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Education Settings: Autumn Opening

Volume 804: debated on Wednesday 8 July 2020


The following Statement was made on Thursday 2 July in the House of Commons.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement regarding the full opening of our schools and colleges to all pupils in September.

I know that these past three months have been some of the most challenging that schools, parents and, most of all, children have faced. What schools have achieved to make sure that children and young people are kept safe and can continue to learn during this period is remarkable, and I think all of us in this House are deeply grateful for those efforts. But we all know the impact that lost time in education can have on our children’s outcomes.

Every child and young person in the country has experienced unprecedented disruption to their learning as a result of coronavirus, with those from the most vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds among the hardest hit. Education recovery is critical for this generation of schoolchildren. Returning to normal educational routines as quickly as possible is critical to our national recovery, too. That is why we have been working to ensure that all pupils will be able to go back to school and college full-time in September, with Covid-secure measures in place, so that they have the opportunity to thrive and fulfil their full potential.

Today, the Government have published detailed plans for nurseries, schools and colleges that set out what is needed to plan for a full return, as well as reassuring parents and carers about what to expect for their children. The guidance has been developed with medical experts from Public Health England and follows regular engagement throughout the outbreak between the Government and the education sector.

We continue to work closely with the country’s best scientific and medical experts to ensure that both children and staff are always as safe as possible. Schools will continue minimising contact between children, including through grouping children together in bubbles and encouraging older children to distance. At a minimum, this will mean keeping whole year groups in schools and colleges separate. This is in addition to the other protective measures that we know are so important for infection control, such as regular cleaning and handwashing. We are also ensuring that testing is readily available, so that parents, teachers and students can return with confidence. All staff, pupils and their families will continue to have access to testing if they develop Covid-19 symptoms.

By the start of the autumn term, we will provide all schools and colleges with a small number of home testing kits, which will be taken home by children or staff who develop symptoms while on site but who would struggle to access a testing centre. This is so that they can have a test quickly and get the results back quickly. All schools will have access to direct support and advice from their local Public Health England health protection team to deal with any cases that may occur. They will be advised on what steps need to be taken.

In these challenging times, we are committed to ensuring that the nation’s children have not only a safe education but an excellent one. From September, we are asking schools and colleges to return to a broad and balanced curriculum, so that all pupils continue to be taught in a wide range of subjects, maintaining their choices for further study and employment. We expect exams to go ahead in the summer of 2021. We understand the additional pressures on teaching staff to deliver such high standards of education in this difficult period. As such, as Ofsted inspectors are preparing to visit schools in the autumn, it will be to discuss how they are managing the return to full education of all their pupils. The insights that inspectors gather will also be aggregated nationally to share learning with the whole sector, the Government and the wider public. It is our intention for full inspections to return from January.

We are also providing significant financial support to help pupils catch up on lost learning. As I announced in June, we will be providing a £1 billion Covid catch-up package, including a £650 million catch-up premium for state-funded primary, secondary and special schools, and a £350 million national tutoring programme for the most disadvantaged pupils. Evidence shows that six to 12 weeks of tutoring for a disadvantaged pupil can result in five months of catch-up. Schools are held accountable for the outcomes they achieve with their funding, including through Ofsted inspections, and the Covid catch-up funding will be no exception to this.

