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Reopening of Schools

Volume 677: debated on Monday 22 June 2020

If he will publish the scientific advice underpinning the announcement by the Prime Minister on 24 May 2020 that primary schools would reopen for reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils on 1 June 2020. (903531)

Since 1 June, we have taken positive steps in welcoming children back to school. Teachers and heads have done an excellent job in opening schools to more pupils, and our latest attendance figures show that approximately 92% of education institutions are open with thousands more children back in classrooms, where they can learn best, reunited with their teachers and friends. SAGE papers are being published in tranches, including those of the Children’s Task and Finish Working Group.

Let me take this opportunity to associate myself with the comments made earlier about the terror attack in Reading, a near neighbour to my Basingstoke constituency. Our thoughts are with the residents of that town.

There is no substitute for face-to-face learning and thanks must go to the school staff across my own constituency in Basingstoke and, indeed, across Hampshire, who are all working so hard to help ensure that as many eligible children as possible can safely return to school. Parents want to know when all children can be back in school. What advice can my right hon. Friend give to my constituents, who are approaching me on that and who are also asking what organisations are being told to provide summer childcare support for working parents so that we can also support parents to get back to work?

We are working towards bringing all children and young people back to school in September. The Government’s ambition is that all organisations running holiday clubs and activities for children over the summer holiday will be able to open if, of course, the science allows. The time anticipated for holiday clubs to open is no earlier than 4 July as part of step three of the Government’s recovery strategy.

As the Minister has pointed out, as of 12 days ago, 92% of school settings were open, but only about 9% of children were actually attending. Many parents remain understandably reticent. We all want children to return to full-time education. May I ask the Secretary of State what considerations have influenced the Government’s thinking regarding the full reopening of schools, specifically in relation to the potential for child-to-child and child-to-adult transmission of the virus? Most school staff are not as concerned for themselves as they are for the potential implications that could be of particular seriousness for families of black, Asian and minority ethnic children, children living in extended families, or children living in overcrowded conditions or even in poverty. What considerations have been given to that in order to put parents’ minds at rest?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about disadvantaged children. Schools have been open to vulnerable children and the children of critical workers since schools closed, and we have encouraged more and more of those children to be in school where it is best for them. The scientific advice indicates that a phased return that limits the number of children in education settings and how much they mix with each other will help to reduce the risk of transmission. We are led by the science but our ambition is that all schools will return in September, but that will, of course, be subject to the science.