Education Settings: Wider Opening

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:46 pm on 9th June 2020.

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Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education 1:46 pm, 9th June 2020

I would hope that the hon. Lady and I are completely united in our concern to make sure that a generation of children do not miss out. We recognise and understand the truly extraordinary times in which we are living, and in which we are asking children to learn, teachers to teach and all those who support them to work. We also recognise that we need to be bringing schools back and pupils back into the classroom. Had it been left to the hon. Lady, she would not have been bringing children back into the classroom until the National Education Union said that she was allowed to do so. We will continue to work with all. We recognise how incredibly important it is to do the best for every single child. That is why it is so welcome to see so many schools opening their doors, welcoming children in and giving them the very best of what they can offer.

The hon. Lady raises an important point about summer schemes, but we need to lift our eyes higher and to be more ambitious. She is right to highlight the fact that there are real challenges that children have suffered as a consequence of this lockdown. But to put that right, we need to take a longer-term approach on how we can support children over a longer period of time. That is what we will be working towards and what we will be delivering. And, yes, we will continue to work with groups and organisations right across the spectrum to ensure that the policies are evidence-based and that they will deliver for children. We will not be doing virtue signalling; we will be taking the actions that will make a real improvement and a real difference to children’s lives.

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the importance of working with Ofqual. That is what we are doing, including with representative organisations of schools and teachers, to make sure that next year’s exams—whether they be GCSEs, A-levels, T-levels or BTECs and other qualifications—are fair and reflect the hard work of the children.

The hon. Lady mentioned the issue of SAGE and its data and Public Health England. That is not within my control, as it is an independent body. SAGE regularly publishes all its data and will be doing so with reference to this. When it comes to local authorities across the country, whether they are in the north-west, the north-east, the south-east, or the south-west, we will work with all of them where they have concerns, and with Public Health England, so that they get the best advice, because the interests of children and of those who work in schools are my primary interest and my focus in making sure that we can bring schools back. We will work with those local authorities’ We need to bring all schools back in every part of this country. If the evidence starts to point to the fact that we need to close down schools in small clusters as a result of this, obviously that is the action that we will take, but only on the best advice from PHE. At the moment, the advice from PHE and SAGE is that all schools can open and that they should open.