Gavin Williamson denies teaching will be ‘watered down’ as government presses ahead with school reopening plan
The Education Secretary chaired the first Number 10 press conference in weeks. (Image: Sky)
Gavin Williamson has dismissed suggestions that the school curriculum will be “watered down” as children are brought back into the classroom in September.
The Education Secretary said the same “standards and rigour” would apply in the education system after the Government set out guidance to help schools return later this year.
Mr Williamson's department on Thursday said teaching should remain “broad and ambitious”, with “high quality” remote learning available where needed.
Pupils should, the Department for Education says, “continue to be taught a wide range of subjects”.
But it acknowledges that “substantial modification to the curriculum may be needed at the start of the year”, and calls for teaching time to be “prioritised to address significant gaps in pupils’ knowledge” ahead of a full return of “normal” study “by no later than summer term 2021”.
Speaking at the first Downing Street press conference since June 23, Mr Williamson rejected a suggestion that the guidance gave teachers permission to lower standards.
“There is not going to be a watered down curriculum,” he said.
“This is going to be a full and total curriculum which is going to be delivered for our children across all subjects.”
And the Cabinet minister added: “It’s incredibly important that we have the same standards and rigour within our education system, as we come out of lockdown as we had going into it.
“And we are not going to be in a situation where we are going to see vital subjects cut out of children's education.
"So the idea that there'll be a watered-down curriculum is totally, totally untrue, and schools will be held accountable as a result of Ofsted inspections.“
Thursday’s guidance also sets out a raft of changes schools must make to become ‘Covid-secure’, and comes after the Government shelved its earlier plans for a return of all primary school pupils at the end of June.
Teachers are told to divide pupils into separate “bubbles” based on year groups or classes to minimise contact, with staggered lesson, break and start times designed to prevent crowding.
The document says schools should “endeavour” to keep groups separate, adding that “minimising contacts between children will still offer public health benefits as it reduces the network of possible direct transmission”.
NO 'ABSOLUTE' SAFETY GUARANTEE
Speaking alongside Mr Williamson at the Number 10 briefing, deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries was asked whether the Government was now telling teachers there was “absolutely no additional risk”.
She replied: “There's an obvious point which is that we can't guarantee absolute safety for anybody, anywhere in the UK.
“So I think we just need to be very realistic.”
And she said of the plans: “Certainly as a public health professional, I would have been quite concerned if this had been put forward in the first few weeks when we had an uncontrolled epidemic in the UK.
“But I think most importantly we knew far less about the transmission of the disease, and particularly how it affects children.
“So we know a lot about how it affects children: very few children have severe illness.
“And so the risk here is around transmission, and as the secretary of state said the guidance which is there, and I think teachers are quite right, they're looking at it and thinking, how do we implement this in the setting that they have?
“So there is a degree of flexibility. But running beneath it are principles of control — and they are the same ones we should all be applying in society.”
'EVER MORE SUCCESSFUL'
Mr Williamson meanwhile rejected suggestions that the Government had been too slow in providing schools with the guidance they will need to return.
And he talked up the Government’s “ever more successful” battle against the coronavirus.
The Education Secretary said: “I'm not sure if you noticed but we we've already seen the return of over 1.6 million children getting into school.
”We've seen primary schools right across the country opening up, we've welcomed back reception, nursery, year one, year six, years 10 and 12, and we've seen this cautious, careful, phased return....
“But we recognise that as we have moved forward, as our battle against this virus has become ever more successful, that we are now in a position where we can actually welcome more children back into school.”
Labour’s Kate Green, the party’s newly-appointed Shadow Education Secretary, has said she wants to see all children “safely back in school in September”.
But she warned: “With only three weeks to go before the end of term, there is an enormous amount to prepare: finalising health and safety arrangements, ensuring there is space for children to learn, restructuring the school day and providing reassurance to parents.
“The Government has been asleep at the wheel, but heads and staff cannot be left to do this alone.”