United Kingdom

MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: A spectacular and public-spirited offer Boris Johnson should accept 

To the dismay of those who will never forgive him for Brexit, Boris Johnson is again demonstrating his ability to achieve success where others fail or will not dare.

The mass vaccination against Covid, itself the fruit of brilliant British science, is now bringing hope and comfort to millions – hope for those who long for release, comfort for those who fear the virus.

It turns out that it is perfectly possible, under strong leadership and intelligent direction, for the Government machine to deliver a major project, on time and efficiently.

Let us hope that the lessons are learned for the future, and that other state projects will follow this example.

It is, of course, absolutely right that the vaccination programme has targeted the most vulnerable first, and this should certainly continue until all these categories have been given protection.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a coronavirus news conference at 10 Downing Street, London, on Friday

But that moment will provide an opportunity for a new and ingenious initiative, which The Mail on Sunday today urges Mr Johnson and his colleagues to consider actively.

A group of top schools in the private and state sector have come together to make a spectacular, public-spirited offer.

They are suggesting that the Government uses their premises and trained staff to set up dozens of extra vaccination centres. And then, once medical priority cases have been dealt with, they propose a bold programme to immunise teachers and other school staff in time for the second half of the current term. At the very least this should make it possible to reopen primary schools and the examination years of secondary schools. At a stroke, it would sweep aside many of the objections to school reopening and restore one of the most important parts of our national life.

Surely the teachers’ unions, who rightly proclaim the importance of their profession to our economy and society, would welcome this recognition that they are correct?

In truth there are few more urgent tasks than to find a way to get the schools – and then the universities – to open up again.

Schools perform many more functions than simple education. They provide routine and early experience of good work habits to their students. They provide the social interaction that makes the difference between life and solitary existence. They provide proper meals to children from homes where such things are sadly rare. They sometimes allow teachers to spot serious problems at home that might never otherwise come to light. And, of course, they free parents to go out to work during school hours.

Many schools have coped extraordinarily well with the challenge of remote learning, and this newspaper congratulates those who have.

Nurse Hannah Flynn administers the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to a patient at a temporary vaccination centre in the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster

But others have done less well – not least because of the grave shortage of computers in poorer homes, which make the idea of distance learning more or less impossible for some youngsters.

But in general it is true that the lockdown of schools has hit the children of the poor far harder than the children of the well-off middle classes.

In 21st Century Britain, which the Prime Minister is publicly committed to levelling up, this gap is intolerable and needs to be closed. One of the most effective ways of doing so is to get the schools fully open again, as soon as reasonably possible.

In the same spirit with which he has tackled the vaccination programme, Mr Johnson should now accept this generous and thoughtful suggestion.

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