United Kingdom

Headteachers send Boris Johnson plan to vaccinate one million staff at half-term

Britain's top schools have unveiled a bold plan to vaccinate the country’s entire teaching staff and get pupils back into the classroom within weeks.

Headteachers have drawn up a detailed blueprint to get the educational workforce, including support staff, inoculated over the February half-term week.

The ambitious scheme could prove a political lifeline to Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he faces mounting calls to put teachers at the front of the queue for jabs and prevent more catastrophic damage to the prospects of millions of locked-down children. 

Under the emergency scheme, 150 independent schools and state academies would become vaccination hubs with medically trained staff inoculating school workers for 16 hours a day.

The ambitious scheme could prove a political lifeline to Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The plan’s architects claim that ‘most or even all’ of England’s one million school and nursery teachers, teaching assistants and support staff, including dinner ladies and caretakers, could be vaccinated within the week.

It comes as Ministers have been downplaying expectations schools could reopen after half-term, as originally envisaged.

Last week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson could only say he ‘hoped’ children would be back in classrooms by Easter, let alone February.

However, England’s Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, said primary schools must begin to re-open after half-term or children in deprived areas ‘will fall even further behind’ their peers.

Practice nurse administers the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccination centre in Sheffield

The new vaccination proposal, which would incur no cost for the Government, has been drawn up by two academy chains, a private school group and the respected Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents nearly 300 independent schools, including the likes of Eton and Harrow.

Ministers have yet to respond to their blueprint, which has been revealed as a Mail on Sunday poll found 40 per cent of people believe their mood and state of mind have declined since the start of the pandemic, and 33 per cent of parents say the mental health of their children has worsened;

A record 478,248 vaccine jabs were delivered on Friday, taking the total to 6,329,968, of which 5,861,351 were first doses;

The number of reported positive Covid-19 cases fell by 18 per cent – from 41,346 last Saturday to 33,552 yesterday, but there were 1,348 new deaths;

Experts accused Mr Johnson of ‘exploiting public fear’ over the virus following disputed claims that the mutant Kent variant was 30 per cent more lethal than the original;

The medical director of Public Health England rejected calls from the British Medical Association to halve the gap between the two doses of vaccine from 12 weeks to six;

The Intensive Care Society said one in five nursing staff is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder – more than the rate among war veterans – as more than 4,000 patients are now on ventilators across the UK;

An ambitious campaign by the Mail to deliver laptops to locked-down pupils struggling with lessons got under way;

Tory MPs urged the Prime Minister to publish military-style ‘multiple pathways’ out of lockdown with one saying that people would not tolerate ‘living like troglodytes’ indefinitely;

The Government was set to make visitors from some high-risk counties quarantine in hotels – but stop short of a blanket rule;

AstraZeneca warned EU countries it will cut deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine in another blow to Europe’s spluttering inoculation drive;

A Mail on Sunday investigation reveals how foreign firms have handed billions of pounds to their wealthy investors after taking out cheap Covid loans backed by the British taxpayer.

Downing Street has been increasingly pessimistic that infection rates will fall quickly enough for schools to reopen next month, with some officials warning parents should ‘prepare to wait until May’.

However, a chorus of eminent education experts last night urged the Prime Minister to intervene and back the schools vaccination plan to speed up that timetable.

Sir Anthony Seldon, a leading historian and former master at Wellington College, said: ‘It is desperately important to get all schools back fully open for the sake of parents, guardians and their children. This is a really magnificent plan. No 10 needs to start listening to and welcoming ideas like this.’

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools and head of Ofsted between 2012 and 2016, said: ‘I would strongly support the Government putting teachers and support staff in schools at the very top of the list in terms of vaccination. As soon as that happens, then we can get schools open again. I’m in full support of this.’

Earlier this month, the Headmasters’ and Headmistress’ Conference and Cognita, a private education group with 40 independent schools, joined the Academies Enterprise Trust and Ormiston Academies Trust, which together run 98 state academies, to create their plan.

Top private schools that have volunteered to be vaccination hubs include Shrewsbury School and Oswestry School in Shropshire, South Hampstead High School in London, Bootham School in York, Plymouth College and Ipswich School.

In a letter sent to Mr Johnson, Mr Williamson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock on January 10, the schools said: ‘The single initiative that could help families cope better with the lockdown, preserve our children’s learning and mental health and help to encourage the economy to restart would be to ensure that schools can open safely after the February half term.’

They said their sites have the refrigerators required to store the vaccine and a ‘large force of medically trained members of staff’ who would be able to administer the jabs.

Last night, Chris McGovern, a former education policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher and chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, described the offer as a ‘no brainer’ He added: ‘The Government needs to wake up, get a move on, get a grip and get this done.’

Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, said: ‘The Government should be doing everything possible to get all schools open after half term.If you get all teachers and support staff vaccinated it means schools can reopen sooner.’

A No 10 source said there were no current plans to change the priority order for vaccines. 

