Remote Education and Free School Meals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:43 pm on 18th January 2021.

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Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education 7:43 pm, 18th January 2021

This Government have been engaged in a monumental battle to manage the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, to protect the NHS and to save lives, and also to minimise the damage that this ongoing disruption is causing to a generation of young people’s lives. This is not a challenge faced by this country alone; it is a challenge faced by nations right across the world.

On 5 January, escalating rates of covid infection once more forced us to ask schools to close their doors to the majority of pupils for the second time in less than a year. This is not a move that any of us in the House—certainly not on the Government Benches—wanted to see. So much learning has been lost already, but we know that one of the most effective ways of reducing the impact of being out of school is through high-quality remote education. I am glad to say that we are in a much better place than we were last March for minimising the worst effects of this disruption. School and college teachers and leaders have quickly adapted once more to delivering a mix of online and face-to-face instruction. I thank them once again, as I am sure all in this House want to, for the brilliant way that they have responded to the evolving health situation.

Last year, a group of 40 teachers founded and launched the Oak National Academy, with not just our moral support, but, more importantly, financial support from the Department for Education. It was a new venture that many people said could not or would not work, but in two weeks flat, it was able to produce thousands of high-quality, teacher-led video lessons with £4 million of Government funding. It now has 3.8 million users, and 32 million lessons have been viewed—not just in England, but in all four nations of the United Kingdom.