'The plans lie in tatters': PM accused of 'flailing around blaming others' following U-turn on schools

Sir Keir Starmer has accused the prime minister of "flailing around, trying to blame others" over the government's U-turn on the reopening of schools.

The Labour leader said the government plans for schools "lie in tatters" after the education secretary announced the ambition for primary schools to fully reopen on Monday had been abandoned.

The plan had been for all remaining primary age pupils to return to school, for a month before the summer holidays, to join Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils, many of whom went back on June 1.

Amid reports the coronavirus reproduction rate (R value) had tipped over one in the North West, many councils had already said they would not allow their schools to reopen, before the government confirmed the plans were scrapped.

Sir Keir said the move to pause the reopening of schools would mean "inequality will now go up".

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"Parents have lost confidence in the government’s approach, millions of children will miss six months’ worth of schooling," he said.

"It's time [the prime minister] took responsibility for his own failures."

Boris Johnson hit back, saying the Labour leader should "make up his mind" about schools after suggesting at last week's PMQs it was "not yet safe".

Sir Keir insisted he wants as many children to go back to school as soon as possible when it is safe, adding: “I’ve been saying that like a broken record for weeks on end.

“I know the prime minister has got rehearsed attack lines but he should look at what I’ve been saying consistently.”

He added how "several weeks ago" he had suggested setting up a "national taskforce so everyone could put their shoulder to the wheel" and he urged the PM to take up the suggestion

Mr Johnson said he could do with support from Sir Keir on the reopening of schools, from "his friends in the left-wing trade unions”.

Sir Keir said the UK is the “outlier” compared to other countries in returning children to school, telling the Commons: “It’s no good the Prime Minister flailing around trying to blame others.”

Gavin Williamson announced plans to fully reopen schools had been abandoned. Credit: PA

Andrew Clewer is Headteacher at Landywood Primary School, he said teachers would "love more children" back at the school but social distancing restrictions limit the numbers they can allow.

The school in Staffordshire has adapted to socially distanced learning in a number of ways, including outdoor commando lessons at a safe two metre distance.

Mr Clewer said "being away from school will have that negative impact" on pupils, but added systems are in place to keep children engaged through individual teaching and communication with parents.

Also at PMQs Sir Keir urged the prime minister to "turbocharge" a response to protect BAME groups from coronavirus.

He pointed to the Black Lives Matter movement and said the UK must implement recommendations from three reports; the Lammy review on outcomes for BAME groups in the criminal justice system, the report on the Windrush scandal and the most recent report on coronavirus and ethnic minorities.

Mr Johnson said he was "getting on with the implementation" of the recommendations and "already acting".

"We're are looking at the particular exposure of black and minority ethnic groups to coronavirus and be in no doubt they’ve been at the forefront in the struggle against coronavirus, whether its in the NHS or public transport," the prime minister said.

He said the "first and most practical step" was to ensure "that those high contact professions get expanded and targeted testing now".

Boris Johnson said he will back the police after Black Lives Matter protests turned violent. Credit: PA

"I understand the very strong and legitimate feelings of people in this country at the death of George Floyd and of course I agree that black lives matter," he said.

But he added how "it's absolutely vital" that authorities keep the "streets safe and that we back our police".

Sir Keir pressed the PM to extend the national voucher scheme to ensure free meals over the summer for vulnerable children or risk “further inequality” in England.

Mr Johnson replied: “We don’t normally continue with free school meals over the summer holidays but we’re also aware of the particular difficulties faced by vulnerable families.

“That’s why we’re announcing a further £63 million of local welfare assistance to be used by local authorities at their discretion to help the most vulnerable families.”