Commenting on the Prime Minister's statement to the Commons on his roadmap for schools to begin opening more fully, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

"We all want schools to open, but like the Prime Minister we want them to open when it is safe to do so. This has to be done sustainably and safely. 

"We agree with Boris Johnson that this is a balancing act. He has a duty to assess the easing of lockdown according to the progress and effects of vaccination, a reduction in cases and the various other criteria he has set out. But in setting out a potential date of 8 March, falling once again into his characteristic and too often misplaced optimism, he is pre-empting a decision that will have to be made in mid-February at the very earliest.  

"If we come out too early, we will end up in lockdown again. Hinging his argument for schools according to the first four vaccine groups developing immunity by 8 March, is not enough in itself. This may protect the elderly and most vulnerable adults in the population, but it does not protect parents. It fails completely to recognise the role schools have played in community transmission. The Prime Minister has already forgotten what he told the nation at the beginning of this lockdown, that schools are a 'vector for transmission'. 

"When schools were reopened after the Spring 2020 lockdown, 1 in 1,000 were infected with coronavirus (1). Currently 1 in 55 people have coronavirus (2) and R is only just below 1 (3), so cases are falling slowly. It would have been fine to have set out a roadmap, but to suggest a date at this stage runs the risk of creating false hope. The Prime Minister may now be immune to the embarrassment of u-turns, but school leaders, teachers and support staff, not to mention families and students, are utterly exhausted by them."

Editor’s note