Coronavirus: Schools will reopen in ‘phases’ but no date set, Education Secretary says
England’s schools will reopen in a “phased manner” after the coronavirus lockdown, but no date has been set for when this will start, according to the Education Secretary.
Gavin Williamson told MPs on the Commons Education Committee that the the Government was giving “a great amount of thought” to gradually reopening schools, which have been ordered to shut to all-but the children of essential workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But he made clear that no decision had yet been taken on when educational institutions would be back up and running - and ruled out a return during the summer holidays.
The Cabinet minister told MPs: “We have set out five clear tests as to what’s incredibly important and what will inform the opening of the schools.
"We want to make sure that schools are given proper notice but we do not have the date as to when schools will next be opening.”
Asked whether schools could reopen in stages, with primary schools returning before secondary institutions, the Education Secretary told chairman Rob Halfon: “This is obviously something that we’re giving a great amount of thought to and we’re giving a lot of consideration.”
Mr Williamson revealed that he had asked Sage, the Government’s top scientific advisory committee, to set up a separate group on school reopening, in a bid to ensure the return was done “in the bost possible way and with the very best scientific and medical advice”.
"I do expect schools to be opened in a phased manner. I also intend to be giving schools as much notice as possible" - Education Secretary Gavin Williamson
He said: ”We expect Sage to be reporting back and the information that we get from Sage, along with PHE [Public Health England] will be the key part of what informs us as to how best we open schools.
“But I do expect schools to be opened in a phased manner. I also intend to be giving schools as much notice as possible.”
Earlier this month the Children’s Commissioner said it would be “really valuable” if schools were to reopen “in some form” during the summer holidays in a bid to help children catch up with missed learning.
But Mr Williamson said: “We’re not planning to run schools through the summer.”
The Education Secretary was also pressed on calls to provide personal protective equipment to teachers and other frontline education staff to protect them from the coronavirus.
Trade union Unison has already written to Mr Williamson’s department to demand a full risk assessment of whether PPE could help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in schools.
“While the union understands that the risks in schools are different to those in hospitals, it is concerned that the guidance doesn’t reflect all school situations – for example where social distancing is impossible, and where schools can be more like social care settings,” the union said.
But the Cabinet minister told MPs he had “constantly asked” Public Health Engalnd for guidance on “protecting both the workforce and also children”.
He said: “The reason we commissioned the Sage subgroup to look at this is to make sure they’re giving us the best scientific advice and then, as we’re opening schools, in a phased manner we’ll make sure we’re consulting with public health england to make sure that we’re getting the very best advice in terms of protecting chuldren and in terms of protecting staff.”