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Covid-19 Lockdown: Safety of Staff

Volume 687: debated on Monday 18 January 2021

What steps he is taking to help ensure the safety of staff at (a) early years settings, (b) special schools and (c) alternative provision during the covid-19 lockdown announced in January 2021. (910844)

What steps he is taking to help ensure the safety of staff at (a) early years settings, (b) special schools and (c) alternative provision during the covid-19 lockdown announced in January 2021. (910854)

Ensuring the safety of children, the workforce and families is our overriding priority. The early years and schools workforce are classed as essential workers for the purposes of accessing testing, and we continue to update our guidance to help specific settings provide a safe and secure environment for children and staff.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has contradicted the Government by saying that it has not authorised the use of 30-minute lateral flow tests to allow students to remain in classrooms instead of sending whole groups or bubbles home. Will the Minister confirm that no tests are being done on our children that have not met with regulatory approval, and will the Government commit to putting the health and safety of children first, instead of the PM’s deregulatory ideology that is turning our schools into experimentation labs for big pharma?

We have added NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England, and we have asked them to provide rapid updated public health advice on daily contact covid testing in schools. This is in the context of the current prevalence of the virus and the high transmission rates. The Department, NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England encourage the weekly testing of all staff, although this remains a voluntary matter for individual staff members. As I said earlier, early years staff will be prioritised through community testing.

Last week, I was contacted by the inspirational headteacher of Tunstall Nursery School in my constituency. She and her team have worked so hard to ensure that vital education is provided to kids as safely as possible, but she contacted me to express urgent concern over the safety of her pupils and staff because of covid-19. Other nurseries and special schools in my constituency have contacted me with the same concern. Does the Minister agree that this situation is unacceptable and that, at the very least, they deserve to see the clear detailed scientific evidence and advice that the Government have received about the safety of early years settings? Why have we still not seen that?

All the advice that we have been given has been made public. There are three reasons why we have kept early years settings open and they are all important. Early education gives the child communication and social skills that set them up for life. You cannot teach a small child online, and they cannot get those months back. Our public health advice remains that younger children play a lower role in community transmission, and the evidence at the moment is that the confirmed cases of covid among the very youngest children are the lowest of all age groups.