Education Settings: Autumn Opening

– in the House of Commons at 11:47 am on 2nd July 2020.

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Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education 11:47 am, 2nd July 2020

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement regarding the full opening of our schools and colleges to all pupils in September.

I know that these past three months have been some of the most challenging that schools, parents and, most of all, children have faced. What schools have achieved to make sure that children and young people are kept safe and can continue to learn during this period is remarkable, and I think all of us in this House are deeply grateful for those efforts. But we all know the impact that lost time in education can have on our children’s outcomes.

Every child and young person in the country has experienced unprecedented disruption to their learning as a result of coronavirus, with those from the most vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds among the hardest hit. Education recovery is critical for this generation of schoolchildren. Returning to normal educational routines as quickly as possible is critical to our national recovery, too. That is why we have been working to ensure that all pupils will be able to go back to schools and colleges full time in September, with covid-secure measures in place, so that they have the opportunity to thrive and fulfil their full potential.

Today, the Government have published detailed plans for nurseries, schools and colleges that set out what is needed to plan for a full return, as well as reassuring parents and carers about what to expect for their children. The guidance has been developed with medical experts from Public Health England and follows regular engagement throughout the outbreak between the Government and the education sector.

We continue to work closely with the country’s best scientific and medical experts to ensure that both children and staff are always as safe as possible. Schools will continue minimising contact between children, including through grouping children together in bubbles and encouraging older children to distance. At a minimum, this will mean keeping whole year groups in schools and colleges separate. This is in addition to the other protective measures that we know are so important for infection control, such as regular cleaning and hand washing. We are also ensuring that testing is readily available, so that parents, teachers and students can return with confidence. All staff, pupils and their families will continue to have access to testing if they develop covid-19 symptoms.

By the start of the autumn term, we will provide all schools and colleges with a small number of home testing kits, which will be taken home by children or staff who develop symptoms while on site but who would struggle to access a testing centre. This is so that they can have a test quickly and get the results back quickly. All schools will have access to direct support and advice from their local Public Health England health protection team to deal with any cases that may occur. They will be advised on what steps need to be taken.

In these challenging times, we are committed to ensuring that the nation’s children have not only a safe education, but an excellent one. From September, we are asking schools and colleges to return to a broad and balanced curriculum, so that all pupils continue to be taught in a wide range of subjects, maintaining their choices for further study and employment. We expect exams to go ahead in the summer of 2021. We understand the additional pressures on teaching staff to deliver such high standards of education in this difficult period. As such, as Ofsted inspectors are preparing to visit schools in the autumn, it will be to discuss how they are managing the return to full education of all their pupils. The insight that inspectors gather will also be aggregated nationally to share learning with the whole sector, the Government and the wider public. It is our intention for full inspections to return from January.

We are also providing significant financial support to help pupils catch up on lost learning. As I announced in June, we will be providing a £1 billion covid catch-up package, including a £650 million catch-up premium for state-funded primary, secondary and special schools, and a £350 million national tutoring programme for the most disadvantaged pupils. Evidence shows that six to 12 weeks of tutoring for a disadvantaged pupil can result in five months of catch-up. Schools are held accountable for the outcomes they achieve with their funding, including through Ofsted inspections, and the covid catch-up funding will be no exception to this.

It is critical to ensure that no child loses more time in education and that, from September, all children who can be at school are at school. Schools and colleges will need to work with families to secure regular attendance from the start of the new academic year, with the reintroduction of mandatory attendance. Our intention is that those with education, health and care plans or special educational needs will also be back in school or college in September. Since May, as a result of the pandemic, it has been necessary to modify the duty on local authorities and health commissioners so that they could use their reasonable endeavours to secure or arrange the provision for those on EHC plans. I am committed to removing these flexibilities as soon as possible, so that children and young people can receive the support they need to return to school. As such, unless the evidence changes, I will not be issuing further national notices to modify the EHC duties. We will, however, consider whether any such flexibilities may be required locally, to respond to outbreaks in different parts of the country. In addition, I am pleased to announce that, as we continue on the road to recovery and infection rates continue to fall, from 20 July nurseries, childminders and other childcare providers will no longer be required to place limits on the group size of children who can play and learn together.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank those parts of the sector that have already opened their doors to more children and who are doing a phenomenal job to help our children and young people settle back into their usual routines. Since schools and nurseries began to open more widely on 1 June, we have seen the number of children attending school steadily rise, with over 1.6 million pupils already back in school. I am sure, Mr Speaker, that I will be joined by the House as I express my thanks to all childcare, school and further education staff who have gone above and beyond since March, and who will continue to do so as we prepare to welcome all of our children and young people back to school and college in September. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for an advance copy of it. I also thank him for his call last night. I very much look forward to working with him.

