Education Settings: Wider Opening - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:21 pm on 11th June 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade) (Minister for Women), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 5:21 pm, 11th June 2020

My Lords, I am glad to join the noble Lord, Lord Watson, in his desire to welcome everyone back to education. It is the Department for Education’s desire and ambition to see all children back in school, when the scientific evidence allows. We are very concerned about the learning disadvantage gap that experts tell us is probably growing during this period.

As in many other countries, schools have been open throughout this period for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. The Secretary of State made it clear in the other place that we need a plan for beyond the summer. We are working with the stakeholders that have been outlined to ensure that we can deliver the catch-up across the summer and into the next academic year. In fact, local REACT teams are working jointly with redeployed Ofsted workers, department officials and local authorities to ensure that we are in touch with what is happening on the ground, both locally in schools and in children’s social services departments in councils. Indeed, as of Monday, year 10 and year 12 pupils will be back in school for some form of face-to-face contact, with a maximum of 25% being in school at any one time. We are looking at all of the options for targeted support through the summer and beyond, as I said.

On premises, there are thousands of varieties of school buildings across the country. Some of them do not have the outdoor space that would be appropriate for temporary buildings such as Portakabins. We are grateful to the independent sector, however, which has worked closely with the state sector in many areas; we welcome those collaborations.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, raised concerns about the early years sector. I am happy to say that, as of Thursday last week, 48% of those settings were open. Over the next year, it is planned that the £3.6 billion of early years entitlement will be paid to that sector, regardless of the children who attend. It is clear from Public Health England advice that normal education settings do not need personal protective equipment and that a very limited supply is needed for circumstances where a symptomatic child may be on the premises. Of course, it is different for special schools if they are open and providing care akin to medical care. Only in those very limited circumstances—which education settings can manage through their own supply chains, or, if needs be, can approach the local resilience forum—do they need to think about personal protective equipment.

The early years sector has a blend of incomes. The sector’s loss of private income is one reason why the comprehensive schemes made available by the Chancellor of the Exchequer are open to the sector, on the basis that salaries that they pay were previously paid using income from private sources. The sector can go to the job retention scheme or apply for a business interruption loan and, if they are eligible for small business rate relief or rural rate relief, they are eligible for the £10,000 small business grant.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that we are very concerned about disadvantaged children and children in care. We are working with all the sector’s stakeholder groups. We based our guidance on the PHE guidance, outlining to schools the measures that they can take to provide a safe environment in which to learn.

On reception admissions—I thank the noble Lord for his advance notice on this question—we do not anticipate that, as a general rule, children will need to delay their admission to school purely as a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak. However, where parents genuinely believe that delaying admission is right for their summer-born child, we expect admissions authorities to give careful consideration to the needs of that child. Admissions authorities must provide for the admission of all children in the September following their fourth birthday. However, parents cannot be required to send their children to full-time school before they reach the compulsory age.

As the noble Lord mentioned, we are deeply concerned about the attainment gap, which has been narrowing since 2011. That is why we have now made available the Oak National Academy for remote learning, which offers 140 lessons a week. The noble Lord mentioned the BBC. In the week commencing 11 May, there were 5 million users. This is not an insubstantial resource and we thank the BBC for making it available. This is why we have prioritised disadvantaged students in year 10 as well as care leavers and children with social workers for access to the over 200,000 remote devices that we have purchased and for which delivery is in train.

I am pleased to say that yesterday the Prime Minister announced an additional £63 million of funding for local authorities over the summer, as they are best placed to know who might be in acute need of food over that period. Some £9 million has been made available for summer provision; there will be holiday clubs, building on the programme of 2018 and 2019, that can be accessed.

During this period, routine Ofsted inspections have been suspended. That is why Ofsted has been redeployed in other areas. It can still inspect settings when safeguarding has been raised. GCSEs, A-levels, SATs, the two year-old assessment and the assessment at the end of the early years foundation stage have all been suspended; no performance tables will be published this year. However, this Government stand by their ambition that every child in this country should have a world-class education and were right to have an ambition to bring all children back to school. It is sad, particularly for those children, that in the circumstances of the scientific evidence that has not been possible.