Our priority is ensuring that no child is left behind as a result of the pandemic, and that is why we have prioritised the return of children to school and why we are providing a package of £700 million to support children and young people who need it most to catch up on lost education, on top of the £1 billion package launched last June. We are committed to continuing to work with school leaders and unions, including the NEU, to develop our longer-term plans.
There has been a worrying pattern during this pandemic where, time and again, the Government have ignored the science, closing schools too late and opening them too early. Many scientists are warning that the Government’s measures for schools are not strong enough on their own to protect pupils and staff against the risks of airborne transmission. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies recommended a phased return to schools, and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have listened. With this Government forging ahead regardless, so much more must be done to tackle the critical issues of PPE, adequate ventilation in classrooms, special educational needs and disability, and vaccination. We need to protect our key workers. Has the Minister got a grip on that?
Every step of the way we follow the science. We are focused on ensuring that we do everything we can to keep covid out of the classroom and minimise the risk of transmission. That is why schools are going to enormous lengths to increase hygiene levels and ensure that pupils wash their hands frequently throughout the day, and why there are bubbles so that pupils do not mix unnecessarily. There is increased ventilation. There are one-way systems, staggered lunch and break times, face masks in secondary schools, and we are testing all staff and secondary school pupils twice a week. As the Chief Medical Officer has said, the best place for pupils is in school, as that is best for their wellbeing and education.