Mr Speaker, every child must be safely back in school in September. By then, many children will have experienced nearly six months’ gap in their education. Some have been able to maintain their learning during that period, but there has been a huge gap in learning for others, especially the most disadvantaged. A senior official in the Secretary of State’s own Department has warned that the attainment gap could widen by as much as 75% as a result of the crisis. Today’s announcement finally recognises the desperate pleas of heads, staff and governors for information and certainty about plans for the next academic year. For too long, the Government have been asleep at the wheel. The announcement today comes just three weeks before the end of term, and an immense amount needs to be done to prepare.

Staff have been working flat out since February half term and I, too, want to thank teachers, school leaders and everyone who works in our education settings for their exceptional efforts during these unprecedented times. Over the summer they will need a break, and as they prepare plans for return, they will also need the active support of the Department. It cannot be left to heads to struggle through on their own. So I have a number of questions for the right hon. Gentleman. What consultation has been undertaken in preparing this guidance with heads, teachers and school staff, governors and unions, who have made many sensible and practical suggestions for students’ return? The Government need to learn from their previous mistakes. That is why Labour suggested a taskforce of school leaders, which would have meant we could bring children back to school sooner.

Can the Secretary of State guarantee that every school will have full access to testing and tracing, and all the personal protective equipment and other resources that they need to open safely? The Government’s track record has not been impressive so far, and we cannot allow any further failure to supply the safety essentials to prevent children’s return. I support the Secretary of State in reintroducing compulsory attendance, but fining poor parents will not serve the best interests of their children. Parents need reassurance that their children will be safe, especially in communities, including ethnic minority communities, where the prevalence of covid is higher. Many children will have found the past few months unsettling, even traumatic. What is needed is a trauma-informed approach to school and to families.

Staggered starts may present difficult challenges for parents. Can the Secretary of State say more about wraparound care for families and about transport arrangements for children to travel to school? Can he confirm that all children are expected to be safe in school in September? Will there be a delay in incoming reception children starting school?

In relation to early years, what financial support will be available for parents or childcare providers to protect their viability if children cannot attend, or if settings are forced to close?

I welcome the recognition of the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities, and the assurances on education, health and care plans. Will the Secretary of State guarantee to the House that the needs of those children will be met in full?

Does the Secretary of State agree that a broad curriculum, including arts and humanities, supports children’s attainment in the core subjects, too? What discussions have taken place with further education providers about how they will provide the “full education” envisaged?

Will the Secretary of State say a little more about plans for students who are due to sit exams? What about home-schooled children whom schools refuse to assess? A huge divide is opening up between children who have had a good study experience at home and those who have lacked the resources to learn. Ofqual must address that in its recommendations for arrangements for exams next year.

The announcement of the £1 billion of catch-up funding is welcome, but can the Secretary of State confirm that it is all new money and will not be funded by cuts elsewhere? What guarantee can he give of the availability of sufficient high-quality tutoring capacity with tutors expert in the subjects they will teach? Does he share my concern that requiring schools to contribute 25% of the cost of the national tutoring programme advantages the better-off schools? Why have post-16 students been excluded from catch-up funding support?

On Tuesday, it was reported that the 230,000 laptops that had been promised for children who lacked full digital access had not been delivered in full, as promised, by the end of June; when will they arrive?

Finally, the six-week-long summer holiday always widens the attainment gap, and this year that will be exacerbated by the time already spent out of school. What activities and support are being put in place for the summer break? The funding for pupils on free school meals is welcome, but what about children who become eligible for free school meals during the summer holiday? Will the Secretary of State guarantee that no eligible child will miss out?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her new role. I very much look forward to working with her on some of the great challenges that our nation faces over the coming months as we focus on the recovery for our education sector after this pandemic.

