Schools in England could fit air purifiers in every classroom – “which scientists and campaigners say would significantly reduce the spread of Covid” – for less than half the cost of the new royal yacht.
Boris Johnson’s £200-£250 million “pet project” to replace the royal yacht Britannia (decommissioned in 1997) with a new ship, is more than twice the cost of installing air purifiers in all classrooms in all English schools, which the Liberal Democrats calculate would cost £120 million, reports the Guardian.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said in July the quarter-of-a-billion-pound yacht would be British built and “in the water” by 2024 or 2025 despite criticism from a rear admiral who said the plans resembled an “oligarch’s yacht”, and former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke who called the project “silly populist nonsense”.
No new restrictions despite teachers’ warning
Meanwhile, the prime minister confirmed there will be no new Covid restrictions in England before New Year’s Eve, greenlighting parties and alarming school leaders who have predicted a crisis in schools because of the omicron variant.
Headteachers in England have warned the variant will “lead to staff shortages spiralling out of control in January” as teachers are forced to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid-19, resulting in children being sent home from school and remote learning, the Telegraph reports.
Johnson has pledged to avoid a repeat of last year when the government insisted schools would remain open before a U-turn closed them. The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, (NAHT) Paul Whiteman, said it would be “naive” to think omicron will not impact schools reopening in January and he predicted they will face problems.
“It does seem as though choppy waters lie ahead and that some form of disruption at the start of next term is looking sadly inevitable,” said Whiteman.
General secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Geoff Barton said staff absences in the week before the Christmas holidays were “unsustainable” with up to a quarter of teaching and other staff absent.
“You will find yourself in a very difficult position of perhaps trying to teach two classes at once in the hall, stuff which will not be good for the quality of education, or you will be in the position of making a decision about whether some year groups should be in school while some aren’t,” said Barton.
Zahawi’s plea for help is ‘lunacy’ say ex-teachers
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has called on retired teachers and others “to come forward if they are available to temporarily fill absences in schools and colleges in the new year.” It is part of a campaign launched by the Department for Education (DfE) to get former teachers to sign up with supply agencies and “at least hundreds” have already done so, a DfE source told the Telegraph.
The Independent reports that retired teachers have ignored the government’s “plea to return to school” and cover shortages because they do not want to become “cannon fodder”.
The government’s campaign has been called “crazy” and “complete lunacy” by some ex-teachers, with others saying the pay being offered is not tempting enough.
“I’m a retired teacher and after 30 years in the actual job why would I risk my health for a few extra quid?” said a 62-year-old who wanted only to be called Donna, adding that she had “no intention of becoming cannon fodder next term” by returning to a “Covid-infested workplace”.
Former teacher Jane Stevenson (53), told the Independent that Zahawi’s idea “crazy” and said schools “riddled with Covid need sorting out” instead of being “propped up by older teachers who will also get sick”.