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Educational Settings

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:25 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education 5:25 pm, 18th March 2020

The hon. Lady makes the same point that every single Member on this side of the House would make. We are all acting to try to protect those who are most vulnerable. She raised a number of issues, including free school meals. To ensure that no child is in a situation where they will not receive free school meals, we will give schools the authority and the ability to issue vouchers to every child immediately for next week. I would like to progress to a stage where, in a large number of schools around the country, there is also the ability to provide meals there, but that will depend on staffing in each school.

On the serious disability guidance, that will be coming forward. We recognise the importance of it and we are working with Public Health England to get that published. On guidance for children who are absent, that will be included in the Bill that we will bring forward to the House, which will give clarity and assurance to parents and schools as to what the situation is.

The hon. Lady raised an important point about exams, the importance of exams and, most importantly, ensuring that every child gets the recognition that they need for the work that they have put in towards their GCSEs, A-levels or other applied general qualifications. We will make sure that every child gets the proper recognition that they deserve. We will obviously update the House on that. We are working closely with Ofqual on a detailed set of measures that make sure that no child is unfairly penalised.

The hon. Lady also touched on the point of how we ensure that early years providers are properly supported. We have already announced that there will be support through business rates. We have also written to all those providers that the funding that we have been giving to them will be maintained through this period, despite the fact that their operations will obviously be running quite differently from how they have in the past.

I should highlight the point about children who are most vulnerable. The reason we know that it is incredibly important to keep educational settings open, not just for key workers but for those most vulnerable children, is that those are the children every hon. Member has the greatest concerns about. Often, their school is the safest place for them. That is why we have taken the action that we have to make sure that they are included in the support alongside key workers. We recognise that there will be a lot of work to do with local authorities and social services to make sure that there is continued support for every one of those children in this difficult and challenging time.