Labour has accused the government of being ‘asleep at the wheel’ over plans to get pupils back to school in September.
Children across England are expected to return to classrooms next week for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak in March.
This will be the government’s second attempt to get pupils back to school after a botched attempt in June infuriated parents and teaching staff.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain, shadow education secretary Kate Green accused ministers of ‘not paying attention’ to the needs of school and pupils ahead of next week’s re-openings.
‘The union leaders that I’m talking to all the time are as desperate as anyone to see children back in class.
‘They’re education professionals, they’re teachers, they really care as much as anybody about children’s futures and it isn’t the responsibility of the trade unions ultimately to get children into the classroom,’ she said.
‘The government has to make the conditions suitable and safe for schools, for staff, for students and it’s been asleep at the wheel, it’s been not paying the attention that schools need to the details of how they are going to reopen, nor has it been out sending a strong and clear message to parents.’
She was told by school staff that the government had been ‘missing in action’.
Green’s comment comes as prime minister Boris Johnson made a personal lead to parents to send their children back to school in September.
He said: ‘I have previously spoken about the moral duty to reopen schools to all pupils safely, and I would like to thank the school staff who have spent the summer months making classrooms Covid-secure in preparation for a full return in September.
‘As the chief medical officer has said, the risk of contracting Covid-19 in school is very small and it is far more damaging for a child’s development and their health and wellbeing to be away from school any longer.
‘This is why it’s vitally important that we get our children back into the classroom to learn and to be with their friends. Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school.’
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said the chance of children contracting the virus at school were ‘exceptionally low’ as long as the measures that have been recommended are put in place.
She told Sky News viewer: ‘So we’re not saying it, no environment is completely risk-free. Every time the parents send their child off to school pre-Covid they may have been involved in a road traffic accident, there are all sorts of things. And in fact that risk or the risk from seasonal flu, we think is probably higher than the current risks of Covid.’
Harries’ words came after an investigation found there were 30 outbreaks of coronavirus in English schools after they briefly reopened in June.
A Public Health England (PHE) report, published on Sunday, said the reopening of schools following the easing of national lockdown was associated with a total of 198 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 70 in children and 128 in staff.
There were 67 single confirmed cases, four ‘co-primary’ cases and 30 outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools during June, it added.
A total of 121 cases were linked to the outbreaks, 30 in children and 91 in staff, the analysis said.