Return of all children to school in September 'critical to national recovery', says Gavin Williamson
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson
The return of all children to school in September is "critical" to the UK's national recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, Gavin Williamson has said.
The Education Secretary set out the Government’s plans to get all youngsters back into the classroom in the Commons on Thursday, including the formation of year or class “bubbles” – with the potential for a school to close if there are two or more cases in a two-week period.
Groups of pupils will be kept apart and schools will introduce staggered start, finish and break times.
Any child who displays coronavirus symptoms will be sent home immediately and staff will be required to wear protective equipment when dealing with them.
Schools will be provided with "a small number" of home testing kits, Mr Williamson said, to be handed to those who are suspected of having contracted the virus.
Guidance published by the Department for Education said the approach aims to minimise points of contact that could allow infections to spread, while not relying entirely on social distancing.
Mr Williamson described the past three months as "some of the most challenging that schools, parents, and most of all, children have faced".
"Education recovery is critical for this generation of school children. Returning to normal educational routines as quickly as possible is critical to our national recovery too," he said.
Parents who fail to send their children back to the classroom “without good reason” will face fines, Mr Williamson confirmed earlier this week, as the government returns to a "mandatory education" position.
And he told MPs: "I am sure I will be joined by the House as I express my thanks to all of the childcare, school and further education staff who have gone above and beyond since March, and who will continue to do so as we prepare to welcomeall of our children and young people back to school and college."
Mr Williamson said the Government had "consulted widely" on its plans with headteachers and teching unions and that it was committed to keeping an "ongoing dialogue" as schools reopen fully.
Signalling a shift in Labour's own position on school reopenings, the newly-appointed Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said Labour wants “all children safely back in school by September”.
“By then, they’ll have suffered a six month gap in their learning,” she said.
“Officials in the Department for Education have warned this could lead to a widening of the attainment gap of up to 75% as children from disadvantaged backgrounds have lacked access to resources to learn at home.”
Ms Green accused the Government of being “asleep at the wheel” in terms of planning for pupils’ return and called for a dedicated taskforce to be set up with teachers, parents and health experts.
She added: “Teachers, school leaders, staff, and parents have achieved a huge amount throughout this crisis, and now they desperately need the support of the government.
"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.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe