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Education Return and Awarding Qualifications in 2021

Volume 810: debated on Monday 1 March 2021


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 25 February,

“With permission, I would like to make a Statement regarding the opening of educational settings, our plans to help children catch up and the arrangements we have put in place for qualifications.

The Prime Minister announced on Monday a cautious road map for the gradual relaxation of our current social restrictions. It is not quite the end, but the end is very clearly in sight. As the House is by now aware, the rates of Covid infection have come down enough for us to let children go back to school from Monday 8 March. Secondary and college students will be back from that date, after being offered an on-site Covid test. University students on practical courses who need to access specialist facilities can also return to campus from 8 March, and we will be reviewing the timing for the return of the remaining students during the Easter holidays.

The Prime Minister spoke of a one-way road to freedom. For this reason, we have issued detailed guidance about what we expect all schools and colleges to do to welcome children and students back. A robust testing regime will be in place that will be critical in breaking the chains of Covid infection. More than 4 million tests have already been completed across primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities. I know that staff have worked very hard to set up testing sites in schools and have had time to get used to supervising the testing that goes on. I know that the whole House will join me in thanking every one of them for the incredible efforts they continue to make to keep young people safe and learning.

Primary school staff will continue to receive two home tests a week, and this will be extended to private early years providers and secondaries, and secondary school and college students will be offered three tests in school and college when they return over the first two weeks, to be undertaken three to five days apart. Students will then be offered two home tests per week, so that they can test themselves regularly. Schools will be able to retain small on-site testing facilities for those who cannot and have not been able to test at home. Staff and students at independent learning providers and adult community learning providers will also be able to test at home. On-site testing facilities are already set up in universities, and staff and students there can take two tests a week.

We are following public health guidance and advising that in circumstances where social distancing cannot be maintained, face coverings should be worn in secondary school classrooms as well as in further and higher education settings. This is a temporary measure to ensure the safe return of schools and will be in place until Easter. All the other safety measures that are already in place continue to be robust, including bubble groups, staggered start and finish times, increased ventilation and strict hygiene measures.

This has been a hugely challenging time for teachers, staff and parents. The House will be well aware of the incredible work that has already gone into minimising the effects of this pandemic, but I know from research that we have been conducting that it will not be enough. Many children are going to need longer-term support to make up for lost learning. We want families to know that there will be support for schools and for our children. Sir Kevan Collins, our education recovery commissioner, will be working with parents, teachers and schools on a long-term plan to make sure that pupils have the chance to make up their learning over the course of their education.

As an immediate support, we are putting in place a range of additional measures to help children and young people across England to catch up. We are introducing a new one-off £302 million recovery premium for state primary and secondary schools, building on the pupil premium to further support pupils who need it most. We are expanding our successful tutoring programmes: £200 million will be available to fund an extended national tutoring programme for primary and secondary schools and tutoring and language support in colleges and early years settings. Two hundred million pounds will be available for secondary schools to deliver face-to-face summer schools. Schools will be able to target individual pupils’ needs. The package will build on the £1 billion catch-up package that we announced just a few months ago and forms part of a wider response to help pupils to make up on the lost learning that they have suffered.

I would like to update the House on the next steps after we decided that GCSEs, AS and A-level exams, and many vocational and technical qualifications, could not go ahead as planned this summer. In January, we launched a joint consultation with Ofqual on the best way to do this, so that the results for 2021 are as robust and as fair as possible. I am very glad to say that we got more than 100,000 responses from students, parents, teachers, school leaders and other stakeholders as part of that consultation, and we have considered all of them very carefully. I assure right honourable and honourable Members that there was widespread support for the approach that we are taking.

Our priority is and has always been to make sure that every student has the best possible chance to show what they know and can do, enabling them to progress to the next stage of their education, training or employment. The most important thing that we can do is to make sure that the system is fair to every student. It is vital that they have confidence that they will get the grade that is a true and just reflection of their work. This year’s students will receive grades determined by their teachers, with assessments covering what they were taught and not what they have missed. Teachers have a good understanding of their students’ performance and how they compare with other students this year and from previous years. Teachers can choose a range of evidence to underpin their assessments, including coursework, in-class tests set by the school, the use of optional questions provided by exam boards and mock exams. We will, of course, give guidance on how best to do this fairly and consistently.

