontrolled outbreak.

​​Without wishing to diminish the risks we’ve asked teachers to bear during this crisis, the risk to teachers is not why schools are shut (not least because the need to provide education for children of key workers and the most vulnerable kids means that teachers are still going into work and still bear a greater risk of catching coronavirus as it is). The reason schools are shut is because they are wider vectors of infection into the community. 

What the government badly needs to do is relearn the lessons of the Falklands War and foot-and-mouth, where one designated briefer (the so-called “Krebs rules” because of the name of the Defra official in question) delivered every press conference and public pronouncement, putting an end to the constant and contradictory public speculation from government ministers, scientific advisers and most damagingly of all the Prime Minister himself. The consequence of not doing so is a worried population, an unruly party and a coronavirus strategy shaped not by science but by panic. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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