Penistone and Stocksbridge MP, Miriam Cates, was selected to sit on the Education Select Committee, which is formed of ministers from multiple parties, and holds the government accountable for education-based decisions.
She spoke at her first ‘accountability session’ and asked the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, about coronavirus testing in schools.
Ms Cates enquired about the twice-weekly testing which was rolled out in schools across the country when schools reopened following lockdown - and asked why no other option has been sought to prevent disrupting pupils’ education.
She said: “Many would argue, including myself and the Royal College of Paediatricians, that testing isn’t actually an evidence-based way of managing the pandemic. Rather than keeping schools open it’s actually sending many children home for long periods of time, and during this time they are not receiving face-to-face education.
“If we would have said two years ago that we would test children twice-a-week for a disease that’s not harmful to them, and is no longer causing a mass problem in our population, I think we would have said that was utterly ridiculous and very harmful.”
The MP has often raised her objections to the mass testing of schoolchildren.
In September she highlighted an ‘alarming lack of evidence’ for testing children twice-a-week - the cost of which could help pay the salaries of up to 3,000 teachers.
In response to Ms Cates’ question, Mr Zahawi said: “Let me try and answer that both as the Secretary of State for Education and previously as the vaccines minister - there are no easy options here.
“I hear what you say in terms of how the young people may feel after testing positive and having to go home but if we want to keep schools open, if we want to keep children in education, we have to use the tools available to us.
“We have to remain humble to the virus, this thing is not over yet, we are transitioning from pandemic to endemic status - we are not through that transition yet.
“This is why the boosters are so important because we want to protect the most vulnerable. If you have a local outbreak, you have a director of public health who has a statutory responsibility to deal with that outbreak.
“The options available to them are asking people to wear masks in public areas, and using daily lateral flow testing to keep children in school.
“I agree that it’s not an ideal option, but it’s a good place to be rather than ask the children to isolate because they have come into contact with someone with Covid.”
During the committee meeting, she continued to ask the Secretary of State whether a move to only testing people with symptoms might be a more ‘proportionate response’.
However, Mr Zahawi reiterated that the measures will be in place until life returned to ‘normal’.
“To try and manage local outbreaks you need to daily test because actually that’s the better way of managing outbreaks,” Mr Zahawi said.
“I just want to reiterate that none of this is ideal, we are not living through normal times, but we are heading towards getting our lives back, getting our freedoms back. We will probably be one of the first major economies in the world that will demonstrate to the world how you deal with this virus from pandemic to endemic stages.”