Firstly, can I thank all the key workers in Meon Valley who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and continue to do so, especially those who are now working on the vaccine programme.
Progress is very good. One third of my nursing homes should have been vaccinated by the end of the week and most of the health and social care staff also have had the vaccine. I am confident that every over 80-year-old will be offered one shortly. The incredible Wickham surgery has done over 2600 injections so far including a third of over 80s.
However, there is one group I think should be receiving the jab as soon as possible and that is our teachers. I am incredibly concerned millions of children are missing out on the education they deserve and need, and I believe that can only be delivered properly in schools, colleges and universities, not online.
I know the reason schools were shut, not because they were not safe, but because of the transmission of the virus.
So It is disappointing to see unions such as the NEU politicising the pandemic, even though I know individual head teachers and their staff have often ignored their unions and selflessly thought of their pupils rather than the politics.
However, the situation is not working. Teachers are now in the invidious position of having up to 50% of children in school because of key worker and vulnerable children rules, while also taking part in remote learning which is incredibly difficult and time consuming. There can be few winners from this position.
The mental health and welfare of children is also important. Schools provide an experience not only of education but of friendships, physical play and lessons for life.
I believe the welfare, education and health of children and young people matters above all else, and everything must be done to maintain it, otherwise we are looking at an educational disaster long after the pandemic is over.
I have talked to the brilliant headteachers in Meon Valley throughout the pandemic. They wanted to keep schools open. Children were catching up fast before Christmas and will again but this is not the case across the country.
In many areas, children are missing from school and missing online lessons too. After half term in the last autumn term, DfE figures show attendance rates in secondary schools were as low as 77% in the West Midlands with other areas also very similar.
Initial research from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has found pupils from disadvantaged areas are losing more days of schooling than in wealthier areas.
Vaccinating teachers now would be a game changer for schools and allow pupils back full time after the February half-term.
Please can I urge that teachers be put on the vaccination priority list so that the unions have no grounds to prevent them from opening, and teachers feel safe in their classrooms.