Published:

59 comments

That Boris Johnson is to make a relaunch-type speech next week, in which housing and planning will play a big part, confirms that he believes that the Coronavirus crisis is over – for the moment, at any rate.

However, an aspect of it still looms large, even if there isn’t a so-called second wave that comes next winter, putting pressure on the NHS.

The fate of schools when the new term begins in September is unknown, and if they aren’t fully open then two consequences will follow.

The first is that there can be no full economic recovery, because parents with younger children will either stay at home or skimp working there or both.

The second is that there will be less levelling-up, because the most disadvantaged children lose out when schools aren’t open.  Some may have been learning for less than a hour a day.

It may well be that by the time the next term starts, bubbles will be bigger – or even burst – altogether, with health and safety, testing, cleaning and hygiene, PPE and local lockdowns taking the strain, as Ministers intend.

But the teaching unions won’t simply give Government plans to this effect a clean bill of health, which could have a significant knock-on effect on parents’ willingness to send their children back to school.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister is dependent as the economy open up on how businesses actually respond, and some may not champ at the bit to get workers returned to offices.

In other words, Johnson and Gavin Williamson are dependent on teachers – who they don’t have the power to sack, lest that be forgotten.

And still more on parents, who can’t be forced en masse to send their children to school if they dig in hundreds of thousands, let alone millions.

Additionally, it’s worth remembering that those bubbles may be as big as ever in the autumn, if the virus takes off again between now and then.

In which case, the Government will have to choose between rotas, which Ministers have opposed so far, or scrambling to find or build spaces for extra classes, and hunt down retired or stand-in teachers into the bargain.

All of which stirred us to write recently that the Prime Minister needs to make a big speech on education soon in order to get on the public opinion front foot.

It would garland teachers with praise; stress the indispensability of education as a civilising force and economic driver, and champion it as the ultimate foil to “the soft bigotry of low expectations”.

As a man who loves picking up bits of learning from all over the place, he isn’t at all in a bad place to deliver such a speech.

He should follow it up by getting out and about in a series of school visits – for after all, some children of key workers have been in them throughout Coronavirus, so there is still quite a bit to see.

These would also be part of a wider programme of getting Johnson to play to one of his biggest strengths, which is engaging with people rather than staying cooped up in Whitehall.

Some in Downing Street think that there’s a connection between him having been so confined recently and the Government’s various mishaps.

He could also mull the question of whether Gavin Williamson is in a position to provide the extra public relations lift over the summer.

The Prime Minister undoubtedly make the Education Secretary’s position even more difficult by aiming for a full primary school return by the end of this return – an aspiration impossible to square with halved class sizes.

The present view in Number Ten seems to be that “the cons of a reshuffle outweigh the pros” – so a shuffle may not happen until the autumn at the earliest.

All in all, Johnson would be well advised to get his big education speech in now.  For in ten weeks or thereabouts, the autumn term will begin.

That’s not a lot of time in which to turn public opinion round, millions of parents need persuading, and so the Government has got none to lose.

59 comments for: The big speech Johnson makes next week should be about education

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.