It is critical to ensure that no child loses more time in education and that, from September, all children who can be at school are at school. Schools and colleges will need to work with families to secure regular attendance from the start of the new academic year, with the reintroduction of mandatory attendance. Our intention is that those with education, health and care plans or special educational needs will also be back in school or college in September. Since May, as a result of the pandemic, it has been necessary to modify the duty on local authorities and health commissioners so that they could use their reasonable endeavours to secure or arrange the provision for those on EHC plans. I am committed to removing these flexibilities as soon as possible, so that children and young people can receive the support they need to return to school. As such, unless the evidence changes, I will not be issuing further national notices to modify the EHC duties. We will, however, consider whether any such flexibilities may be required locally, to respond to outbreaks in different parts of the country. In addition, I am pleased to announce that, as we continue on the road to recovery and infection rates continue to fall, from 20 July nurseries, childminders and other childcare providers will no longer be required to place limits on the group size of children who can play and learn together.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank those parts of the sector that have already opened their doors to more children and who are doing a phenomenal job to help our children and young people settle back into their usual routines. Since schools and nurseries began to open more widely on 1 June, we have seen the number of children attending school steadily rise, with over 1.6 million pupils already back in school. I am sure that I will be joined by the House as I express my thanks to all childcare, school and further education staff who have gone above and beyond since March, and who will continue to do so as we prepare to welcome all of our children and young people back to school and college in September. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, we want to see every child safely back in school when the new term begins in September, but simply willing it, or even making it compulsory, does not mean it will happen. Parents must have confidence that it is safe for their children to return, and this Statement does not in itself provide that because it contains many unanswered questions.

By September, almost six months will have elapsed since any child has experienced a normal education. A number, although disappointingly small, have been attending school throughout as the children of key workers, and more recently selected years have been able to return, but despite teachers working flat out, few—if any—of these children, or those being home-schooled, have experienced education in any sense as it would have been had the coronavirus pandemic not happened. The result has been the development of a major gap in their learning for millions of young people, and perhaps the saddest aspect of that is that the narrowing of the gap between children from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds, painstakingly achieved over recent years, has been reversed. The impact of lost time in education on children’s life chances is incalculable, but we know for sure that for some, ground lost this year may never be regained.

The Statement talks of schools continuing to minimise contact between children through grouping children together in bubbles, with whole year groups in schools kept separate, but how practical is that? The proposals for managing schools are complicated, confusing and unlikely to work in many situations, not least in terms of the proposed whole-year bubbles. How will they work? How will wraparound care work? How will transport to and from school be addressed? For example, siblings will be probably be in different bubbles but will mix on transport as well as at home. Another practical point concerns supply teachers. Will they be able to move between schools?

What seems to be being suggested for secondary schools requires a huge re-organisation of space, timetable and staff deployment, all to be accomplished in a few weeks. The cost of all this will be considerable—the additional cleaning alone will be very significant—yet schools are being told they have to manage on the resources they have. Is that fair or practical?

On the subject of funding to deal with the crisis, I want to press the Minister on the resources announced by the Secretary of State two weeks ago: the so-called Covid catch-up funding. Last week, when this Statement was presented in the other place, the Secretary of State told the shadow Secretary of State, Kate Green MP,

“there is new money for the covid catch-up fund.”—[Official Report, Commons, 2/7/20; col. 542.]

That is ambiguous. Is there some new money or is it all new money? Given that on the same day as the £1 billion was announced, a further announcement scrapped the year 7 catch-up premium, I think we are entitled to be just a little suspicious. I hope that the Minister will today allay any fears about whether the fund represents new rather than recycled resources.

Exams in 2021 are a real concern. Pupils are already anxious that missing so much time in school will adversely affect their results and hence, potentially, their future. The Ofqual consultation seems to be doing little more than tinkering around the edges of the issues. There needs to be a fall-back position in place, widely known and understood, in case the 2021 exams are also disrupted. There should be a commitment that Ofqual will use the techniques established when exams are changed: of following the principle of comparable outcomes. Can the Minister confirm whether that will be the case? Announcing this by the time that schools return in September would go some way to reassuring students that they will not be penalised because of the impact of the virus this year, and possibly next year.

Even that would not solve all problems and there will remain a huge risk that disadvantaged pupils, whose learning was more disrupted, will lose out disproportionately again. Crucially, I ask the Minister: will track and trace be working properly, with information properly shared? The Government’s record thus far—in terms much wider than the educational—does not exactly inspire confidence.

I return to the issue of a lack of confidence among parents, which has prevented more of them allowing their children to return to school since June. What can the Minister say to parents that will enable their confidence to build in the short time between now and September?

I thank the Minister for the Statement. We need to get children back into schools and education, and to be working with all those interested parties to make this essential return successful and safe. There are some key issues.