I assure the hon. Lady that it is important that the curriculum is full, broad and balanced and includes the arts and humanities, sports and so much else, because we recognise that to give children the best opportunity to succeed in life, they have to have that breadth of curriculum. We should not be seen to be dumbing down or reducing it. We have to give children choices; it is good for their future attainment and life chances, and for their mental health as well. They should have that breadth that is so vital for them to succeed.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the importance of those children with special educational needs and how we need to support and help them. We have seen some brilliant examples, especially in some of our special schools, which have gone so far and above in terms of help not just for children but for parents at this most difficult and challenging time. As all schools return, it is vital that it has to be clear that education, health and care plans are properly adhered to by local authorities. That is why we have got to have the proper and full return of those obligations that local authorities have to be held to.

I assure the hon. Lady that there is new money for the covid catch-up fund. We are looking forward to sharing more details on that with schools and will be looking forward to working with schools, as we have been working with the Education Endowment Foundation, to make sure that that money is properly channelled into the areas that are going to make a real difference to children.

It is right that everyone in the House recognises the challenges and the significant loss that children have suffered as a result of not being in school. That is why we have to bring all children back into school at the earliest possible opportunity. Equally, it is about making sure that the £1 billion is properly spent. That is why £350 million of it is being specially ring-fenced to make sure that it is going to children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. It will be focused on the evidence-based actions that we know will make a difference for those children.

In terms of consultation, we have and will continue to consult widely within the sector. We have established a school stakeholder group with the Trades Union Congress and other unions, but, more importantly, we have had a much wider dialogue with people, not just trade unions. We have consulted many other stakeholders and, most importantly, those who are delivering education on the ground. That is something we have continually been doing ever since the moment we had to close schools, and we will continue to do so as we move forward.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

I strongly welcome the statement today and the guidance to help schools open fully in September. The plans for children with special educational needs are very good news, as is the £1 billion catch-up fund. We need to get our children learning again. Given that University College London has said that 2 million children during the lockdown have done virtually no school work and that the National Foundation for Educational Research has reported that four in 10 pupils are not in regular contact with their teacher, will the Secretary of State examine why that has occurred and look to Ofsted and local authorities to work closely with schools and set clear guidance on online learning, homework and contact with teachers?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

My right hon. Friend is right to point to the importance of accountability measures that need to sit with schools at all stages. I will be asking Ofsted to look at the issue and examine closely what schools are doing in terms of actions in order to ensure that we have continuity of education at all stages. It will continue to be important to do that, because we will see situations in this country where we have local lockdowns, and we need to ensure that there is always continuity of education in those communities.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

I add my voice to those who have congratulated my hon. Friend Kate Green and welcomed her to her new position. I just want to pick up on a point that she raised, which is the issue of laptops. We are well aware that the most disadvantaged children in our schools are at such a disadvantage in the educational setting. We know, though, that all children have been impacted by the failure to provide laptops. In answer to my written question on 10 June, I was told that 230,000 laptops had been ordered on 19 April. Government documents as of this week show that the first order was in fact placed on 15 May. Which is correct?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I will write to the hon. Gentleman with clarification on that matter.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

The new shadow Education Secretary used her first public statement to say that she looks forward to working with the unions. She talks about delays. Does my right hon. Friend know whether that means she agreed with the National Education Union’s orders to not engage with the Government’s plan to get children back to school?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. These are questions that should be directed to the Secretary of State. Secretary of State, I am sure you will find a way of answering that appropriately.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I know that my hon. Friend shares my passion to see every child back in school and every school right across the country getting their full curriculum in every class. I hope that those people who have occasionally been tempted to try to block the full return of schools and those who have tried to frustrate the best efforts of headteachers and so many other teachers in their desire to see every child back will recognise that it is important and absolutely vital that we do everything to see all children enjoying that first-class education that we all want them to have.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The coronavirus pandemic threatens to undo 20 years of hard work by teachers, parents and governors in my constituency in successfully narrowing the attainment gap. It is widening and deepening existing disadvantage and disproportionately impacting BAME communities. The number of laptops so far provided by the Government to enable online teaching barely scratches the surface of digital exclusion in Lambeth, Southwark and across the country. How will tutoring take place over the summer months when many of the most disadvantaged children still do not have access to home IT equipment?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

