Covid-19: School Reopening Debate

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Department: Department for Education

Covid-19: School Reopening

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Excerpts
Wednesday 13th May 2020

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Education
Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson - Hansard

Of course. The hon. Lady points out the importance of working with the sector, and that is what we will do at every step of the way, and that is what we have been doing. We recognise the importance of supporting the sector to make sure that, as children return to schools in a controlled and phased manner, we offer schools the maximum amount of support, recognise that every school is individual and unique in how we support them, and give them elements of flexibility so that they can make the transition from just providing an education setting for vulnerable children and children of critical workers. Expanding that in the limited way that we are proposing will require some elements of flexibility; schools and the sector will need that, and we will work with them to achieve it.

I have always been clear that we will give the sector as much notice as possible, and we have said that, if we are allowed, as seems likely, we would like to see schools opening from 1 June, giving them as much forward notice as possible in order for them to get ready. We think that is a responsible and sensible approach to a phased return. I slightly fear that if we were to ask the hon. Lady to pin down the date it would end up being about what would be the year rather than what would be the actual start date. But we do want to work with her; we want to work with the whole sector to make sure that this is a phased, sensible and controlled return to schools, because those who suffer most from schools not being open are the children who are so desperate to attend.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con) [V] - Hansard

The guidance on the return of schools in the primary sector is very clear. May I ask my right hon. Friend to be very clear about the guidance for the secondary sector? For example, what does “face-to-face support” mean? Precisely which year groups will be able to return, and will that be on a voluntary basis, and does he agree that we need to provide maximum support for those taking GCSE and A-level exams both this year and next?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson - Hansard

My hon. Friend is absolutely right on the importance of supporting youngsters and children who are going to be facing GCSEs next year, as well as A-levels, BTECs and other qualifications in years 10 and 12. We are working with the sector, because we want all children in those year groups to have the opportunity to go into school and to speak with their teachers. We want their teachers to be able to make an assessment of the learning and support they will need over the following weeks as we approach the summer holidays, and to set the work at the right level so that children can benefit from learning through the six weeks of the summer holidays as well as in the weeks approaching the summer holidays. It is important to get those transition years back into schools, even if not for a full timetable, as that will be a first step in the right direction.