Will the DfE be collecting data on attendance and examining reasons for absence, rather than talking about fining parents? The Secretary of State talked about

“a broad and balanced curriculum.”

How feasible is this? He talked about the £350 million for catch-up and claimed that

“six to 12 weeks of tutoring”—[Official Report, Commons, 2/7/20; cols. 538-39.]

will give five months’ improvement. This claim is, presumably, based on research but five months of lost education is very different from topping up full-time education. There will be particular issues for special schools, which were barely mentioned other than declaring that all children with an education, health and care plan should be in school. This is clearly impossible, given the state of knowledge about Covid-19.

I particularly want to press the Minister on the estimated 500,000 children who are missing from schools permanently. Some 80,000 of those children are home-schooled and 6,000 are going to unregistered schools; the Children’s Commissioner has talked of 120,000 children who have fallen outside the register. If there is home-school tuition, you do not need permission to home teach. You do not need any qualifications. There are no requirements on hours. You do not need to conform to the national curriculum or have to do SATS—and, of course, you do not have to be registered, let alone inspected. Will the Minister give an assurance, first, that those children who are home-schooled will at least be in an environment where safeguarding practices are maintained, and that those settings should be registered? Secondly, will she take action against those unregistered schools? Thirdly, will she ensure that we have a school-roll system which does not allow children to slip through the net? What we need is an open discussion about our schools returning, so that all our children can begin their school career again in September safely.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords for welcoming, as we all do, the fact that children will return to school in September. It is the case that many children have been in school during the period of lockdown. With about 20% of vulnerable children in school, there are over 1.6 million children in school. In relation to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, we share his concerns about the progress made over many years on the attainment gap between those children on free school meals and their peers. That is why the £350 million section of the £1 billion catch-up premium is for tutoring directed to disadvantaged children.

On the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, the guidance strikes a balance between giving schools a framework in which to operate, which has been set in collaboration with Public Health England, and providing school leaders with the flexibility they need, given the multiplicity of school buildings around the country. The overarching principle in the guidance is that schools should seek to reduce the number of contacts between children and staff. It refers to achieving this through keeping groups separate in bubbles and maintaining distance between individuals. It is anticipated that the main thing that will reduce the risk for primary school children—who, of course, will not maintain social distance—is keeping groups separate. For older children, it is about maintaining distance between individuals; a year group can be the bubble for older children who, hopefully, will comply more readily with the instructions from their school leaders.

We appreciate that transport will be an issue in this regard, particularly in rural areas. The Government are advising cycling and walking and have invested £2 billion to promote this as a means to get to school and otherwise, but we recognise that it is a challenge. The guidance has therefore drawn a distinction between public transport and dedicated school transport. The most significant difference is that, while the current guidance is that the one metre-plus rule applies on public transport, it will not apply on school transport. The recommendations are that—if possible and within reason—the bubbles of pupils within school should be maintained on the school vehicle, and there should be queuing, cleaning and hand sanitisation.

As the noble Lord outlined, we recognise that there are particular issues relating to siblings and school transport, and further guidance will be published on this. However, I think it is widely recognised that the balance now is very strongly in favour of the need for children to be back in school for the sake of their health and well-being. We have carefully considered the risk of transmission of the disease—we know that, thankfully, most children are less susceptible to serious symptoms—and the balance is overwhelmingly in favour of most children returning to school.

On reorganisation, to which the noble Lord referred, class sizes can now return to normal, as I have outlined, and spaces used by more than one class can be cleaned. Until the end of the summer term, in addition to other funding we have made available exceptional funding to cover costs of up to £75,000 per school. This is to cover such things as being open during the holidays, providing vouchers other than through the central system and, of course, cleaning costs. Of the £14.4 billion extra cash over the next three years that was announced, £2.6 billion will be made available this September through the dedicated schools grant. That is in addition to the £1 billion catch-up premium.

We are, of course, concerned, as are many parents, about lost education, particularly for those children who will sit their main examinations—GCSEs and A-levels—next year. As of 2 July, Ofqual has published consultation proposals on a range of possible changes which we realise may have to be made to next year’s examinations. The overriding aim, as with this year’s examination results, is that the arrangements are as fair as possible and give appropriate recognition to children’s achievements. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Watson, to respond to this consultation, which contains a raft of different options to ensure that students can be confident in their results.

