The impact of the closure on the lives of millions of schoolchildren has been a “disaster” that should not be repeated in the case of a second wave of coronavirus, said the chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee.
The life of obert Halfon was drastically changed by the experience of the coronavirus closure, protecting for four months at home.
The Harlow Member of Parliament chaired the meetings of his select committee from his home office, but according to the “ludicrous” rules of the Commons procedure, a debate he had had on education was frozen because he was unable to attend in person.
But despite the impact on his own life, Mr. Halfon’s main concerns now are the “mental health epidemic” that will have exacerbated the blockage and damage to children’s education.
Mr Halfon appreciated the ability to go into his own garden to assist with the closing – “of course you have up and down days, especially if you’re stuck at home, even MPs” – and said efforts should be made to protect green spaces for everyone.
“I think we should do masses as a country on mental health, a radical rethink. And do masses about nature and the environment and try to link the environment to people’s mental health, ”he said.
Halfon said that the impact of school closings on young people’s lives was a “national disaster” and that the authorities’ response had gone “very wrong.”
He said, “We have allowed 2.3 million children to have little or no homework, according to academic studies.
“About 40% of the children have very little contact with teachers.”
He wondered why some unions resisted the reopening of schools and accused Ofsted of “semi-hibernation” during the crisis, but acknowledged that it was easier to make decisions afterwards.
Mr Halfon said that he “did not point his fingers at anyone or blame anyone, but the fact is that this has happened and should never happen again”.
He added: “If there is a second wave, there should be a clear set of instructions – what does the DfE (Education Department) expect, what will Ofsted do, what is the timetable for them, how are we going to ensure that we get the Oak Academy – which is a wonderful government initiative, to be honest with them – from day one in every home?
We haven’t let millions of children learn for six months, which is a huge amount of time in a young person’s lifeRobert Halfon
“Because we have allowed millions of children not to learn for six months, which is an enormous amount of time in a young person’s life.”
Mr. Halfon, who suffers from cerebral palsy and respiratory problems, admitted that he was initially “discombobulated” when told to protect himself.
But he soon started a routine – a 5.30am start, walking in his yard “Tom Moore style – but not as good as he” with just one stick instead of his usual two, and a broken chairlift forced the MP also to learn how to go up the stairs at home.
Every morning, Mr. Halfon undresses smartly and packs a suitcase to take home to his office.
“This may sound completely insane – it may be, but I thought that’s the only way to maintain the discipline of working.”
Although Mr Halfon was able to continue his duties as chairman of a select committee and, like other MPs, was able to ask questions remotely in the Commons, the rules prevented him from launching an educational debate.
“They’ve moved enormously, but it’s incredibly ridiculous that I wasn’t allowed to participate in that debate,” he said.
Halfon expects to be back in the Commons in September and return to a Victorian Palace of Westminster, which presents its own problems for the disabled.
It was “pretty awful,” he said, that there aren’t enough ramps, elevators are unreliable, and disabled toilets are often unavailable.
“If any other workplace in the world had that kind of lack of thinking for people at a disadvantage, they would likely be closed or take legal action,” he added.
The foreclosure guidelines are expected to be interrupted from August 1, and Mr. Halfon, who has eaten the lockout healthily during the week and avoided alcohol, looks forward to being a “free man.”
“I’m afraid I’ll eat myself or drink myself somewhere in a pub because I haven’t been away for very long,” he said.