Exam boards will be issuing grade descriptions to help teachers to make sure their assessments are fair and consistent. These will be broadly pegged to performance standards from previous years, so that teachers and students are clear what is expected at each grade. Doing this with a rigorous quality assurance process are just two of the ways that this system will ensure that grades are fair and consistent. Quality assurance by the exam boards will provide a meaningful check in the system and make sure that we can root out malpractice. We will also set out a full and fair appeals system. It will provide a process to enable students to appeal their grades, should they believe that their grades are wrong.

I can confirm that no algorithm will be used for this process. Grades will be awarded on the basis of teachers’ judgment and will only ever be changed by human intervention. There must, of course, be as much fairness and rigour applied to vocational and technical qualifications as there is to general qualifications. For those qualifications that are most similar to GCSEs, AS and A-levels, which enable people to progress to further and higher education, external exams will not go ahead and results will be awarded through similar arrangements as set out for GCSEs and A-levels. Where students are taking VTQs to go straight into a job, exams and assessments should take place in line with public health measures. This is so that students can demonstrate the occupational or professional standards that they need to enter the workplace safely.

All our children and young people have paid a considerable price for the disruption of the past year. It has knocked their learning off track, put their friendships to one side and put some of the wonder of growing up on hold. In short, it has caused enormous damage to what should have been a carefree and an exciting part of growing up. I am absolutely committed to the view that, with this programme of catch-up measures and the extra funds for tutoring, we can start to put this right. Together with the measures that we have set out for a fair and robust allocation of grades, young people will be able to look forward to the next stage of their lives with confidence. Our approach in the face of the worst disruption to education since the second world war has been to protect the progress of pupils and students. Ultimately, this summer’s assessments will ensure fair routes to the next stages of education or the start of their career. That is our overall aim.

In summing up, Mr Speaker, I am sure you would agree with my assessment that, as a nation, we have perhaps never valued education as much as we do today, and I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, it is fitting that the Statement emphasises the tremendous efforts of all staff in schools and colleges who have made schools as safe as they can be, at some risk to themselves. I echo these sentiments.

It was obvious before Christmas that there were likely to be problems with grades. Indeed, I and other noble Lords said as much when the ministerial Statement on exams and accountability came to your Lordships’ House on 8 December. Why did the Government sit on their hands and pretend otherwise until it was too late to come up with a genuinely robust proposal? Can the Minister explain why, despite schools closing at the start of January, exam board guidance will not be available until the end of March? That simply increases the uncertainty and anxiety already widely experienced by students, parents and teachers. The proposals for checking and confirming teachers’ grades seem flimsy. It would have been possible to build in much more comprehensive moderation arrangements between schools, using the skills of experienced examiners and exam markers. Without this, there can be no guarantee of consistency and fairness. There is surely a risk that the rigorous will lose out, compared to the less rigorous.

There is also a serious risk that schools, colleges and teachers will be exposed to unreasonable pressure to give students the grades they—or their parents—expect. It must be made clear and emphasised that exam boards, not schools, are responsible for issuing grades and appeals. As things stand, it seems that a school can appeal against a grade awarded by one of its own teachers. This is awkward, to say the least.

The likely volume of appeals and disputes will also present a capacity issue. How can the Government guarantee that the system will be able to cope with these pressures? Faith in the proposals has hardly been enhanced by the very public resignation of Sir Jon Coles from the Ofqual recovery committee just as the new measures were being announced. He was a former DfE director-general and the department’s own nominee to the Ofqual committee. What does this say about the robustness of these proposals?

I turn to the return of schools and colleges. During the first week back, they will be required to carry out three tests for each of the 3.4 million secondary-age pupils. Many schools have lost income or face higher costs because of the pandemic. What support and resources will the Government make available for schools and colleges to deliver the testing, including additional financial support?

In January, the Secretary of State said that he wanted school staff to be in the next wave of vaccinations. Yet, despite the obvious benefits this brings in facilitating the return to school, there has been no commitment since to prioritising school staff. Do the Government no longer believe that teaching staff should be a priority?