On track and trace, there is confidence that this system is up and running. Tests will be available for staff, pupils and their households and, obviously, local health teams should be notified where people test positive. We are distributing a small number of home kits, as the Secretary of State for Education outlined, which people can take home if they develop symptoms on school premises. I am happy to confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that there are no grounds for his suspicion that the £1 billion is not new money: it will be in addition to the core schools budget. The year seven premium to which he referred is not relevant to the £1 billion, because that is now included in the national funding formula. The £1 billion is in addition to the national funding formula money that I have outlined.

The questions from the noble Lord, Lord Storey, on children’s attendance in school are incredibly important. All the statutory obligations on schools to record attendance and any authorised or unauthorised absences will be in force as of September. It is important that we have that information; during this period we have published the statistics on how many children have been in school. As regards the broad, ambitious and balanced curriculum that we have outlined in the guidance, we believe that it is feasible for schools to look at how they will alter the priorities with which they will teach certain aspects of the curriculum. For instance, in maths, it is more important that young people get arithmetic skills than that they potentially learn Roman numerals. Therefore we leave it to schools to do that. We anticipate that the schools will be teaching to the curriculum by the summer of next year, but we have allowed them that flexibility.

Indeed, the statistic in terms of catch-up through the tutoring service—six to 12 weeks—is evidence-based and, as regards the catch-up premium, we have made available information from the Education Endowment Foundation to help schools use that money wisely. I can reassure the noble Lord that we have published guidance for special schools. Of course, they have to do many more individual risk assessments for pupils, but they have the benefit of smaller groups, and they will potentially be impacted by the changes to the shielding guidance that will happen on 1 August.

However, I share the noble Lord’s concerns about any children missing from our schools. He will be aware that the department carried out a consultation on proposals to introduce a registration scheme for children who are home educated. I assure him that we will publish that consultation response soon and that during this period, as well as Ofsted’s obligations to investigate safeguarding, it has also been acting on any intelligence it has received about any unregistered settings. It is supported by us to conduct such visits if it believes that there is an unregistered setting, and it continues to act on that intelligence. The noble Lord is probably aware that in recent years there have been a number of successful prosecutions. The department takes it very seriously, particularly in terms of safeguarding and the provision of education, if anyone is operating an unregistered educational setting.

My Lords, we now come to the 30 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. Can questions and answers please be brief, so that I can call the maximum number of speakers?

My Lords, is it not incumbent on us all, whatever our political party, to do all we can to encourage and support our country’s teachers and those working responsibly in the teaching unions? Has my noble friend noted the ways in which the recovery of our education system is being assisted by independent schools sharing their online programmes with state-sector colleagues, asking them to join summer courses, and strengthening the flourishing partnership work that benefits both sectors so much?

My Lords, it has been a pleasure during my tenure as Minister to speak regularly to the Boarding Schools’ Association and the Independent Schools Council. One of the things we have seen during the pandemic is a sharing of educational expertise, not only from the independent sector to the state sector but within the state sector, whether that is sharing online classes, as with the Oak National Academy, or teachers sharing lesson plans. I hope that will be one of the positive legacies of this crisis—that we will continue to share the best of our educational practice so that all pupils can benefit from it.

My Lords, a foreign language has been compulsory for key stage 2 since 2014, and research shows that it is also beneficial for literacy and oracy in English for that age group. There is therefore widespread concern among teachers and heads that the guidance issued by the DfE last week omitted foreign languages from the subjects to be taught in primary schools when they return. Can the noble Baroness please tell us who took that decision, on what grounds and after what consultation?

I am happy to clarify for the noble Baroness that what she outlines for the teaching of modern languages at key stage 2 is not correct. The guidance states that all state-funded schools are expected to teach all subjects from the start of the autumn term but to make use of

“flexibilities to create time to cover the most important missed content”.

