I know that every child and young person in this country has experienced unprecedented disruption to their education as a result of coronavirus. The Government are committed to doing everything possible to ensure they have the support they need to make up for that lost time in education. That is why on Friday I announced a £1 billion catch-up plan to lift outcomes for all pupils but with targeted support for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds who are most at risk.
I thank the Government for their recent U-turn on free school meals over the summer months, but what cross-departmental communications has the Secretary of State undertaken with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to clarify if that will be extended to those children whose parents are newly subjected to the “no recourse to public funds” restriction?
It is our ambition that East Coast College students and all college students will have the opportunity to make up for lost education. Remote learning has been working really well, but we will provide more details soon on how 16-to-19 providers can further support students. Funding allocations for 2020-21 have been guaranteed, and payments will be made in line with the national profile.
I do not know why that answer could not have been given to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), who asked a very similar question but got no sort of answer. The Government must realise that leaving students who have missed level 4 in maths and English out of the catch-up funding is abandoning them at the very time they need such help the most. How can the Government justify leaving them out of that announcement given that a plan for schools was in place last week?
It is clear that the initial focus has been on the school catch-up. There has been a great response from the further education sector, which was quick to move online and to provide a wide range of engaging and innovative classes. We recognise the need for catch-up, particularly for those starting college from school, and we are working to see what more support we can give to make up for the disruption due to covid-19.
In Wolverhampton, we have several outstanding special educational needs and disability—SEND—schools, including Penn Hall and Tettenhall Wood. What is my right hon. Friend doing to help vulnerable children to return to education safely in those schools?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of those schools. I would like to mention Wightwick Hall, a school on the border between his constituency and mine. We recognise that it is really important to ensure that we get the guidance right, and we have been working closely with the sector to ensure that the specialist needs of many of those children, who sometimes have particularly complex health conditions, are met and that they have the ability to return to school at the very earliest opportunity if that is in line with their health needs as well. I hope to have the opportunity to join my hon. Friend on a visit to one of those schools in the not-too-distant future.
Due to covid-19, we have made some temporary flexibilities for local authorities. They are temporary, not permanent, and they are to be used only where normal procedures cannot be followed. I am told that the number of missing children at this time has decreased.
The Government want all schools to be fully reopened in September. We have produced guidance on protective measures that schools will take, and all staff, children and families will have access to testing if they display symptoms. We are working with local authorities and regional schools commissioners to address any particular local issues, but it is in the interests of all children to be in school with their friends and their teachers.
I can assure the hon. Member that I am anything but absent. As we have already announced, we launched a package on 4 May that included re-profiling £2.6 billion of tuition fee funding. We also brought forward £100 million of quality-related research funding, we stabilised the admissions system with student number controls, and we offered more support for students. That was all on top of access to the coronavirus job retention scheme and the business loan support scheme to the value of £700 million. I am more than happy to speak to the university in question directly.
I would be absolutely delighted to join my hon. Friend to visit schools in his constituency in the very near future. It is really important that we understand the vital role that Ofsted plays in making sure that we have strong accountability in schools. One of the aspects that I will ask Ofsted to look at as we are making this significant investment of £1 billion to support youngsters to catch up and support schools is how it has been implemented and how children have been supported in their catch-up plans.
The Government want to ensure that all children get an active start in life and engage in daily physical activity, which is why we launched the school sport and activity action plan last year. We will confirm arrangements for the primary PE and sport premium in the 2020-21 academic year as soon as possible.
The key is to get more children walking and cycling to school, and using other forms of transport other than public transport, but we are working across Government, with the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to address the necessary transport issues in order to get children back to school in September.
The Government will do whatever they can to ensure that no child falls behind as a result of the covid-19 crisis. That is why we have announced a £1 billion package of support, which includes a catch-up premium for schools and a tutoring programme for those in need, including, of course, children in Blackpool.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important and very thoughtful point. It is really important that we look at different ways in which we can expand the capacity to train doctors, nurses and all those working in the caring professions. I look forward to working very closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to be able to deliver on that.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are some natural restrictions on how far schools can go in welcoming children back. Last week, we gave schools added flexibilities to be able to welcome more children back into the classroom. As guidance changes, we will look within Government at how we do everything that needs to be put in place so that every child is back in the classroom in September.
I have seen the hon. Member’s letter. On this anniversary of Windrush, as much on as any day, we need to understand the strong feelings on this issue. People do suffer racial prejudice, and we need to eliminate discrimination and bigotry wherever it occurs in our society. So far as the curriculum is concerned, we give schools the autonomy to decide what and how history is taught, provided it covers a wide range of periods of British and world history, but that very autonomy means that schools can and do teach about black and Asian cultures and history. The citizenship curriculum and the new relationships curriculum teach the importance of respect for other cultures and respect for difference.
By the nature of the crisis, sadly, guidance, which we always want to get out at the greatest of speed, has always faced quite considerable time pressures, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we very much take his words to heart. As we issue guidance for schools about the full return of all pupils in September, we will ensure that this goes out in plenty of time before schools rise for the summer.