Finally, 8 March is also the date on which independent training providers are expected to have the majority of apprentices and trainees back on site. ITPs and their learners seem to be at the back of the queue for receiving Covid home-testing kits. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers says that a general rollout is not expected before April. This cohort includes high levels of vulnerable and disadvantaged learners who are more likely to be affected by Covid-19. It is unacceptable that they should be doubly disadvantaged by a lack of access to testing. Many have little or no access to the technology needed for remote learning, so anything that delays their return to classroom delivery is damaging.

There is an obligation on training providers and employers to provide a safe environment before learning can resume. Already, providers are concerned that they are potentially leaving themselves open to legal action. Can the Minister explain what providers are meant to do in these circumstances?

We all want not simply to see schools and training facilities fully reopened but for it to take place on a sustainable basis. This requires a creditable system, underwritten by a plan B. If the Government have learned anything during the last 12 months, it is surely that a fallback position is necessary to take account of fast-changing events. This Government have been characterised throughout the pandemic by indecision and U-turns. This has had a particularly damaging effect on young people seeking to gain the education and qualifications that will prepare them for the world of work. How can the Minister guarantee that the measures outlined in the Statement will offer a more certain way forward for students, parents and teachers?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for this Statement. The last 12 months have been like a giant wrecking ball for the education of our children. We welcome the reopening of schools and the Covid measures that the Government have put in place, but we have consistently argued that individual schools are best placed to respond to their circumstances. We should give head teachers the flexibility to know how to operate their schools safely.

We welcome that Sir Kevan Collins will work on the recovery plan, crucially together with teachers, schools and parents. It is important that we get this right. Each child’s circumstances vary enormously. The learning gap has widened. Today, the Education Policy Institute has reported that sixth-form and college students from poorer homes find themselves about three A-level grades behind their more affluent colleagues. A few extra lessons of catch-up will not compensate for a year’s loss of mainstream education. We need a rigorous and far-reaching plan to ensure that nobody is left behind. I am surprised that there is no mention in the Statement either of additional support for the well-being and mental health of children, or of children with special educational needs.

I turn to this summer’s exams. Thank goodness that there will not be assessment by algorithm. It is right to have teacher assessment. The amount of learning and study that each pupil has been able to access will vary enormously. Teacher assessment is the only fair way to understand individual pupils’ circumstances and learning. Can the Minister confirm that there will be no school league tables of results? Why not use a more broadly based quality assurance model rather than relying on random sampling? I am sure the Minister is concerned about grade inflation. What plans do the Government have to reverse it?

Finally, how will home-educated children and older adults be assessed for GCSEs and A-levels? I am sorry to spring that question on the Minister. If she does not know the answer, perhaps she could write to me.

Teachers and support staff have worked flat out to keep school learning on the road. We owe our school staff a huge debt of thanks for their dedication and professionalism.

My Lords, I am grateful for the support of both noble Lords. We are all waiting with bated breath for next Monday when our children can return to school—I am sure that many parents are as well. I join the noble Lord, Lord Storey, in paying tribute to the staff who have worked tirelessly during this period.

Unfortunately, the new variant at Christmas took us all by surprise with its speed. The levels of community transmission meant that we had to shut down schools for the second time. It was made clear to staff that exams were cancelled and that teacher assessments would be the way ahead, so certainty was given at that point. This is a genuinely robust proposal. As noble Lords will be aware, we had to consult. Ofqual and the DfE put out a joint consultation. There were more than 100,000 responses—maybe the largest ever—the majority of which were from students. It is good that they were obviously interested enough to put forward their views.

Teachers will have been getting on with teaching as much of the curriculum as possible. Whether students are to be assessed by examination or by their teachers, that curriculum has to be taught to those children. There has been no confusion among teachers that that has been their job by way of remote education for the majority of students.

By Easter, the exam boards will issue their guidance. Departmental guidance was issued on the same day as this Statement, so some information is already available about the list of materials and evidence on which teachers can rely in order to assess grades. Grades will be assessed on evidence. There will be both internal and external quality assurance. Internally, the head teacher will have to sign a declaration that they have acted in accordance with the guidance and instructions given by the exam board. There will shortly be a consultation on what should be in that declaration. We are relying on the professionalism of head teachers as to how grades will be assessed within their school.