I think the misnomer has been created by the fact that the guidance has a list of subjects, which says

“including sciences, humanities, the arts, physical education”,

but does not include modern languages. However, that was an illustrative list of a broad curriculum at key stages 1 and 2 and is not intended to be read as the only subjects or domain to be taught from ages five to 11. The Government expect maintained primary schools to continue to teach languages during key stage 2, but also to use those flexibilities. I hope this clarifies the matter for the noble Baroness.

My Lords, some children who have been out of school for such a long time will need extra support to help them reintegrate and perform well. Professionals believe that demands on children’s services, including child mental health services, will be huge and expanded. Will the Government provide extra resources for such services to support schools and children, and if so, how?

The guidance makes clear that mental health, well-being and adjusting children back into the school environment are important priorities. Mental health is key to that. In relationships, health and sex education, there is a particular module to assist teachers to teach about mental health, and £5 million has been dedicated to the mental health coronavirus fund, in addition to over 50 mental health support teams that are the beginning of rolling that out to a substantial proportion of our schools.

My Lords, the Minister in her Statement mentioned special educational needs, but concentrated on those with an education, health and care plan. The vast majority of those with special educational needs do not have one. What specialist teaching methods have been looked at to enhance the position of those who have fallen behind and will have greater difficulty catching up? For instance, have online awareness courses offered by the British Dyslexia Association—I here declare an interest—been considered as a basic tool for teachers?

My Lords, as the noble Lord outlined, most children with special educational needs are within mainstream education, and when schools return the obligation is on them to offer that broad and balanced curriculum to all their pupils. Obviously, there are specialist teachers in schools to ensure that those with special educational needs are assisted to access that curriculum. During this period, there have been particular resources and guidance for those with special educational needs, including a specific SEND curriculum, available online through the Oak National Academy.

My Lords, I am particularly concerned about the less gifted and disadvantaged children when schools open. Many have lost three months of teaching, yet they will be expected to take GCSE exams next summer which are virtually the same for subjects as they were this year or last year. There has been no reduction in the subject content of GCSE subjects; the things dropped include field trips for geography and experiments in science. Is it fair to expect children who have lost up to three months’ education to take those exams? They will not catch up; they cannot catch up in the time available in one year.

So I ask the Minister to consider extending the school day. University technical colleges have an extended day: they have 31 teaching hours each week, as opposed to 25. If all schools had an extra two hours each day for four days—eight hours overall—that would provide time to catch up with the two, or two and a half, missing months. I do not see how else they can possibly enter a fair examination, and I hope that the Government will examine this seriously as a proposition. You cannot subject those children to unfair exams next summer.

The Government are particularly aware of the situation for children in year 10. That is why, within the laptops programme, disadvantaged year 10 students have been given access to laptops. For the reasons my noble friend outlined, Ofqual has an extensive consultation at the moment to ensure that examinations next year are fair to the children he mentioned.

In relation to his specific proposal to extend the school day, we must take into account that we have a particular set of contracts with staff, and that many staff in our schools have been working since they came back after the February half-term.

My Lords, while we welcome the reopening of schools, careful planning will be necessary to maximise safety. Will the Minister consider a two-shift system, with shorter hours and fewer children in a class to maximise the safety of children and teachers? Will she also ensure the safety and protection of BAME children and teachers, who have an additional risk factor and the additional risk of passing the virus on to their often-crowded families? Particular care is necessary in faith schools, where the majority of students and teachers may be from the BAME community. Will the Minister’s department consider the additional departmental guidance on social distancing and other measures to help to reduce risk? Is she or her department aware of the excellent work done in this direction by the Guru Nanak school in Hayes, which has been recognised by the local education authority?

My Lords, the guidance outlines that full classes can be brought back in September, so it is not anticipated that schools will need to use any kind of shift system like the noble Lord outlined. The guidance talks specifically about the BAME issue. There will be other vulnerable groups, such as staff and pupils who have been shielding. The guidance on who will re-enter educational settings will change on 1 August. We entrust school leaders, who do risk assessments for many purposes in ordinary times, to carry out the risk assessments. The guidance encourages them to make appropriate changes where they can to help and to reassure those who are to be reintroduced into school. It is a pleasure in my role to have good experience of schools drawn to my attention. I had cause to write to the Nishkam Sikh school recently about its response to coronavirus.

This week the Children’s Commissioner reported that some 120,000 vulnerable teenagers are at risk of never returning to full-time education. She calls them the lost generation. What urgent steps are being taken to identify these children and to work with schools, local authorities and safeguarding partnerships to support and re-engage them?

My Lords, the noble Baroness’s comments are apposite because this was the theme of the Chancellor’s announcement today: we are determined that there will not be a lost generation and that opportunities will be given to 16 to 24 year-olds. On her specific question, we had already made additional funding available before today’s announcement to children who are particularly vulnerable, in settings such as AP, to ensure that they are not without education, employment or training. There will be a September offer to local authorities for 16 and 17 year-olds. I assure the noble Baroness that the focus is particularly on this group. We recognise that this is a key transition period, from education into work, for many of them. That is why we have sought to make skills, training and apprenticeships available to them.

My Lords, the Government’s latest school census data shows that we have the highest proportion of secondary school pupils taught in classes of more than 31 for 40 years, and many large primary classes too. This extremely high class size helps to explain the difficulties that schools have faced in getting all children and young people back into school. Also, before the pandemic many schools faced teacher shortages. Does the Minister agree that we might offer incentives to former teachers to return to the profession, and that we should absolutely ensure that all teachers qualifying this summer are able to secure teaching posts? This might be a way of ensuring that all those children who have certainly been through difficulty and possibly even trauma, in particular disadvantaged children, will be in classes where there might be a lower pupil-teacher ratio.

My Lords, on the retention of teachers, we are relying on our existing initiatives that encourage thousands of teachers every year to return to the profession. In relation to the gap that many newly qualified teachers will have had because of schools closing, we are particularly aware of that and have advised that support should be given to them as they start their career. I assure the noble Baroness that within the £350 million tutoring fund there will be some tutors who will be full-time, in particular in disadvantaged schools that need that. There will be further guidance published on that, which will reveal whether retired and former teachers will be part of that cadre of support in our schools.

My Lords, despite the fact that children are least at risk from coronavirus, in many respects they have been among the greatest victims, as a result of losing so much of their education in the last months. So I could not more strongly support the work the Government are doing to get children back to school in September, and the campaign “Sept for Schools” that has been making this case. However, clearly there may be circumstances where school closures happen again because of particular outbreaks of coronavirus, but without furlough schemes and without the other support that has been in place for people working from home. As a single parent, I have looked after three children, aged eight to 13, and I can tell noble Lords that it is a full-time job being a teaching assistant while trying to hold down a full-time job as well. There are many millions of parents in that situation. If in the post-furlough world a school closes, what will be the support for parents who are at home, trying to look after their children and unable to work?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct: I suspect that many parents have a renewed and deepened appreciation for the role of the teacher in their children’s lives. In relation to the situations we hope to avoid going forward—we are obviously seeing a decrease in the prevalence of the virus in the population—the guidance makes it clear that by the end of September we are expecting schools to have a remote education offer that they can stand up as necessary to deal with the situation that the noble Lord outlines.

My Lords, in responding to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, the Minister referred to a new focus on sharing best practice, but the Statement says that Ofsted inspections will restart in the autumn, and suggests that Ofsted will be visiting to discuss how schools are managing, gathering data and sharing learning. Given the fear, the stress and the fraught nature of Ofsted inspections over many years for teachers, does the Minister really think that it can suddenly turn around that culture and the expectation of teachers and other staff? Is this not a good time to recognise that Ofsted is a failed, confrontational model—as, indeed, is the whole focus on school league tables? Can we not start again—“build back better”, as the Government often say—with a different kind of institution and a different way of sharing that is not based on a confrontational model?

