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Safety of School Students and Staff

Volume 690: debated on Monday 1 March 2021

What steps his Department is taking to help ensure the safety of students and staff when schools re-open as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (912681)

What steps his Department is taking to help ensure the safety of students and staff when schools re-open as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (912683)

The decision to return to full attendance is based on a balance of risk—on protecting our NHS while protecting students from the harms of missing education. Our decision is evidence-based. We have introduced safety measures, including testing and the extended use of face coverings, alongside other systems of control to minimise transmission of covid.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Having spoken to a number of heads this morning, I know that schools across Warrington South are busy preparing for the return of all their pupils a week today. I know that he will join me in paying tribute to the efforts of teachers and heads. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that his Department has provided timely guidance for school leaders, and taken every precaution to ensure the safety of both staff and students on their return?

I would very much like to join my hon. Friend in thanking teachers, headteachers and all staff for all the work they are doing to be able to welcome back all children to school from 8 March—just next week. He is right to highlight the importance of making sure that everyone is working and being educated in a safe and secure environment. That is why we published clear guidance when the Prime Minister set out his road map on Monday last week, and why we put extra precautions in place, such as testing for all pupils in secondary schools, and staff and workforce testing for all primary schools as well.

Teachers across Sevenoaks and Swanley have done a brilliant job at keeping schools open throughout the pandemic. However, many are worried about a full return. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to share with headteachers the evidence on the low infection risk in schools, so that they are fully equipped to reassure teachers that schools are safe?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight that concern, which is why, when we published our guidance on Monday last week, we published alongside it summarised data and evidence from the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England, making it freely available. It is right to make sure that all school environments are safe. That is why we are taking extra steps to make sure that testing is in place in secondary schools, providing confidence for children, parents, the whole education community, and the wider community.