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House of Commons Hansard
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Return of children to schools in September
01 September 2020
Volume 679

The Petition of residents of the United Kingdom,

Declares that children must be at the heart of government strategy as lockdown eases; notes that research has shown that home-schooling has been inconsistent across the country during lockdown, with disadvantaged children faring particularly poorly; and further declares that the best place for students is in the classroom, as schools provide consistency, social interaction, stimulating learning environments and promote good health and wellbeing.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to work together with head teachers, parent bodies, unions and local authorities to devise a plan by 13 July to safely resume education in September so that all children can return to school.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Munira Wilson, Official Report, 23 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 1273.]

[P002582]

Observations from the Minister for School Standards (Nick Gibb):

It is the Government’s plan for all children to return to school in September. We want to get all children and young people back into education because it is the best place for them to learn, and because we know how important it is for their wellbeing to have social interactions with their teachers and friends. We have published guidance to support schools to prepare for full return, including the “system of controls” they should implement to significantly reduce the risk of transmission.

From 1 June, the Department was able to take the first steps towards getting all children and young people back into education. We asked primary schools to bring back nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6 from this date. We subsequently gave primary schools the flexibility to welcome back more pupils, where they have capacity. From 15 June we supported secondary schools to bring back pupils in years 10 and 12. This is in addition to the education schools have continued to provide to vulnerable children and the children of critical workers throughout the coronavirus (covid-19) outbreak. Last term, 1.6 million pupils have already been welcomed back to school. Schools have also been able to bring in all pupils for face-to-face meetings during the summer term to check-up on their education and wellbeing.

It is our plan that all pupils, in all year groups, will return to school full-time from the beginning of the autumn term. On 2 July the Department published guidance to help school leaders prepare for the autumn term, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/guidance-for-full-opening-schools. Returning to school is vital for children’s education and for their wellbeing. Time out of school is detrimental for children’s cognitive and academic development, particularly for disadvantaged children. This impact can affect both current levels of education and children’s future ability to learn, and therefore we need to ensure all pupils can return to school in September.

To support schools in helping pupils make up for time spent out of the classroom, we have announced a catch-up fund worth £1 billion. Through this fund, in the next academic year, all state-funded primary and secondary schools in England will receive a share of the £650 million catch-up premium. School leaders have discretion to use this additional funding to meet the identified needs of their pupils and to help them plug gaps in curriculum knowledge resulting from extended school closures. The Education Endowment Foundation has published a guide on evidence-based interventions to support schools to make decisions about how to spend their funding. Alongside this the £350 million National Tutoring Programme will provide extra support for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, who will be among those hardest hit by the disruption to education.

We are extremely grateful for how schools have adapted so rapidly to new ways of working by moving resources online, working remotely and changing the way they support their students and each other. As we go into the autumn term, we expect all schools to plan to ensure they have the capacity to offer immediate remote education if a number of pupils need to self-isolate or there is a local lockdown requiring pupils to remain at home.