Whitty at odds with Johnson over 'big bang' reopening of schools in England

- THE GUARDIAN - Feb 19, 2021 -

Richard Adams and Heather Stewart -

Chris Whitty, at a No 10 briefing with Boris Johnson, has not publicly endorsed a full reopening of schools on 8 March. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

A row has broken out over Boris Johnson’s hopes for a “big bang” reopening of schools, as sources claimed it had run into resistance from Prof Chris Whitty.

The chief medical officer for England was said to be reluctant to put his name to a public show of support for the policy this week. Education sources had told the Guardian that Whitty was “very unhappy” with the idea of all 10 million children and staff returning to schools in England on 8 March, although the government denied this and insisted that Whitty was not opposed to any of the options being discussed.

On Monday the prime minister is to announce the government’s roadmap for lifting national lockdown restrictions in place since the start of the year. While publicly ministers have committed to reopening schools “from” 8 March rather than all pupils returning on that date, No 10 is said to be planning for an across-the-board return for all year groups.

But school leaders are increasingly worried, having expected a phased return, especially in secondary schools, to enable repeat Covid tests to be administered. Schools are currently open only to vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.

Ministers and senior policymakers, including permanent secretaries, have attempted to convince Whitty that he needs to make a public statement of support for the policy to reassure parents and teachers about safety, it is understood. But so far he has not provided an endorsement to be included in the media materials to be distributed ahead of Monday’s announcement, sources said.

Instead Whitty has offered support described as “lukewarm” and is expected to say it is down to politicians to make the final call on the timing of school reopenings.



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