Externally, the exam boards will be able to inspect a school where they have concerns about the way in which grades are awarded to students. As the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, this will be random, but it will also be risk-assessed. It has been made clear to schools that a significant misalignment with historical data could be a reason for a school falling within the Ofqual risk profile for assessment. Obviously, we are trying not to peg it to historical data, because certain institutions are improving, but we are making it clear to schools that such data are relevant, though not determinative.

The noble Lord is correct. We need to make sure that we communicate clearly to parents and children that teachers are assessing grades, and grades are awarded by the examination boards. Students will not pay for appeals. An appeal to a school will be of an administrative type. For instance, a child might say, “I’ve got this grade, but have you really taken into account all that assessed artwork that I did?” That kind of appeal is based on process. The examination board comes in if there is a substantive appeal. That is the appropriate boundary between schools and examination boards.

Regarding timing, teachers have until 18 June, so they will get the materials by the end of spring term. They will have to put their assessed grades in by 18 June, and the results dates are 10 and 12 August. That should allow time—we are talking of higher education providers in particular—for any appeals to be put forward, hopefully without prejudicing the transition to the next stage. I just want to pay tribute to the work of Sir Jon Coles, both for the department and for Ofqual. His departure is a matter for himself and Ofqual.

This is an important reassurance on testing, for parents, teachers and students: yes, we are providing support, and have been for the last half term, for the costs of the tests and administering them on school premises. That arrangement will continue. Those schools that applied for expenditure on the basis of full reopening, and have not had to spend that money, can reclaim that cost through, I believe, the NHS Test and Trace service.

It is envisaged that the independent training providers, which will receive tests to do home testing along with everybody else, will use the community testing facilities for that three-week period. As I am sure most noble Lords will know, many local authorities have provided access to asymptomatic community testing sites for those three weeks until they join up with the remote testing system.

Teachers will be assessing, and content will have been taught to, all cohorts—there is no minimum level—such that every student will be able to be assessed with a grade, and students will be assessed on what they have been taught.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, yes, we do trust head teachers to assess these grades, and they have welcomed the guidance. Over this period, the department has had to issue guidance to schools about how to make schools safer for pupils in line with PHE guidance on bubbles, ventilation, sanitation, et cetera.

For the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, the national tutoring programme has been extended to the 16 to 19 year-old cohort. The laptop provisions we outlined have been extended to FE colleges as well. Many have been buying those through the bursary fund, but they can now access the central allocation. Also, £102 million has been allocated to tuition for 16 to 19 year-olds for this academic year. Funds are up on last year because of the expected increase in the size of the cohort. So we do have a rigorous plan.

Mental health and well-being have always featured as part of the guidance, and there has been funding for mental health and well-being in return to education, so there are experienced professionals to advise schools. I can assure noble Lords that there will be no performance tables this year. As I have outlined for the noble Lord, Lord Storey, there will be both internal and external quality assurances—by the school and by the exam board.

Finally, private candidates were one of the cohorts particularly affected last year. We consulted on that, and there will be a number of assessment centres. A list will be put up soon. Multi-academy trusts have volunteered to assess private candidates, so private candidates can look at a list. We are assisting with the cost of this. Private candidates can go to an assessment centre and ask to be assessed on the same basis as for a teacher-assessed grade. Obviously, there are separate lists of materials et cetera for those students. Assessment can be done remotely, so a private candidate is not limited to the provision in their town, which might happen not to include an assessment centre. So we are confident that the method we have outlined will put the assessment of private candidates on a par with that of pupils who are within an exam centre. I am also pleased to say we have this year managed to find a way to get those private candidates who were affected last year assessed. I am just grateful to know, as I am sure we all are, that this time next week school will just be finishing for everybody.

We now come to the 30 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.

First, I congratulate the Government on making a clear Statement about public exams in good time. We all agree that school is the best place for children. Having watched the development of my five year-old granddaughter Sienna over the past year of lockdown, it is clear she needs to be in school. My son and daughter-in-law are equally clear that she needs to be in school. Does the Minister agree there is no quick fix, especially for reception children, and that help will be needed over a period of time?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for highlighting the situation for early years provision, which has remained open during this time, because that kind of education is difficult, if not impossible, to deliver remotely. This is precisely the reason that catch-up will be for the lifetime of this Parliament. The £700 million is the tranche for this academic year. Sir Kevan Collins, whom I am grateful the noble Lord, Lord Storey, mentioned, will be advising us over the lifetime of the Parliament. We are investing £18 million this year on reception and early years to help those children catch up.