Conservative Members have always been clear that we want to see every child back in school at the earliest opportunity, because we know that the best way of delivering education is in the classroom with the teacher at the front. Not only have we had the incredibly ambitious plan to roll-out laptops— 202,000 of those laptops have already been provided—but we accept that we want to do more. That is why have the covid catch-up premium, and tutoring plans, and those are to be conducted within schools and with the support of teachers, all based on the Education Endowment Foundation’s clear evidence on how we can deliver change and improvement for those children.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I am delighted that the Secretary of State is now talking to teachers’ representatives and their trade unions, but for too long Ministers have denigrated teachers from the Dispatch Box, which has led to people not believing the Government when they talk about people being safe to return to schools. If the Secretary of State is now consulting with the wider school community, will he say whether he has spoken to headteachers about the practicalities of every child going back, which must happen in September, and about children being able to stay in bubbles and separate year groups? What is the practicality of that in our schools?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have had extensive discussions with headteachers about those plans, and consulted widely. I also assure him that I have met unions every week all the way through this crisis, and made sure that we have had a regular dialogue to share our plans. This should not be about trade unions dictating what we are doing that is best for our children. We want to work with trade unions and the whole sector, including staff, to deliver the best education for all children. We will continue to have that dialogue. We have done that in the past, and we will in the future.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement that all children will be back in school in September. Despite the valiant efforts of parents, pupils and teachers, the majority of children have fallen behind, at least to some extent, especially those with special educational needs or from disadvantaged backgrounds. Will my right hon. Friend outline how he intends to help those children to catch up, while ensuring that those who made more progress can continue to do so, so that every child can reach their full potential?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

That is why we took the decision to ensure that in our covid catch-up plans there was money specifically targeted at the most disadvantaged children and those who are the greatest challenge for schools. We are working closely with the sector to ensure targeted interventions for children with special educational needs, while equally recognising that all children, whatever their background and wherever they come from in the country, will face challenges in terms of the loss of education. That is why we have done such an extensive £1 billion package to support schools in doing that.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Will the Secretary of State guarantee that every child who needs a laptop will have one? Does he recognise that to create high-quality online lessons takes skill? What is he doing to ensure that best practice is spread among all schools before the summer holiday, so that as teachers make their plans, we know that in September high-quality learning will be available to all?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I absolutely assure the hon. Lady of the work to endeavour to ensure that that high-quality online teaching is there. We have seen that through the creation of the Oak National Academy. She may have noticed the announcement a few days ago about the expansion of that academy, so that it can continue to provide a full and total curriculum across all year groups and every subject. That is a brilliant innovation, and I very much encourage the hon. Lady and her constituents to take advantage of it.

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Conservative, Ynys Môn

Our teachers are critical if we are to look after the next generation and deliver our levelling up agenda. How is the Secretary of State supporting our hard-working supply teachers at this exceptional time, and how is he ensuring that our supply teachers are receiving appropriate remuneration?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend has raised with me the concern that a number of supply teachers in her constituency of Anglesey have suffered as a result of not being able to access the furlough scheme. In England, many agencies have been working closely with the Treasury to access the furlough scheme. I encourage the Welsh Government to support agencies to help their supply staff to be able to access that as well.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish

I agree that all who can be at school should be. St Anne’s Primary School in Denton was built in 1888. It is a small single-entry school. There are no spare classrooms, and its rooms all open on to the small school hall, which is also used as the dining area. It has a very small outside yard, and no playing fields where temporary classrooms can be located. It is one example of many similar across England. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the number of schools that will physically struggle to accommodate all their pupils under the social distancing or educational bubble rules, and how does he plan to help them educate all children, and do so safely?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

When the hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to read the guidance, he will see the importance of having flexibilities for schools, such as the one he outlines, that are operating in a very different type of estate from that in which larger schools may be able to operate. We are trying to create a clear framework of how we can give schools good advice so that they can ensure the education of every single pupil, but if he has particular issues or is particularly concerned about any of his schools, I know that the Minister for School Standards would be happy to discuss them with him.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

Schools in my constituency of Warrington South are some of the best in England, and I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work that heads, teachers and support staff have done over the lockdown period to care for and support children. I know that parents and children in my constituency, particularly the children, will really welcome the steps that are being announced today—children want to get back to school. However, can the Secretary of State confirm that his approach is in line with that of other countries around Europe that have begun to bring pre-school and younger children back first, in a phased way?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to the teachers and all the staff in schools, nurseries and colleges in Warrington South. They have been doing a fantastic job. The approach that we are taking is very much in line with that of other nations. We all understand that, within education settings, there are constraints and restrictions under which teachers and headteachers have to operate, and we have to find practical solutions for that. That is why we have taken a lot of time to look at how this is being done in other countries and copy the very best practice as a result.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

Primary headteachers in my constituency tell me that there are pinch points at the start and end of each school day as children and parents come together. Our school leaders are planning how to mitigate this problem, but it may require adaptation, so they are asking: will the Secretary of State set aside funding to ensure that schools can access money to avoid the problem of people coming together?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Lady raises an important point about reducing the chances of people meeting and increasing the likelihood of transmission. That is why we have asked schools to look at the option of staggered starts for year groups to mitigate those chances.