My Lords, Ofsted is a vital part of our school system, providing accountability, and many parents rely on the grades that Ofsted gives. It has become common currency, I might add, within the school system—so no, we will not be going back to the drawing board in relation to Ofsted. However, in relation to the point the noble Baroness makes, the autumn involvement of Ofsted is going to be by way of visits. One of the first things the Government did, except in relation to unregistered schools and safeguarding, was to suspend the routine inspection of schools, so that teachers did not have that pressure. These will be visits in the autumn, but they will look at such issues as how a school is responding and what remote education it can provide. That is important, because parents are making it clear that sometimes the disparities in what is on offer are of concern to them. These will be visits with a letter and they will enable them to theme and help the Government and parents to know what is happening in our schools sector at the moment. I am particularly pleased that Ofsted will be visiting inadequate schools under the regime as a matter of priority.

Over 200,000 laptops were issued for pupils to connect online with their teachers. Were checks made beforehand that all would have internet access—not everyone in England has a good connection and not everyone can afford it? Are these laptops to be returned when compulsory schooling starts in September?

My Lords, the laptops are the property of the local authority or the multi-academy trust; when they were loaned out to students, it was of course expected that they would be returned. Tens of thousands of 4G wireless routers went out as well, because we recognise the problem that wi-fi can be patchy, if not non-existent, in certain parts of the country.

My Lords, I greatly welcome the £1 billion catch-up package mentioned in the Statement. But I know from experience of the way in which government works that there is a big gap between allocating a sum of money and ensuring that it actually reaches those schools in the most deprived neighbourhoods and the children who are most at risk of being left badly behind. How are the Government addressing this question? What sources of information are being used? Are local authorities involved as sources of advice on where the money could be best allocated? On the tutoring programme, are the Government considering innovative methods of delivery, such as those pioneered by Teach First in the last decade and more?

The noble Lord is correct. When you have £1 billion, it is important to make sure that it gets to where it needs to go and delivers what it should. That is why £650 million will go directly to schools. Part of that is to enable them to purchase the subsidised tutoring. We trust the school system; giving the majority of the money to the schools is best. Only they know who, of the pupils in front of them, need what. We will publish further details on the £350 million for the national tutoring service. We are looking at making the best use of that money, including remote learning, without forgetting that, in certain schools, there will be a demand for a physical presence. There will be flexibility in that fund. Noble Lords will learn more about the £350 million tutoring fund soon.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the inventive work that our hard-working heads, teachers and support staff have done over the lockdown period to encourage learning and to try to keep pupils in contact with schooling. As the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, pupils have lost a great deal of learning time, so surely it is only fair that exams are cut back in 2021, as head teachers are calling for. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned, will we also see the cancellation of school league tables, which cause damage at the best of times and would be truly harmful now?

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Baroness is aware, there will be no exam data and performance tables for 2020, for precisely that reason. Ofqual is consulting at the moment to see how we can deliver exams next year. One issue is that the effect on children has been disparate. We are getting reports that, for some of the vulnerable children who have been in school, there have been small class sizes since February and some of them are excelling. Some children with English as an additional language have thrived. At the end of the day, we have to trust that schools know how best to deal with their children when they come back. Of those vulnerable children who have been in school, some of them have had an excellent experience.

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Garden. I have an interest to declare, as my family is full of generations of teachers. My gratitude goes to all those teachers who have maintained the education of many children. I welcome this Statement and the funding measures, including the national tutoring package, particularly for catch-up purposes. Will the funding be enough to include computers? I understand that nearly 700,000 children have never had access to a computer, and this might help them to catch up over the summer and in the following months. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that we should be innovative in ensuring that this funding is used more creatively. What is the Government’s new advice for children who were previously excluded but are now expecting to return? They will have been even more vulnerable during this process.

Further to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about children with disabilities, the Minister will be aware that local authorities are expected to uphold their responsibilities to meet their health and social care plans for special educational needs. Will funding be ring-fenced for that?

Much has changed as a result of the pandemic, and minority communities being disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 means that fear has reverberated throughout those communities. Will the Government ensure that we do everything we can to mitigate any harassment, bullying, racism or Islamophobia, which detrimentally affects children’s education and well-being?