‘A magnificent plan... No 10 needs to listen’

‘This will save learning and mental health’

 Children’s tsar: primary pupils must go back after half-term

The children’s tsar has said that primary school pupils must be allowed back in class after the February half-term – and last night backed calls to prioritise Covid jabs for teachers.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, spoke out as an exclusive poll for The Mail on Sunday found almost two-thirds of parents want children to return to school next month.

The poll of 1,002 parents by Mumsnet also found that 75 per cent of parents believed that the school closures had been harmful to children’s education.

Forty per cent of parents of private school pupils said youngsters are actively engaged in five or more hours per day in school work, compared with just 12 per cent of those at state schools.

Nine out of ten parents said children’s social lives had suffered, with 78 per cent saying school closures have been harmful for pupils’ mental health.

Sixty-two per cent said that they wanted Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to reopen all primary schools and Year 11 and 13 classes after the February half-term break. Almost half said they wanted children back in school due to concerns over the impact the lockdown is having on their mental health.

Ms Longfield told this newspaper: ‘The evidence is now overwhelming that closing schools is bad for children’s wellbeing and attainment. That is why I don’t want schools closed for a day longer than necessary and why, since the start of the pandemic, I have urged the Government to do all it can to make sure schools are the last to close and the first to open.’

She warned many vulnerable children ‘slip out of sight during lockdown,’ adding: ‘Reopening schools must be a priority and Gavin Williamson was right to say he hoped to have all children back in the classroom before Easter.

Nine out of ten parents said children’s social lives had suffered, with 78 per cent saying school closures have been harmful for pupils’ mental health

‘For this to happen, Government need to start planning now so that this can be done safely. If all schools are to be open before Easter, primary schools will need to start going back after the next half-term.

‘Teachers need to be a higher priority for vaccines and we need testing regimes that schools have confidence in, alongside a rocket boost for catch-up funding, and an urgent acceleration of providing all schools with an NHS-funded counsellor.’

Liz Cole, co-founder of the Us For Them parent campaign group, said: ‘Most schools are doing their absolute best to do things remotely but nothing can replace the classroom learning experience.

‘I don’t think that we can justify the harm that we are doing to our children by keeping them out of school for so long.’

Ella Medina, a mother of three children, aged 11, 13 and 15, said her children were struggling to keep up with online lessons.

‘The delivery can be incredibly one-dimensional. It’s hard for the children to engage. I’m constantly having to hover over them to make sure they’re not switching to games or WhatsApping their friends. I think it is an absolute necessity that schools go back after the half-term, regardless of the Covid-19 situation. It is an essential service.’

Another mother, from Cambridge, who has a 12-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son, said: ‘My son is having no live lessons – just one assembly on Zoom each week. He is expected to log on and complete worksheets and watch videos from the Government’s Oak Academy which drones on.

‘He loses interest in minutes. My daughter is really struggling with it. We are trying to get her to submit one thing a day. She is really demotivated. She misses her friends. I’m worried about her ever being able to re-engage and catch up on what she has missed.’

 I help with classes but can't replace friends   

With a full-time job to hold down, and three children trying to learn from home each day, Jennifer Gray worries that her children may never catch up on the schooling they have lost.

She fears for the mental health of her two eldest children, Isabella, 16, and Calum, 15, who sit in front of laptops all day, watching their teachers giving live video lessons.

But her daughter Delilah, seven, is not receiving any live learning, which means that the exhausted mother-of-three has to sit with her and play the role of teacher.

Jennifer and her husband, Jonathan Bates, worry about the mental health impact the latest lockdown is having on their children

She said: ‘We get a list of to-do tasks each day and are told it will take three hours but it never takes less than six. There are no interactive lessons. I’ve organised an interactive assembly with other parents, just so the kids can have some inter-action.’

Jennifer and her husband, Jonathan Bates, worry about the mental health impact the latest lockdown is having on their children.

She said: ‘I want them to get back to school as soon as possible. I am so surprised by the reaction of people who just say “close the schools”, forgetting about the kids. That passion for education and its importance seems to have gone out the window during this pandemic. I can’t tell you how worried I am about their long-term future because of all this.

‘My children are privileged. They’ve got me at home, they’ve got laptops and space. But the kids that don’t have that... I worry about the future, I really do.’

Jennifer, 40, who works in training and events, said there was no way of her children’s secondary school teachers knowing whether they were actually paying attention in class.

She said: ‘Many of the children have their mikes and cameras off and it’s hard to get them to speak in live lessons.

I’m not sure teachers can be entirely sure who is there.

‘I’m sure there are cases of kids just turning the lesson on and going off and doing their own thing.

‘The pressure that is being put on them to keep up with learning as usual is completely unrealistic. I put the blame on the Government, not the teachers.

‘Pressure on teachers is also intense and the expectation that children will simply learn as normal is completely unrealistic.’

Jennifer, from Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, added: ‘Interaction has been missing entirely from the Government’s strategy.

‘The thing I want most actually is anything that would give them some interaction with others.

‘We can cope with the learning here just about – what I can’t be is a teenage boy for my 15-year-old.’ 

‘I’m not sure if teachers can be sure who’s there’

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