Don't furlough education for months or kids will suffer, warns Ofsted chief as unions try to force school closures

AN EDUCATION chief says kids can't be "furloughed" for months as teachers and Government officials lock horns over schools.

Children are meant to return to class tomorrow, Monday. But unions are in revolt in a bid to force Boris Johnson to keep schools shut – and now Sage experts say pupils might not fully return to lessons until February.

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Ofsted's chief inspector has tonight warned that youngsters are being failed by yet more closures.

Amanda Spielman said kids' time outside of class should be kept to the "absolute minimum" as militant unions join forces to keep schools shut.

The Government has faced chaos over education as a mutant strain of Covid surges through the UK.

On Friday night, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced primary schools in London will stay closed in a dramatic U-turn – just days after officials said much of the provision for younger pupils wouldn't be affected.

The National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) and the Association of School and College Leaders have demanded to see data proving any school is safe to reopen.

In a letter to members, Paul Whiteman, the NAHT general secretary, said the union will take legal action against the Department for Education.

The move happened hours after the National Education Union (NEU) urged staff to refuse to come to class and stay at home.

But Ms Spielman urged teachers and the Government to remember that children are at the heart of the row.

Writing in The Telegraph, she said pupils can't afford to wait.

"It is clear that children's lives cannot just be put on hold while we wait for vaccination programmes to take effect, and for waves of infection to subside," she said.

"We cannot furlough young people's learning or their wider development. The longer the pandemic continues, the more true this is."

During the first lockdown, some younger children forgot how to hold a pencil or use a knife and fork, she said.

Older children were more likely to suffer eating disorders and self-harm.

Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner, said: "I hope the Government will follow my advice that these schools should be the last to close and first to open, when it's thought safe to do so.

"I hope, for children and parents' sake, that is measured in days not weeks, and I would be particularly keen for primaries to stay open if at all possible."

Most primaries in England are expected to still open on Monday.

But secondary schools will reopen on a staggered basis.

Exam year pupils will return on January 11, and others will return a week later.

On Saturday night, Brighton and Hove City Council became the first local authority not advised by the Government to delay the reopening of primary schools.

Research from Imperial College shows the new mutant strain of Covid is affecting a greater proportion of those aged under 20.

However, yesterday the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health issued a statement saying that "the new variant appears to affect all ages and, as yet, we are not seeing any greater severity among children and young people".

There are fears the deadlock on schools could go on for months as cases hit record highs in the UK.

It's reported that cabinet ministers have been privately warned that officials will not know whether vaccinated people can transmit the virus for another three months.

The lockdown which began in March left pupils up to four months behind on their work and caused misery for both parents and their children.

One Government source told the paper Mr Williamson, a "working class lad from Scarborough", is "fighting for every parent and every child in the country".

"Some of the teachers on Twitter – if they saw kids behaving like that in their own playgrounds, they would be writing to their parents about bullying behaviour," the source said.

Experts are divided on closing schools to battle the spread of the new variant.

But despite that, kids may be out of class for weeks to come as senior Ministers admitted schools could stay shut.

A source said: “The closure of schools until mid-February is an entirely possible scenario.

"We don’t have the data for Christmas yet, but we will by January 18, and it’s difficult to see that being an improvement.”

Another senior source added: “We have been careful not to say they will definitely reopen on January 18 because we don’t know that.”

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