Photo of Gary Sambrook Gary Sambrook Conservative, Birmingham, Northfield

Birmingham, Northfield has the highest proportion of free school meals of any constituency across the country. That is why it is so important that young people are back in school and back in colleges learning again. Can I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that as many young people as possible benefit from the covid-19 catch-up package to make sure that some of our most disadvantaged pupils are given the greatest gift of all, which is a quality education?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend, in his many conversations with me, has been a great champion of his schools and what is happening in his constituency. He is right about the importance of making sure that this money is properly targeted at the children who most need it. That is why £350 million of it has been ring-fenced for the most disadvantaged, and his constituency will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of that.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham

In my constituency, Durham University is a major player and it contributes massively to the local economy, the culture of our city and the community. So far during this crisis, the lack of Government support for universities has been scandalous, quite frankly. Universities, the staff who work for them and current and future students need to know that higher education is valued by this Government and will be protected by them. What financial aid will the Government be offering universities like Durham so that they can survive the coronavirus pandemic?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

We continue to work very closely with the higher education sector. We recognise the important role that it has in many communities, including the city of Durham. A number of weeks ago, we announced a stabilisation package. We have also set up a taskforce on research funding with the university sector, the Treasury, the devolved Administrations, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Education. We continue to work closely with the sector to make sure that there is stability within it but it also has the ability to recover and thrive in the future.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

[Inaudible]—across Harrow have continued to remain open so that children of key workers and those with special educational needs can continue their education, but there are still large numbers of children whose education has slipped. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating and thanking the teachers and headteachers who have carried out and continued to provide education throughout this period? Will he set out what assessment is going to be made of those children who have fallen behind so that the catch-up package is used to their best possible advantage to get them back to where they should be?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I apologise to my hon. Friend: I missed the very start of his question because he was on mute, but it was without doubt the best part of it, I am sure. I would very much like to join him in thanking all the teachers, teaching assistants and school support staff who, through the very height of this pandemic, went into school every single day, opened the doors and welcomed the children of critical workers and the most vulnerable children. He picks up on a really important point. This is why we are working so closely with headteachers and teachers on making sure that we identify the real needs of every single child so that the catch-up package and the tutoring is absolutely targeted at their needs and delivers what they need in order for them to be able to catch up. We need the class teachers to be able to make those assessments for children in order to make sure that there is the most effective delivery for them.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

We all want schools to reopen in September, but only if it is safe for pupils, teachers and the wider community. Only this week, the Health Secretary acknowledged that an unusually high rate of coronavirus infections among children in Leicester was part of the reason for reimposing restrictions there. In my constituency, there have been reports of coronavirus in three primary schools. School reopening must be safe and led by the science, so can the Secretary of State confirm that the measures he has announced today will be signed off as safe by the Government scientists?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

Sadly, the hon. Gentleman was not on mute. I can absolutely assure him that Public Health England has signed off all this advice. He might take the opportunity to read what Public Health England recently said about Leicester. It stated that while there had been

“good provision of primary school access for children” since the beginning of June, researchers said they could find no “analytical link” between this and

“any real or apparent rise in new infections” in Leicester. Conservative Members are all committed to opening all schools for all children of all year groups. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman and many Opposition Members who are equally committed to doing the same. We are only doing this because we know it is safe to do so.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

Recognising, as my right hon. Friend says, the evidence shows that the risks to and connected with children are very low, mums and dads around the country will have noticed the very stringent protective measures that are being put in place in education and childcare settings, supported by his Department and implemented by multi-academy trusts and local authorities. Could my right hon. Friend enlarge a little on his comments in his opening statement about further measures that he might have in mind to ensure that those risks are effectively managed when children return to their educational settings in September?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

Absolutely, I certainly can do. We have created a strict set of controls that we expect schools to follow as an absolute minimum, as children return. We have worked closely with Public Health England on those measures, which include making sure that schools have good hygiene and good cleaning, and reduce the amount of contact between pupils. The creation of bubbles has worked successfully and, as a result, as I have touched on, we have seen over 1.6 million children benefit from returning to school from 1 June. But we do accept that more needs to be done with every child coming back, and that is why we have produced such detailed guidance and will continue to support schools to bring every child back in a safe way—not just safe for the children, but safe for those who work in schools.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