My Lords, thinking ahead, will the Government begin a wider consultation to ensure that 2022 GCSEs and A-levels will be fair and that there will be plenty of time to prepare for them?

That issue and others are precisely what Sir Kevan Collins will be helping us with. We are monitoring interim findings on the amount of learning that has been lost. That will inform some of the basis for assessing how those students are doing. We can really only assess things from Monday to know who has lost what time in education.

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register as a member of the board of Bounce Forward, a charity concerned with children’s resilience. I agree with the Minister that we all want to see our children back in school. We all want to know that it is a safe process, that children will not be taking the virus home and that we will not be wholly reliant on flow tests that have been hardly reliable.

We have learned that any ambiguity in the advice given can be very counterproductive. The Statement says that with specific medical exceptions, school pupils will wear face masks in school at all times. But apparently, and confusingly, the Government have also issued advice that allows parents to opt their children out of this requirement. We know that many people and communities are sceptical about vaccines and are declining them, which I greatly regret. They may be likely to opt their children out of mask wearing. Will the Minister make it absolutely clear today that wearing masks in schools is mandatory, except where there is a medical reason not to do so?

My Lords, we have all got used to the fact that there are certain people for whom there is an exemption from wearing a mask, and it is clear that the matter of how mask wearing is enforced in a classroom, or wherever else in a school there cannot be social distancing, is a matter for the school. We do not believe that we should be dictating how schools respond to different situations. There may be a multiplicity of reasons and particular circumstances, so it is up to the schools, as with any other behaviour policy, to monitor the wearing of masks.

My Lords, we welcome anything that begins to restore normal educational activity for our young people, who have lost so much in lockdown. The Statement talks of secondary schools’ summer schools. How will these be staffed? Our hard-pressed teachers are exhausted by the demands of virtual teaching. Can we be assured that they will not be required to give up restorative summer holidays to continue to work through the summer on these face-to-face summer schools—but, if not teachers, who?

My Lords, we are encouraging secondary schools to aim the summer school programme at incoming year 7s, because that is the transitional year. We have given them £200 million in funding to do this. Using existing staff, who might want to come in and be paid, is an option, as is using supply teachers, volunteers or other people. This is up to the schools. We are encouraging them to run these programmes and we are providing them with the resources to staff them as they choose.

My Lords, I should declare an interest, in that I have one child taking A-levels and one taking GCSEs this year. So far as they are concerned, I trust their teachers; I think they will be rigorous and accurate. But, generally speaking, there is a sense of uncertainty associated with the exam boards’ quality assurance process. I heard what my noble friend said about that, but the scale of the interventions by the exam boards has to be just right. Too little and they have no impact, too much and effectively the exam boards will override the judgments made by teachers and head teachers. Can my noble friend give us any more information about the scale of the quality assurance activity by exam boards?

My Lords, how many times the exam boards decide to intervene will be up to them, in terms of how many random and how many risk-assessed interventions. But I can assure the noble Lord that this is an assessment based on evidence. The exam boards will be training teachers in how to do this; they will be giving exemplar materials—for instance, “This is an example of a grade A essay in history”; and they will be given grade descriptors. We are hoping that all of these, along with the declaration that the head teacher will have to sign, will provide the assurance—but it will be for the exam boards, overseen of course by Ofqual, to do the external quality assurance.

My Lords, on Friday last, the Secretary of State for Health told the nation that one in five local authorities had seen an increase in Covid cases and that this was still a deadly virus. Is this then the right time to bring 10 million people back into daily circulation? There is a settled view from education staff and their unions that schools and colleges should be open to all as soon as is safely possible. However, from March 8, mitigation should be in place precisely to ensure safe reopening. The use of rotas and a staggered approach, as well as the use of additional spaces and staff to allow for the greatest chance of social distancing, would all decrease the risk of a surge in community transmission on the reopening of schools and colleges. Can the Minister offer any hope that the Government, even at this late stage, will consider these helpful suggestions for mitigation?

