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School Support: Increased Covid-19 Infection Areas

Volume 679: debated on Monday 7 September 2020

What steps his Department is taking to support schools in areas with an increase in covid-19 infection levels. (905500)

In local areas where restrictions have been implemented, we anticipate that schools will usually remain fully open to all. There may be exceptional circumstances in which some level of restriction to education or childcare is required in a local area. In those situations, local and national partners will carefully consider the most appropriate actions, with the aim of retaining as much face-to-face education as possible.

I presume that when the Secretary of State says “open to all”, he does not mean people who have tested positive for covid.

There is a great deal of confusion among children, parents and our wonderful school staff about what the arrangements are in the event of a local lockdown or an isolated outbreak, and of course that extends to what the arrangements are for home learning. Will the Secretary of State please tell us where is the guarantee that all children who have to study from home will have access to broadband? Where is the guarantee that all staff will have the capacity to deliver home learning? Will he tell us what happened to the laptops that were promised months ago to enable that to happen?

The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that we distributed more than 200,000 laptops, as well as more than 40,000 internet router connections, for children from the most disadvantaged communities. They went to local authorities and multi-academy trusts— [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, “They never arrived.” I suggest that he takes it up with his local authority, to which they were sent directly.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the continuity of education. That is why, on 2 July, we outlined our expectations of what is required of schools in terms of the delivery of continuity of education. That is why we have made an investment of a further 150,000 laptops, which will be provided for communities that are not able to provide face-to-face teaching within schools. To be absolutely clear, schools will only ever be closed as an absolute last resort. We all understand, on both sides of this House, how important it is for children to be benefiting from being in school with their teachers and learning in the school environment.