May I ask the Secretary of State about the broad and balanced curriculum, specifically the physical education and sport premium and whether this will be guaranteed for September? It is July. Decisions needed to be taken before now about sport and PE. If headteachers and parents find out that that financial commitment has been held up for purely political reasons—so that the Chancellor can announce it next week—I cannot imagine how cross they will be.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

Speaking for myself, one thing I know I certainly gained during the lockdown was, sadly, weight. I recognise that, as children get back into school, it is incredibly important to make sure that they have that broad and balanced curriculum and proper and full access to sporting activities. The hon. Lady will just have to pause a little, because we will be bringing absolute clarity for all schools on this issue exceptionally shortly.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

Parents across West Sussex will welcome today’s announcement, particularly as it relates to children with special educational needs. Can I also congratulate the shadow Education Secretary on her recent appointment? Does the Secretary of State agree that no one wants to see children used as political pawns and that we may now see a more constructive approach from the Opposition?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I very much hope that we have a broad and exceptionally constructive approach from all sectors of society. We are all united in the desire to see that every child gets the brilliant education that so many of us have benefited from, and we will always work together, and my door is always open to anyone, to ensure that we deliver the very best education for every child. That is what I will continue to do.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I would like to pay tribute to the heroic teachers who have been working so hard across schools in my constituency of Twickenham, and to the September for Schools campaign, led by my constituent, Fiona Forbes, who has tried to make the voice of parents heard in this whole debate. Many of those parents are wondering what provision and plans will be made for wraparound care.

They are on their knees, juggling work and home schooling and wondering whether after-school clubs and other such provision will be available come the autumn.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Lady raises an important point and, as part of the guidance that we have issued, we have set out clear guidance about schools being able to offer wraparound care, because we know how incredibly important that is for so many working parents and how it supports them in being able to do their work.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

As the Member of Parliament for Ipswich and an avid Newcastle United fan, I cannot think of a better name for a school than the Sir Bobby Robson School, which will open its doors in September. I have become an associate governor. It will specifically support children with complex emotional and mental needs. Its approach will be to have a transition period, almost a therapeutic approach, where it will try to re-socialise vulnerable young adults so that they can reintegrate and catch up. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing the Sir Bobby Robson School all the best for the future and provide it and other special schools with the support and external expertise they need to make sure that vulnerable young adults have the best chance to crack on and have a bright future?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. If we are going to get everybody in, it is important that we have short punchy questions to the Secretary of State, and short answers too.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work with the Sir Bobby Robson School although, as a Wolves fan, I am not sure if he was quite the right person to name it after. I look forward to working with him and the school to make sure that, as it brings children back, they have the best education, and assisting it and him in terms of delivering that for those children.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds

I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees with the 15,000 parents in the Rock the Cotswolds group, who will be disappointed if any of their children cannot go back into school in September. Will he therefore consider doing two things? As well as issuing the comprehensive guidelines, he should ask every head to produce a back to school plan, preferably by the end of the summer term.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend raises an important point. That is very much what heads will be doing to ensure that there is full education across all year groups in all classes for every child, including in his constituency.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

Further education institutions were already struggling prior to the crisis, and that will only have become worse in recent months. Those same institutions will have to make a Herculean effort if they are to get their learners ready for those vital qualifications in the next academic year. Can the Secretary of State explain to further education leaders in my community why they were excluded from the covid catch-up fund and what support will be available instead?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

We continue to work closely with the vital sector as we look towards the economic recovery that we are going to be building towards as we come out of the pandemic. We will work closely with it in terms of the actions and support it needs to help youngsters who need to catch up, but equally, to ensure that every further education college is fully open for September.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

My right hon. Friend has already made the point that our schools make a significant contribution to the general wellbeing of our children, as well as to their academic education. I ask him to recognise the sad likelihood, however, that as children return to school in September, more of them than usual will report to teachers and others in school the disturbing or abusive experiences, physical or virtual, that they have had during the lockdown period. Can he confirm that our schools will have the support they need to deal effectively with those reports?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

My right hon. and learned Friend touches on an incredibly sensitive and important issue. We have been working closely with not just schools but local authorities and the police to establish local partnerships to support schools as they deal with some of the consequences of children not having the protection that schools have often wrapped around them. We recognise the sensitivity of the issue. I pay tribute to the Home Office and the work that the police have done in terms of forging new partnerships with schools and local authorities, so that action can be taken much swifter where there are fears and concerns about the wellbeing of children.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