My Lords, in relation to the funding that is needed, as I have outlined, there are many pots of money. There is of course the regular £2.4 billion of the pupil premium.

Over 200,000 laptops were ordered because we need to be flexible in these coming circumstances, and eventually we purchased 230,000 in order to have that flexibility.

In relation to excluded children, AP settings are expected to be open and have been open because we have wanted them to have some face-to-face contact with all their students. I pay tribute to those settings, many of which have kept in touch with those vulnerable children during this time.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, has withdrawn his name, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond.

My Lords, will my noble friend join me in sincerely thanking all those teachers who have worked, many of them solidly since the February half-term, through the Easter holidays, not least to teach the children of front-line workers and those with special needs? On the subject of laptops, of those 230,000 how many have actually been delivered and how many are being effectively used right now by students?

Of course I join the noble Lord in paying tribute to the extraordinary effort by teachers, support staff and school business leaders at the moment in offering education. Over 200,000 of the laptops were delivered on target by the end of June, so the commitment that we made has been delivered. As I say, we have a slight surplus so that we can deal with any further orders that we get and can have a certain degree of flexibility in future. However, we have to trust the schools. The department cannot issue these laptops to individual children; we have given them to local authorities and therefore to schools and multi-academy trusts. They know the students who need them, and we trust them as professionals to have distributed them properly.

My Lords, if, as suggested, students coming back to school remain in year groups and are kept separate, it might prove difficult in secondary schools and will certainly impact years 10, 11, 12 and 13 as students may be with different students for every lesson of the day. Can the Minister explain how that will work with option classes if this suggestion is put in place?

My Lords, we recognise that at secondary school there are different subject classes and specialist teachers who need to be in front of the groups of students—that is why a bubble can actually be as large as a year group in secondary school—but that obviously balances the risk that most of those children will obey the distancing that they have been advised to do. That will give the school the flexibility to offer different subjects to different groups of people. The guidance is clear that even partial distancing has a benefit, so if you step over the line you have not lost all the benefits of the guidance. It is about keeping children partially distanced because we recognise that some young people may not obey the rules.

My Lords, when schools return, will competitive sport be allowed for all these kids who have been locked inside for so many months? If not, what is the precise evidence base that this would create additional risk?

My Lords, the guidance specifically encourages that part of a broad and balanced curriculum is the teaching of PE; it is essential to mental health and well-being. Even when schools returned on 1 June, the guidance was that you can have team sports as long as children are in their bubbles and you wash and clean any equipment. We encourage schools to make as much use as they can of their outdoor space.

My Lords, a teacher told me yesterday about a boy in her class with ADHD who had been doing very well before the lockdown but is now showing distress and struggling at school. Today several children were very tearful; there will be many children like this across the country. Can the Minister say what training will be given to teachers to identify and deal with these situations and signpost the child to help? As the teacher said to me, sticking them on endless waiting lists for CAMHS is next to useless when they obviously need the help right now.

My Lords, one reason why the balance is such to get children back into school is that it is best for their mental health and well-being to be with their peers and teachers and to have that routine. As I have outlined, the guidance makes it clear that mental health is important. We are introducing mental health support teams into schools and there is now a 24/7 helpline from the NHS. With these mental health support teams, there is support out there to get the expertise into schools to give them support. We have also resourced charities. Mental health and well-being are at the centre of what the department is delivering.

People in different income groups will have to decide what is best for their children; those with low incomes will be disadvantaged. In these difficult times, one rule will not fit all locations in schools. Inevitably, everyone will have to decide between health and education. Does the Minister agree?

My Lords, we would not want anybody to make that kind of choice. We are particularly aware of the situation for lower-income families. That is why, during this period and throughout the summer, there will be free school meals on offer in the form of either schools’ own vouchers or a voucher system over the summer. There is a £9 million allocation to holiday clubs in disadvantaged areas, because we recognise that those students need some activity. They will get food along with that activity. Of the £1 billion catch-up funding, £650 million goes to schools but the £350 million tutoring fund is tilted towards disadvantaged students.

House adjourned at 7.18 pm.