My Lords, I was slightly confused because I thought the Minister would start by reading the Statement—I do not quite know what happened, but I have obviously got that wrong.
We welcome the fact that children and young people are returning to school, and we have to do all in our power to make this work successfully—and to make it safe. Naturally, the Government have produced reams of guidance for schools. Head teachers have told me that some of it is quite contradictory. I shall give one example. The guidance says:
“No-one should be excluded from education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering.”
Yet it also says that when children are walking down corridors or are in open-access areas in schools they should wear a face covering. However, the guidance says that, no, you should not be excluded or told that you had to wear one. That guidance has to be there—I understand that—but head teachers, schools and teachers are looking for simplified, easy-to-follow advice that they can adhere to.
During this period of school closures, children have fallen further and further behind, particularly disadvantaged pupils and those from BAME communities. Schools should be doing everything in their power to ensure that those children are able to catch up on those lost months of learning. I have seen it floated that the Government are considering doing some formative or summative testing to find out what the gap is and what the loss of learning is and how that can be supported. I welcome that—it is an important initiative that should happen.
I am concerned about three areas. One is that, during the period of school closures, children and young people who were excluded from school—they were not on any register because they were excluded—and those young people in alternative provision were the most vulnerable pupils in our system, and they need extra support and help. I do not know what the Government view on that should be, but alternative providers are concerned that those young people could easily get into further trouble.
Then there is the question of the 60,000 home-educated children. I strongly believe, as I suspect the Minister does, that now is the right time to introduce a policy to ensure that home-educated pupils are registered so that we know what is going on in their learning. However, I was concerned to see that external, home-schooled students have not received an A-level or GCSE grade. Could the Minister shed light on this? I am told that 20,000 students have been informed by their institutions that they will not receive a GCSE grade this year.
Let me give noble Lords the case of a young man from Oxford—I apologise to the Minister for throwing this out now and I will give her the correspondence afterwards. Due to personal reasons, he had to be home educated and do his own learning for biology, chemistry and physics at GCSE and A-level. He had a place at a university, but he has been told—I presume that this is true of other young people too—that he will not get a grade because he was an external candidate, not through a school. That is incredibly worrying. Could the Minister look at this issue?
Finally, I go back to mainstream schools. If, God forbid, a pupil is tested as Covid positive, who tells the school? Who tells the head teacher? Is it left to the parents to inform the school? Who is it left to? I am told by head teachers that there are no processes whereby the testing regime should automatically inform the head teacher. That is crucial for the well-being of schools and pupils, and to making the return to full-time education successful.