Obviously the return is data-driven, not date-driven. The controls that PHE have advised have been supplemented by the wearing of face masks in certain situations in secondary schools. It is a balance of risk. We are confident now that the public health figures in most areas for the disease are at such a level that they are counterbalanced by the need to get children back into education. But, as the Prime Minister made clear, we will be watching the data and the figures to ensure that there is not the kind of surge the noble Baroness outlines.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Chief Medical Officer’s position on children returning to school is consistent with the views of the Chief Medical Officers of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales? For my part, I believe it is extremely important that no child in any part of the United Kingdom is disadvantaged by not having face-to-face teaching as quickly as possible. Is it not the case that children are much more likely to be harmed in the medium and long term by not returning to school and not having that face-to-face teaching than anything to do with the pandemic as things stand at the moment?

I agree with the noble Lord, as I have outlined, about the harm that we all know of in terms of education loss, and of course the harm for certain vulnerable children who have remained at home and what we sadly expect will be a period of referrals to children’s social care after schools reopen. In relation to education, I do not need to say to the noble Lord that it really is a devolved matter. All I can say is that schools in England are reopening in accordance with PHE and CMO advice.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that, if you are going to do an assessment on work that has been done by people going forward, it is very important that the teachers involved know the patterns of the people they are dealing with. If somebody is dealing with, say, a moderate dyslexic who underperforms in essays et cetera—I remind the House of my declared interests here—they might not be in the best place to make the assessment, given that condition, and this might be carrying on for virtually anybody with a special educational need. The teachers may not have the experience to assess what they will do, and these groups often outperform in exams. Will there be an appeals process that goes forward and takes this on? It is a real problem and, as we get better at identifying it, it is a growing one.

My Lords, obviously many of the mitigations that certain children with special educational needs need in terms of extension of time in exams are not obviously going to be relevant under this system. There is a short list at the moment of assessment materials that teachers can take into account; it is not just “sit an essay”. There is are a range of materials and we would and do expect and hope that teachers will know, in circumstances such as the noble Lord outlines, which materials to set for children with those particular needs. I will write to him about whether there is any specific aspect of the training that exam boards will give in regard to special educational needs students and the outperformance in exams that he outlines.

My Lords, I declare my interests as a former general secretary of the Independent Schools Council and the current president of the Independent Schools Association. Do the Government recognise that independent schools want to work as closely as possible with their colleagues in the maintained sector, strengthening the well-developed partnership between them still further, in order to play a full part in the recovery of the entire national education system? Will there be opportunities for independent schools to contribute to the recovery schemes that the Government are now designing?

I thank the noble Lord for his persistence in raising this issue. I have the great privilege of meeting at least every fortnight with the Boarding Schools’ Association and the Independent Schools Council. We have certain partnerships with them, particularly in relation to vulnerable children in boarding schools, but I do want to say, in relation to catch-up being for the lifetime of the Parliament, that now is the moment for us as the department and that sector to really try to square this circle and find a larger-scale way in which the good will of the sector and the needs of our children can be aligned so that we can deliver something more substantive.

My Lords, can I press the Minister on summer school provision again? The summer school catch-up schemes are going to be absolutely essential. Why therefore are they covering only a third of children on free school meals? When are we going to have detailed plans of what will be the content of the curriculum and the expectations? Will this all be left to schools? In which case, will any standards be set? The Minister mentioned the focus on children in transition years. I welcome that very much indeed, because these are very crucial rites of passage. Can she tell me more about what those plans are and when we will actually see them—and, more importantly, when teachers will actually see them?

My Lords, yes, the summer school programme is focused on those in secondary schools for the reason that they have less time left in education. As I say, we are encouraging year 7 because of that transition year. There will be enrichment activities as well as education. There will be further information on this for schools and I reiterate that this is in addition to the holiday and activities fund that is running those activities in disadvantaged communities—so it is summer schools plus that.

My Lords, the risk here is not grade inflation. It is the exact opposite. It is that pupils from poor or overcrowded homes, with special needs, or from schools that provided fewer online lessons, will not get the grades that they would have if they had not missed a year’s education, and their prospects for the future will never recover. I know that the Government have provided laptops, but lots of pupils are still missing out. There is a huge difference between the amount of online teaching provided by different schools. Will the Government agree that schools and exam boards should err on the generous side and take into account a pupil’s ability and the grades they would have got had they not been robbed of a year’s proper teaching, so that they can go on to the apprenticeship or the college or the university that they would otherwise have been able to.