As more children return to school, what extra support is being provided to disabled children, so that they can catch up following the covid-19 pandemic? Can the Secretary of State confirm whether assistive technology is being offered as part of the distribution of laptops and tablets to pupils working from home? If he is unaware, can he follow up and commit to writing to me with an answer?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

We have had a broad range of measures to assist all children, including children who have special needs. Many children in the sector have benefited from free laptops, and key elements of a covid catch-up will be about helping those children to catch up on what they have lost. I will happily write to the hon. Lady with further details, as she appears to be signalling to me to do.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Eddisbury

Fully reopening schools in September is absolutely the right thing to do. For some children, the experience of lockdown will have been characterised by social isolation, lack of routine and, in some cases, trauma. What is my right hon. Friend doing, through the guidance published today and other measures, to help schools with an increase in poor behaviour from September? May I encourage him to bring forward recommendations in the Timpson review of school exclusion so we do not see children removed from school when they have only just returned?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

That review did have a very thoughtful author, and we will certainly move forward on that. Our guidance does recognise some of the real challenges that many children will face as they come back into school as they will not have had the same structures of behaviour and discipline built around them. It is vital that we re-establish proper behaviour and discipline practices for all children, and I know schools are working closely on how they build that around those children, but we must understand that where there are good behaviour and discipline policies, there are vastly reduced numbers of those children excluded from schools. We will work with schools to deliver that. I pay tribute to Tom Bennett and the behaviour hubs for the work they do to establish strong behaviour practices in some of the most challenging schools.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement on the autumn opening of education settings. Going to university is an important milestone for many of our young people, but there are real worries about starting or restarting courses this autumn. What measures is he taking and what reassurance can he give to those students?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

I reassure both my right hon. Friend and students who are looking forward to the prospect of going to university in the next academic year about the importance we place on not just the educational offer of universities but the whole experience of going to university. We are working closely with Universities UK and the whole sector to ensure that we have a full and wide, proper opening of all universities so that they can welcome students through their gates. We are seeing a positive increase in the number of young people applying to go to university, and we will work with the sector to deliver on that. As a point of note, revised guidance for the HE sector will be issued later today.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

At the outset of the pandemic, the Government ignored the warnings from other countries about the seriousness of coronavirus. As a result, measures implemented were too late and cost lives. The World Health Organisation director for Europe has said that schools reopening has led to local flare-ups of cases right across member states, even with social distancing in place. Will the Secretary of State publish the scientific advice he is relying on that states that social distancing is not needed any more in our primary classes?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

As the hon. Lady will probably know, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies regularly produces and publishes its advice and evidence, and we have been completely open on that. I am not quite sure what she is suggesting. Should we never open schools? Will we deprive our children forever more of an education and accept that, until there is a vaccine, children will not be able to go back to school? We recognise there are big challenges ahead, which is why we have worked closely with the sector, because we understand the consequences to children of not getting back into school are great. That is why we will continue to strain every sinew to ensure that every child is back in school.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but I would be grateful if he could set out the financial support that will be provided to further education and sixth-form colleges such as East Coast College in my constituency. That is vital, particularly to coastal towns, if we are not to let down a whole generation.

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

As I am sure my hon. Friend will be aware, over the last year we have seen lots of additional support going into the college sector, including an increase of £450 million for this financial year in the basic level of money that every college gets, plus the £1.5 billion that is going into capital funding in the college sector, £200 million of which has been brought forward into this financial year. We will continue to work closely with the college sector—both further education colleges and sixth forms—on what additional support we can give it as we move into the next phase of dealing with this global pandemic and ensuring that every child is able to catch up.[This section has been corrected on 9 July 2020, column 6MC — read correction]

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley and Eccles South

I welcome my friend and neighbour Kate Green to her new role. For families who qualify, free school meal vouchers will be a crucial lifeline across the summer, but a school in my constituency faces having to pay for the cost themselves because they are using vouchers from the Co-op rather than the Edenred scheme. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that every school is reimbursed for the full cost of providing free school meal vouchers to their pupils this summer, wherever they get their vouchers from?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

