Southwark’s top boss has slammed the government’s handling of the reopening of schools as “pretty chaotic” and lacking leadership.
Council leader, Cllr Peter John, (pictured) hit out at education secretary Gavin Williamson as not “showing the level of leadership” needed during the crisis.
Fears have been raised of a ‘lost generation’ of children falling behind in their studies, with only pupils in certain year groups being allowed to fully return.
“The reality is, no school will reopen as normal unless social distancing comes to an end,” he said.
“Why did they not understand that three months ago? What have they been doing for the past three months?
“It feels like a massive indecision has taken over at DFE [department for education]. I don’t know who’s to blame but the Secretary of State should take some responsibility.”
Two thousand laptops from central government have finally arrived for low-income pupils, according to the council – but now the authorities are faced with a complication, as some do not have internet access.
Cllr John called on prime minister Boris Johnson to show the same “passion” he had for expanding internet access as mayor to guarantee low-income Southwark children could get online for classes for free.
Even as we move out of national lockdown, the council’s boss could not yet say whether the town hall would ever have the power to enforce a local shutdown to keep the virus under control.
“I can’t tell you the extent of the measures we will be able to introduce will be,” he said. “We wait to see what the Government comes out with.
“Yes I’m frustrated [at lack of clarity]. Will it be only advisory, or will local lockdowns be a matter of fact? That can only come from national government guidance.
“At the moment we don’t see the level of data sharing we need – it’s frustrating.”
Speaking exactly three months on from lockdown, and as Boris Johnson announced wide-ranging plans to reopen swathes of the economy on July 4, Cllr John said the pandemic still felt like something out of a disaster movie – echoing his words to the News on the eve of the crisis.
“Can you believe what’s happened over the past three months?” he asked. “If you had said we’re shutting down the economy, isolating from loved ones, pubs, bars cinemas, theatres all closed, we’d have said all this just will not happen.”
However, he added that he did not fear a second wave of the virus, saying we were much better prepared this time around.
“This is still without precedent, this is still without parallel. But most people have responded amazingly.”