My Lords, it is fitting that the Statement emphasises the tremendous efforts of all staff in schools and colleges who have made schools as safe as they can be, at some risk to themselves. I echo these sentiments.
It was obvious before Christmas that there were likely to be problems with grades. Indeed, I and other noble Lords said as much when the ministerial Statement on exams and accountability came to your Lordships’ House on
There is also a serious risk that schools, colleges and teachers will be exposed to unreasonable pressure to give students the grades they—or their parents—expect. It must be made clear and emphasised that exam boards, not schools, are responsible for issuing grades and appeals. As things stand, it seems that a school can appeal against a grade awarded by one of its own teachers. This is awkward, to say the least.
The likely volume of appeals and disputes will also present a capacity issue. How can the Government guarantee that the system will be able to cope with these pressures? Faith in the proposals has hardly been enhanced by the very public resignation of Sir Jon Coles from the Ofqual recovery committee just as the new measures were being announced. He was a former DfE director-general and the department’s own nominee to the Ofqual committee. What does this say about the robustness of these proposals?
I turn to the return of schools and colleges. During the first week back, they will be required to carry out three tests for each of the 3.4 million secondary-age pupils. Many schools have lost income or face higher costs because of the pandemic. What support and resources will the Government make available for schools and colleges to deliver the testing, including additional financial support?
In January, the Secretary of State said that he wanted school staff to be in the next wave of vaccinations. Yet, despite the obvious benefits this brings in facilitating the return to school, there has been no commitment since to prioritising school staff. Do the Government no longer believe that teaching staff should be a priority?
There is an obligation on training providers and employers to provide a safe environment before learning can resume. Already, providers are concerned that they are potentially leaving themselves open to legal action. Can the Minister explain what providers are meant to do in these circumstances?
We all want not simply to see schools and training facilities fully reopened but for it to take place on a sustainable basis. This requires a creditable system, underwritten by a plan B. If the Government have learned anything during the last 12 months, it is surely that a fallback position is necessary to take account of fast-changing events. This Government have been characterised throughout the pandemic by indecision and U-turns. This has had a particularly damaging effect on young people seeking to gain the education and qualifications that will prepare them for the world of work. How can the Minister guarantee that the measures outlined in the Statement will offer a more certain way forward for students, parents and teachers?