Worcester MP Robin Walker writes for the Observer
I HAVE been very impressed by the enormous effort that has been put into making schools safe for the return of children in a number of year groups at the start of this week. I know that heads and teachers, many of whom had already given up their holidays in order to provide support to children of key workers through the normal holiday period, have been working flat out to produce risk assessments and safe social distancing plans for all our schools.
The fact more than 70 per cent of primaries in the county were able to open with all of these in place this Monday is a significant achievement and I am grateful to all of those who have made it happen. Of course it is still up to individual parents to decide whether they want their children to be in school at this time and the normal rules with regard to absence will not apply, so I fully understand that many parents may choose to keep children at home, particularly where other family members are at risk or sheltering.
The key thing is that for those who need to return to work or where the children will be better off in school, key year groups are back up and running. With extra space and a big focus on regular handwashing, schools should be a safe place for children to be. It is particularly important that the most vulnerable children have access to school and whilst schools have been open to them throughout the period of lockdown, it would be good to see more now beginning to return.
There was a bit of a back to school feeling about Parliament this week as we begin the process of returning to a more normal way of working and MPs are back in Westminster, some for the first time since lockdown began, to vote and physically take part in debates. I want to ensure that all colleagues get to have a say as to how Parliament can resume its work in earnest and I personally feel that, whilst the hybrid model was a clever fix for the most severe period of lockdown, the sooner we can get back to proper activity in the chamber the better.
I totally support measures to ensure that colleagues with higher risks or the need to shelter can do so – this can be achieved through the pairing system, but I do feel that the best kind of Parliamentary scrutiny is when all colleagues can speak and vote in Parliament. The call lists and careful stage management of the last few weeks have meant that most colleagues are unable to contribute most of the time and I think that the time has come now to move on from this.
I was delighted to hear on a call with the local resilience forum that there were no new hospital admissions for Coronavirus this week in Worcestershire and early indications are that the number of cases is falling nationally too but as testing ramps up to its highest ever level and the lockdown measures begin to be relaxed, we must remain vigilant. I am impatient as anyone to get on and focus on supporting people and businesses into the recovery but we must keep taking every measure to make sure we can do so safely.