Boris Johnson struggles to keep up in a class of 11-year-olds, and had an even tougher time with their parents, who laid into his “shambolic” handling of the reopening of schools.
Many parents had sent their children into Castle Rock School in Coalville, Leicestershire, not knowing if they needed to wear masks following the Prime Minister’s last-minute U-turn the night before.
Sue-Ellen Robinson, 42, whose son Ellis, 11, started his first day in Year 7, accused Mr Johnson, who did not speak with parents when he visited for the day, of “making it up as he goes along” ahead of the reopening of English schools after lockdown.
She said: “It seems to be a complete shambles. I didn’t know whether to send my son in with a mask or not.
“We heard nothing from the school and there has been no clear guidance. You rely on the Government making the right decisions, but I don’t think Boris knows what those right decisions are.”
Jackie Willis, 32, said her 11-year-old son had asked to bring a mask to school.
She said: “The whole situation is ridiculous. We don’t know what is going on. We’re near Leicester, which was in lockdown, but we’re not in lockdown. So should our son be wearing a mask?
“We still don’t know for sure and he’s been in the classroom all day. There’s been no communication from the school.
“Our son actually asked to take one into school because he didn’t know the rules and didn’t want to be the only one without one. It shouldn’t be left to a young boy to be making the decision.”
Michelle Ash, 44, whose son Leman, 11, is in Year 7, said: “I know it’s a pandemic and not something they have dealt with before, but Boris seems do a worse job than others.
“What’s he doing making U-turns the night before our kids go back to school?”
Other parents defended the PM. Amy Burton, 37, said: “What are they supposed to do? It’s uncharted waters.”
On Tuesday night, the Government announced face masks would be compulsory in communal areas of secondaries in locked down parts of England.
A decision on whether to wear masks in non-lockdown area schools would be left to head teachers.
The change in policy came days after ministers had said there were no plans to change the guidance in England.
During his school visit, Mr Johnson, in a Castle Rock School tie, said local measures to tackle Covid-19 outbreaks were the way to keep infections down.
He said: “If you’re in a hotspot area you should use face coverings in places outside classrooms where it’s a confined space.
“Here in Leicestershire, you’ve seen the people of Leicester come together, make a huge effort in the whole area, to bear down on the virus.
“The numbers are down and the incidence in this area is well, well down so it’s the way to do it.
“On the issue of face coverings, what you’ve got is the WHO saying face coverings should be used by over-12s.
“What we’re saying is if you’re in a school where there is a ‘hot spot’ it probably does make sense in confined areas outside classes to use a face covering.
“But not in the classrooms. That is clearly nonsensical. You can’t teach with face coverings, you can’t expect people to learn with face coverings.”
In a rambling speech, Mr Johnson also told bemused pupils it was fine to sing Rule Britannia and said Harry Potter was not sexist, referencing the Last Night of the Proms finale row, and author JK Rowling’s transgender views.
He also blamed a “mutant algorithm” for the exam results fiasco, and said: “I know how stressful that must have been”.
But the PM faced a backlash for effectively sacking the senior civil servant at the Department for Education, Jonathan Slater, after demanding “fresh official leadership”.
National Education Union general secretary Kevin Courtney accused the PM of “idly shrugging away” a disaster created by his own Government.
Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said the PM was “shamelessly trying to avoid responsibility for the exams fiasco”.
The FDA senior civil servants’ union general secretary Dave Penman said: “This administration will throw Civil Service leaders under the bus without a moment’s hesitation to shield ministers from any kind of accountability.”
New rules for schools
- Increased handwashing facilities and hand sanitiser.
- Classes/year groups kept apart if possible. Staggered starts and breaks. One-way systems
- Secondary school pupils and staff can be told to wear face coverings in hallways and communal parts. Mandatory if the area is in local lockdown.
- Assemblies and choirs are banned. Music lessons in groups of less than 15.
- Children to face forward in class. Windows and doors to be kept open.
- Essential items only in schoolbags: books, lunch boxes, phones. Avoid sharing equipment.
- Outdoor sports prioritised. All equipment regularly cleaned.
- Social distancing to two metres where possible. Optional temperature checks.
- Heads can call for a mobile testing unit if there is an outbreak.
- Walk/cycle to school.
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