A YORK MP says there needs to be a "clear health-led strategy" to make sure schools are kept safe.

York Central MP Rachael Maskell said the reason there is such confusion about the reopening of schools is because the Government are trying to keep schools open at all costs, but rising infection rates and transmission rates of Covid-19 are also increasing in younger age groups.

"Without a full testing programme and social distancing being impossible in school settings, there is increased risk of the new strain of the virus being spread by younger people," Ms Maskell commented.

"As infection rates soar and the NHS is on the cusp of being overwhelmed, there needs to be a clear health-led strategy to ensure that schools are kept safe."

In addition to writing to the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP, and the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, Ms Maskell has put a number of questions about the reopening of schools to both the Government and City of York Council.

Ms Maskell said: "The chaos and confusion from Government is tantamount to the education system in meltdown.

"As schools broke up, they were being required to spend the Christmas period putting testing procedures in place for the start of term.

"Teachers and school leaders have barely had a break since the start of the pandemic, and now even more pressure is being piled on them as Government guidance is changing by the hour.

"Parents and pupils do not know where they stand, are deeply concerned about both the pandemic and their educational opportunities, and none trust if the latest iteration of Government guidance is written in the best interests of controlling Covid-19, or responding to the chaos created with Covid-19 being out of control.

“Of course we want all pupils to be able to attend school. However, without a properly planned strategy, it is proving impossible for schools to know how to act in the best interests of their communities.

"The inconsistency in advice is not making sense when infection rates are rising sharply in many places across the country, including York, yet just primary schools in London are not re-opening.

"We know that the new variant of Covid-19 presents significantly more risk of transmission, and it is known that children and young people are not immune from infection or transmitting the infection, although are more likely to be asymptomatic than higher age groups."

Ms Maskell said with the NHS becoming overwhelmed and the number of people with the virus sharply rising, "we don’t need more guidance, we need a comprehensive plan."

"This would go a long way to support schools but also the wider community, protecting children, parents and grandparents alike," she added.

She said she has been consistently asking Government how end of year assessments can be made fair, as some pupils have missed significant amounts of their education over the last year.

“It is indefensible, the way that the Government is handling this crisis and I will support all pupils, parents, teachers, support staff and school leaders to ensure that the health and wellbeing of the whole school community is put first, both from this pandemic and the mental health of all those impacted," Ms Maskell said.

"From this point on we need a clear comprehensive plan, we need decisions to be taken in advance so that staff and families can plan, and we need to ensure that all proposals have the confidence of all those it impacts, including those who are called upon to implement the plan.”

Ms Maskell will be meeting with the local National Education Union later today to discuss their call for all primary schools to be closed to pupils except those in need of additional support or children of essential key workers.

She believes that we have to now act in the safest interests of the whole community, and has further asked if the country is heading into a full strict lockdown, and if the economic support will be provided to support this.