My Lords, this method of assessment for grades means that teachers can take into account how much content has actually been taught. We have not mandated a minimum level, but they should be assessed using these materials only on what they have been taught—obviously not on what they have not been taught—so the teachers can know what content the child can be assessed upon. This should help with the differential learning loss. In relation to disadvantaged pupils, the £302 million of Covid premium is actually based on pupil premium—so we are targeting that at the most disadvantaged students.

My Lords, will recovery schemes be compulsory for all children and fully funded? If not, vulnerable children are likely to lose out. Will such schemes ensure opportunities for sport, the creative arts and social education, which are so important in their own right but also improve academic achievement and mental health and well-being?

My Lords, the recovery scheme summer schools are funded to £200 million and there should be enrichment activities. I am delighted to say that all the wraparound facilities in schools for essential purposes will also be open on 8 March; I am sure that many students are looking forward to being back doing PE and all those other activities when they return to school next Monday.

My Lords, in the light of the Sutton Trust’s report last week on the hugely negative effects of university closures, especially on disadvantaged students, will the Government consider advancing the date of their review on when remaining students can return to university, particularly since leaving it to the Easter holidays will give little notice to universities, which need to plan to make a much-needed full return?

My Lords, there will be a one-week notice period for that. The reason for all these gaps is so that action is taken and data is collected and assessed. There are no plans to change the date of that review, but as the noble Baroness will be aware, students on practical courses should return by the 8th if they have not already done so.

My Lords, in my view, Her Majesty’s Government made the right decision in resisting calls to vaccinate teachers ahead of vulnerable people. However, can the Minister give your Lordships’ House Her Majesty’s Government’s view on reports that universities are collating secret waiting lists for admission to university?

My Lords, I have no information at all on secret reports or anything of that nature. As I outlined, we are working closely with the higher education sector, so that after the results days on 9 and 12 August, there will be a period of time to ensure that if a student appeals, any offer they have will be open to them. However, I have not heard of any secret reports.

I strongly endorse the intervention by my noble friend Lord Watson. However, I want to pick up on the question the noble Lord, Lord Addington, raised. In the assessment process and the advice that has been given, which obviously will deal with coursework and marks, there is now this added factor of the external tests—call them mini-exams if you wish. How will the comparator—the declaration of heads—be dealt with by the exam boards and the regulator when some have tests and some do not?

My Lords, during the consultation period the department met with a number of stakeholders—in fact, with just over 100 organisations, including SEND organisations. The tests will be provided by exam boards but they are voluntary; schools will be able to set their own tests. There will be a list of assessment materials that they can use to form the basis of the tests. They can use coursework or something from the first year of GCSE, but they will then sign a declaration. The content of that declaration is being consulted on, but it will say that they have done the assessment process in accordance with the guidance and the outline given to them by the exam boards. However, they will be trained and assisted with grade descriptors and exemplar material so that we can have confidence that grades are as consistent as they can be across different centres.

Can the noble Baroness explain on what evidence the Government made the extraordinary decision to mandate that secondary pupils mask up in the classroom, especially as in August, the Prime Minister described such a policy as “clearly nonsensical”? As this means that children as young as 11 will spend the majority of their waking hours wearing a mask, can the noble Baroness tell us whether any research has been done on the health, educational or social costs of children wearing masks for such an extended period? Finally, can the noble Baroness allay the concern of teachers that wearing face masks in the classroom is not the return of face-to-face teaching, because they are antithetical to classroom engagement? How can the teacher read the room, see who is struggling and see who has understood? That would seem even more important as the Government are now advocating teacher-led assessment, but teachers cannot see whom they are assessing.

My Lords, the wearing of face masks in secondary schools will be reviewed at Easter. This is a three and a half week period during which Public Health England has advised us to do this, and although it is not ideal—no one is pretending that—it is far outweighed by children not being in school and not having their education delivered face to face. Therefore, it is a compromise and it will be reviewed at Easter.

Sitting suspended.