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Schools: Safe Opening and Covid-19

Volume 684: debated on Monday 23 November 2020

To support schools to open fully from the autumn, we published guidance in July and updated it as necessary. Schools have access to an advice service and supply of test kits. By assessing risk and maximising the use of Public Health England-endorsed control measures, schools reduce risk for pupils and staff.

Schools are facing huge budget pressures as costs escalate for increased supply cover as teachers self-isolate and from unfunded covid-19 cleaning costs. More than a quarter of all state schools are using reserve budgets to ensure that pupils have devices and access to the internet to study while isolating at home. What assurances can the Secretary of State give that schools will get the funding they need to cover these unforeseen costs?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point. We know how important it is. We already outlined a package for the summer term, and tens of millions of pounds have been distributed to schools. We have kept this matter under review and will update the House in the near future.

Can the Secretary of State say how many pupils have been sent home from school for covid-related reasons since the start of this term, and of those, how many have been sent home on more than one occasion?

The hon. Lady raises an important point about the number of pupils being sent home. We keep a close monitor of those children who are sent home and we are working with the sector, so we can send that detail and on to her.

I am disappointed that the Secretary of State does not know those figures. Parents, pupils and teachers have told me of students having been sent home three, four, even five times; some have missed up to one third of their time in school. I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that that will have a disastrous impact on their learning. As we have heard, promised help with laptops and additional costs has not always arrived. School leaders and staff are stressed and exhausted. I support him in wanting pupils to be safely in school, but please will he tell our dedicated and desperate teachers, heads and support staff what he is going to do to support them and keep children learning?

At every stage, we on the Government side of the House have championed the importance of schools and getting children back into schools. We have done everything we can to support schools to welcome children back. We have done everything we can in terms of the over half a million laptops that are going to be distributed, and are being distributed, to schools to support remote learning. We recognise that children have lost out as a result of this covid pandemic. That is why the Government pledged £1 billion-worth of support to schools to help them catch up that lost learning.