We have set up a wide-ranging system of support for schools to access through the Edenred scheme. If there are exceptional circumstances where there are no local supermarkets included in the Edenred scheme that a school can access, we are able to look at how we can support the school and reimburse their costs if there are no alternatives.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I reiterate the many calls from Members today and from our heads that they really need clear, unambiguous and timely guidance. Linked to that, is not one of the biggest scandals of recent months how few children on education, health and care plans have been accepted back into school, even when their parents want them to go? For that cohort, catch-up will be crucial, particularly to regularise being back in a school environment after six months out of it. The Secretary of State talked about tutors. Will he also consider the idea that I put forward—to use the cohort of students who are deferring going to university, so that they can come into schools to work alongside those children and give them intensive mentoring, not just academically but to get them back in the habit of being in school and learning again?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

As my hon. Friend is probably aware, in the first guidance that we issued on school closures, we highlighted that children with EHC plans would have continued access to schools all the way through this. I would be happy to organise a meeting between him and the Education Endowment Foundation, which is working with us to stand up our tutoring programme and looking at a whole range of options to mobilise that.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Transport)

What extra support can the Secretary of State give to holiday schemes—not the free school meal side of things, but things such as Bristol’s healthy holidays scheme, which involves play schemes, forest school and physical activities? That would be an excellent way of children socialising again and becoming acclimatised to the idea that they are going back to school. Can he try to support some of those local initiatives?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Lady raises a valuable point. We often talk about the learning loss, but there are other things that children have missed out on, such as the socialisation, physical activity and sports that they would have so often enjoyed. We have invested £9 million in a holiday activity plan, which we rolled out across a large number of local authority areas. We have also been working closely with the National Citizen Service to repurpose a lot of the activity it does through its traditional schemes for local schools. I would be happy to put her in touch with the National Citizen Service, to see whether it could work closely with some of her schools on that.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. It is certainly very welcome news that schools will be reopening, especially for those with special educational needs and disability, and the most disadvantaged pupils. The National Education Union threatened to name and shame headteachers who were working to reopen their schools previously. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning this attitude, and ask Labour Members if they will condemn it too?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

As I am sure that my hon. Friend, who has a deep knowledge of the education sector, knows, this is the time for every person to come together and work together to ensure that every child is back. We have seen headteachers under incredibly great pressure from certain levels of activism. As we look forward to full opening in September, I hope that everyone comes together to work out how we can get every child—in every class and every year group—back in school. I have no doubt that every union will also be doing that and working with us.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am glad that the Secretary of State has bothered to start engaging with frontline staff via their representatives in the unions. But Britain will face a huge economic downturn, and many parents may have lost their jobs or have reduced salaries. Will the Secretary of State follow the leadership of Brighton & Hove City Council, which has issued guidance on school uniforms and other costs so that no parent is forced into poverty and no child is excluded from school because they cannot afford the right equipment? Will the Secretary of State give guidance to all schools to ensure that those costs are capped?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Gentleman obviously has not noticed that we have already issued guidance about keeping uniform costs low, but I would be happy to share it with him so that he can take the time to read it.

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston Conservative, Wantage

Does my right hon. Friend agree that getting all children back to school in September is particularly important for the poorest children, and that if people try to obstruct that return, they are standing in the way of both social mobility and social justice for our most disadvantaged?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those who stand in the way of children being able to return to school are standing in the way of the best interests of children from the most deprived backgrounds, who need the most help and support. That is why we will get every child back in the new term.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

Clearly it is vital to get children back into school now that the infection rates of this virus are falling, but will the Secretary of State inform the House of what preparations the Department for Education is carrying out in case there is a second wave of the virus? We all obviously hope and pray that that does not happen, but how is the Department preparing should that happen in the autumn or winter?

Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education

The guidance that we have issued includes a heavy emphasis on continuity of education so that children would not suffer any form of disruption to learning patterns if we were in a position of having to put in place local lockdowns in different communities or areas that would mean schools were not able to remain open.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I have to announce a correction to the Division result. I have received a report from the Tellers in the Aye Lobby informing me that there was an error in the result announced to the House of the Division held yesterday on new clause 1 to the Finance Bill. The number of Members who voted Aye was 252, not 232 as reported. The discrepancy was a result of human error by the Tellers. It was not related to the pass reader recording system. There is no change to the outcome of the Division. I will direct the Clerk of the House to ensure that the Journal is corrected accordingly.

I shall now suspend the House for three minutes to allow the safe exit of Members in this piece of business and the safety entry of those in the next.

Sitting suspended.