Schools, colleges, and universities must remain open to all pupils in the event of any future national disaster, Esther McVey has warned.
The Tatton MP said keeping children and young people out of a classroom setting during the pandemic, caused untold damage and it must never be allowed to happen again.
Speaking in Education Questions she said: “Shutting schools during covid lockdown was a disaster for children, and their mental health and has led to an explosion in severely absent rates. Will the Secretary of State make sure this cannot happen again by classifying all education settings including schools, colleges, and universities as essential infrastructure to ensure they remain open during national emergencies.”
Severely absent from education is defined as missing more than half of all sessions.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “I fully share the concerns about the impact the pandemic has had on attainment, attendance, and mental health. I can assure her we will always seek to minimise the disruption to education in emergency situations and I am sure we all have a lot to learn from the experiences during the last pandemic and the impact that had on children.”
Ms McVey said lockdown also created an increase in the numbers of persistently absent pupils, which is defined as a child with an attendance rate of below 90 per cent.
According to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) more than 1.85 million pupils are currently persistently absent. Government figures from May reported that the percentage of pupils now persistently absent is 24.2 per cent.
In addition, the CSJ reports found the number of pupils and young people severely absent stands at 140,000. This has increased from 60,000 pre pandemic (2019) to 100,000 by Autumn 2020.
Ms McVey said shutting schools broke the social contract between schools and pupils and the requirements on households to ensure their child attends.
An annual report from Ofsted also highlighted the damage lockdown had on children. It found that nearly every child in England had fallen behind at school due to the pandemic, and loneliness, boredom and misery had become endemic. Responding at the time Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said a further lockdown would be crippling for children.