I am writing to inform the House of further steps this Government are taking to support the education system and children and young people manage the consequences of covid-19.
Attendance in schools
Schools have been closed to all but the children of critical workers and vulnerable children since Monday 23 March. They will remain closed until further notice, except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children, who are encouraged to attend where it is appropriate for them to do so.
Today we have published the numbers of children of critical workers and vulnerable children in attendance at schools since 23 March and up to 17 April. The figures are available on gov.uk. Attendance statistics will now be published on a weekly basis, looking back at the previous school week. Further data will be available next Tuesday, covering the period up to 24 April.
Key findings are as follows –
Figures show the attendance rate amongst pupils in educational establishments was 0.9% during the week commencing 6 April, which would have been the first week of the Easter holidays, having originally been above 3% in the first week of schools being closed except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children.
24,000 of the children in attendance on Friday 17 April were classed as vulnerable; 62,000 of the children in attendance on Friday 17 April were children of critical workers.
Statistics also show that the number of teachers attending school has been falling, which suggests that schools are adapting to lower numbers of pupils and the latest advice on social distancing.
These figures illustrate the incredible effort families all over the country are making as we fight the coronavirus, with well over 90% of children staying home.
Supporting attendance of vulnerable children and young people
Our first priority has always been protecting the wellbeing of children and young people, but particularly those vulnerable young people with special educational needs or a social worker.
Schools remain open for them, as they also do for children of critical workers, and we encourage vulnerable children and young people to attend educational settings unless they have underlying health conditions that put them at severe risk.
We have refreshed our guidance in relation to this group to set out our expectations of how educational settings and local authorities should encourage and support vulnerable children and young people at this time and how non-attendance should be followed up. This can be found on gov.uk.
Free school meals
We thank schools for continuing to support those children that are eligible for free school meals, including during the Easter break. We know that support is being provided through their existing schools food suppliers or through the national voucher scheme Government have put in place. Today I can confirm that Aldi will be added to the list of supermarkets where vouchers will be redeemable. That is in addition to Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s, Waitrose, M&S, Asda and Morrison’s.
New support for remote education and access to social services
Most children are not attending schools, and we are extremely grateful for how schools and colleges have adapted so rapidly to new ways of working by moving resources online, working remotely and changing the way they support their students and each other.
We have already published an initial list of high quality online educational resources including how to support physical and mental wellbeing and materials for teaching children with special educational needs and disabilities. Many commercial providers have also offered high quality educational resources at discounts or for free.
In addition, to support the hard work of schools in delivering remote education, the Oak National Academy was launched on Monday 20 April. This brand-new enterprise has been created by 40 teachers from some of the leading schools across England, backed by Government grant funding. It will provide 180 video lessons each week, across a broad range of subjects from maths to art to languages, for every year group from reception through to year 10.
The BBC has also launched its own education package across TV and online, featuring celebrities and some of the best teachers—helping to keep children learning and supporting parents.
This is alongside new guidance we published on 19 April for parents on how best to support their child’s education and development at home. This can be found on gov.uk.
To ensure that as many children as possible can access online learning, we have ordered laptops to help disadvantaged young people who would otherwise not have access and are preparing for exams (in year 10).
We will also provide laptops or tablets for care leavers and children with social workers (including families with pre-school age children) to help them stay in touch with the services they need, keeping them safe as well as supporting home learning.
And if disadvantaged children in year 10, care leavers and children with a social worker at secondary school cannot access the internet, we will provide free 4G routers to get them connected while schools are closed. We are also working with some of the major telecommunications providers to exempt certain educational resource sites from data charges.
For 16 to 19-year-olds, colleges, schools or other providers can support those without access to devices or connections through their flexible bursary funding. Where additional funding is needed to provide this support, providers can apply to have their bursary funds topped up to ensure those who need it have access.
To further protect children from harm, we are continuing to support NSPCC’s Childline and are working with them to expand the adult helpline by providing them with £1.6 million. This means children have someone to call, and more adults will be able to raise concerns and seek advice about the safety and wellbeing of any child they are worried about.
We recognise that young people who have left care or are just about to, whether that is from a foster family or residential care, are especially vulnerable right now.
I am asking local authorities to ensure no one has to leave care during this period, by looking very carefully at whether it is safe for those young people who would have been due to move out of their care to do so and to give care leavers extra support.
The £1.6 billion of additional funding announced by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on Saturday will help local authorities give care leavers, and other vulnerable groups, the support that they need at this difficult time.
Flexibility to use early years entitlement funding to secure childcare for critical workers and vulnerable children
It is vital that we secure sufficient childcare for critical workers and vulnerable children through the covid-19 pandemic, and ensure the sector is able to function and allow parents to return to work afterwards. I want to thank the local authorities, childminders, nurseries and schools that are working together to ensure sufficient childcare in their areas. To help them do this, we are providing a range of financial support.
As most early years providers have mixed private and public incomes, we have published guidance setting out how providers can access the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) while still receiving early entitlement funding. This confirmed that providers can access the CJRS to cover up to the proportion of its pay bill which could be considered to have been paid for from that provider’s private income.
We will also be publishing guidance to support local authorities to use their free entitlement funding differently, redistributing it—in exceptional cases and in a clearly focused and targeted way—in order to secure childcare for the children of critical workers and for vulnerable children, where their usual arrangements are no longer possible.
This ability to redistribute will enable local authorities to ensure that critical workers, including NHS staff, are able to access childcare where they need it. Any setting which sees their early entitlement funding reduced in order to fund childcare places elsewhere will be able to increase the proportion of their salary bill eligible for the coronavirus job retention scheme in line with the department’s guidance on access to the scheme.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords.