Gavin Williamson insists shutting schools in local lockdowns would be a ‘last resort’
The Education Secretary said closing schools in local lockdowns was a "last resort" (BBC)
Shutting schools in areas where localised lockdown restrictions are imposed would be a “last resort”, the Education Secretary has said, amid a government push to get children back in the classroom from next week.
Gavin Williamson said children had "missed out on so much by not being in school" as Number 10 confirmed that schools forced to shut their doors again would be asked to offer remote teaching instead.
“We would expect to see schools closed as the very last resort," the Cabinet minister said on a visit to a school on Monday.
"We know that children have missed out on so much by not being in school.
“We know children have missed being with their friends and being with their teachers and having the opportunity to learn in wonderful classrooms such as this.
"So we would see closing schools as the absolute last resort.”
While the Government is eyeing the return of schools across England, several parts of the country, including Leicester and Greater Manchester remain subject to more stringent lockdown measures than others.
Asked if there could be local closures of schools in future, a Downing Street spokesperson on Monday said: “We would need to look on a case-by-case basis at the local area."
They added: "That would depend on the local lockdown in question and the circumstances around increasing cases. If that was the case and that needed to happen, we would expect the school to provide a remote education.”
The comments came as Boris Johnson launched a personal plea to parents to ensure their children return to places of learning next week after months of lockdown.
"Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school," the Prime Minister said.
But Labour have accused the Government of being “missing in action” over next week’s return of pupils.
Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said that while it was “essential” for children to go back to avoid damage to their ”learning and their long-term life opportunities”, she hit out at ministers over the help offered to schools to allow that to happen.
The Shadow Education Secretary told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “The guidance that’s been given to schools is one-size-fits-all.
“It doesn’t take account of the fact that a small school, perhaps in very constrained premises, will have to make different arrangements from a large inner city school.
“There hasn’t been information for school leaders, so that they can’t plan what they might have to do if there was a sudden spike in the local infection rate and the guidance that has come out I think has been... contradictory, it’s been confusing, it came very late, shortly before the summer holidays.”
“In terms of fines, we would ask all schools to work with those parents, encourage them to bring their children back" - Education Secretary Gavin Williamson
FINES 'VERY MUCH THE LAST RESORT'
Mr Williamson on Monday also weighed in on whether parents who failed to send their children back to school should face fines, insisting that that too would be a “last resort”.
Full-time education is compulsory for all children aged five to 18 in the UK, and parents could face a £60 fine — doubling to £120 if not paid within 21 days — from the local authority if they fail to comply.
The Education Secretary said: "We want to see all children back.
“In terms of fines, we would ask all schools to work with those parents, encourage them to bring their children back, deal with the concerns that they have, and fines would be very much the last resort—as it has always been.”
Mr Williamson also did not rule out introducing new face covering rules in some education settings.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Monday that the Scottish Government was consulting on requiring pupils to wear masks as they move between classrooms.
But Mr Williamson said the Government in England was “not in a position where we’re suggesting that”.
He continued: “We believe there’s a system of controls that are in place in all schools for children to be able to return safely and for staff to be able to operate safely within those schools.
“And we’ve seen this rolled out right across the country. We’ve had over 1.6 million children return back to school safely.
“But, of course, this is all in conjunction with our whole set of wider efforts to continue to control this virus and that’s why we’ve always taken a very careful, and very cautious approach as we’ve brought schools back.”