Labour vows schools would be ‘last to close and the first to open’ in another pandemic

Labour’s education spokesperson has attacked the government’s record on education during the Covid era, vowing that if the UK faced another pandemic under a Labour government, schools would be “last to close and the first to open”.

In a major speech this morning to the Centre for Social Justice, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson declared that “when the government first reopened schools for most of our children, the pubs had already been open for weeks”.

She added: “That was entirely the wrong way around. And I tell you today, that if I’m secretary of state for education, if and when such a national crisis comes again, school should be the last to close and the first to open.”

She told attendees that it “says a lot” that former education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson has not been called to give oral evidence to the Covid inquiry.

Phillipson suggested that was because “he wasn’t at the table” during crucial decision-making meetings. 

The Labour frontbencher also sought to style her party as the “party of family”, vowing to improve “partnership” between schools, families, and the government. 

She added: “Partnership works when information is known, and information is shared.”

Defending Labour’s proposals on scrapping tax breaks for independent schools, she said the Conservative Party’s defence of the status quo sees its “mask slip” and exposes their “real beliefs”.

Phillipson was introduced for her speech by the former education recovery tsar, who backed the party’s plans for school absences.

Sir Kevan Collins, the government’s former education recovery commissioner, said “too many of our children are still living with the disruption” of the pandemic.

He added: “Covid revealed the best and worst of our system: teachers performed heroically as they turned on a sixpence to deliver online learning, parents leant in to support their children’s learning as never before and our children displayed resilience and determination to continue their studies.

“However, too many of our children are still living with the impact of the disruption. The failure to re-engage and return to established norms is seen in the collapse in school attendance. For too many children the habit and convention of going to school every day has been broken.

“Tackling the crisis of persistent absence must therefore be a priority and the national response must measure up to the scale of the local challenge. It demands a shared endeavour.

“Education standards should always take top priority. I’m excited by Bridget’s ambition for our education system and her determination to raise standards and improve outcomes for all our children.” is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.