SEPTEMBER is upon us once again and schools will be returning at last to what should be full-time learning.
Whatever happens, we must not go back to the chaos and confusion of the last year.
A staggering 1.2million pupils were out of school by the time term finished in July.
That’s a state of affairs that simply shouldn’t be countenanced again.
Young people have been the biggest losers throughout the pandemic and it’s now time to put them at the top of the agenda.
That means making up for the vital face-to-face teaching they’ve missed out on and making sure they receive the government investment they deserve.
Above all, we should stop fearing the Covid virus and start to treat this illness as we would treat an outbreak of flu.
I say this because four fifths of the adult population are double-vaccinated while youngsters over the age of 16 are now being offered the vaccine.
All the scientific evidence indicates that young people under 16 are less likely to contract Covid and less likely to be badly affected by it.
So when the doom and gloom- mongers want to impose continued draconian restrictions, who is it they are seeking to protect?
After all, the staff — many of whom did such a good job in keeping the cart on the wheels over the last 18 months — will themselves, quite rightly, have been out and about.
Anyone who has been on a staycation — and thus met many strangers and operated outside their bubble — should not fear teaching youngsters.
Their pupils pose less of a threat to their health than if they went down the pub to socialise.
An uptick in infections in Scotland has been blamed by the worriers on the return of pupils there to the classroom.
We’re not proposing to stop people from travelling, going out for entertainment, visiting clubs or even attending the recent music festivals such as those in Reading and Leeds
Now they’re predicting a massive uplift across the whole country when schools come back.
In reality, it’s more likely that the increases in Scotland are due to an influx of holidaymakers.
Areas like England’s West County and Northern Ireland, which have reported high infection rates in recent days, are only just preparing for children to return to the classroom.
It has been the influx of holidaymakers and not school attendance that has made the difference.
We’re not proposing to stop people from travelling, going out for entertainment, visiting clubs or even attending the recent music festivals such as those in Reading and Leeds.
So why on earth do we want to treat schools any differently?
It doesn’t make sense and it could well have very dangerous long-term consequences.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has warned parents and children not to get “carried away” with their new-found Covid freedoms and not to “throw caution to the wind”.
Teaching unions are worried that removing anti-Covid measures like masks and bubbles from the classroom will fuel a surge in cases.
However, I believe, in simple terms, that we have to put the fear behind us and simply go for it.
If we don’t, then yet more of our children will fall behind, yet more of our young people will fail to make the grade in the future.
It means our economy and our overall wellbeing will be badly hit.
Let’s face it, every one of us depends on getting this right.
Global Britain will need to compete with the best in the world. Our youngsters will need us to give them the chance to learn and to earn.
I believe, in simple terms, that we have to put the fear behind us and simply go for it
So I say to the leaders of the teacher unions and Gavin Williamson, take a deep breath and make clear, understandable decisions and stick to them.
It would make more sense to have one, reliable PCR test for everyone in the first few days of the new term rather than constant lateral flow tests which, to say the least, are unreliable.
Once tested, then let’s deal with those who genuinely fall ill.
That’s what we do with other illnesses and that’s what we should do with Covid.
In addition, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, who is putting together a budget and spending programme in a few weeks’ time, should put education as his top priority.
Boris Johnson appointed Sir Kevan Collins to put together a programme of recovery for education.
So far the Government has only agreed to fund one tenth of his recommendations.
There needs to be a message of hope and overt belief
So we need clarity and confidence, as well as setting aside the constant arguments for further unworkable measures in our schools.
This must also be the moment to return to full face- to-face classroom learning.
So no bubbles and no fears about youngsters mixing, as they have done over the summer when outside school.
Instead, there needs to be a message of hope and overt belief.
With the nation vaccinated and treatment improving, we can beat the virus rather than Covid beating us.