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Schools will reopen in ‘phased manner’ after lockdown, says Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

Schools will reopen in ‘phased manner’ after lockdown, says Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

  • Gavin Williamson did not give a fixed date for reopening schools across England
  • But Education Secretary said when it happens it will be done in ‘phased manner’
  • Schools across the UK have been closed to most pupils ever since March 20 

Schools across England will reopen in a ‘phased manner’ when the government decides the time is right to allow pupils to return, the Education Secretary said today. 

Gavin Williamson would not be drawn on a fixed date for when schools could be able to resume but ruled out the prospect of them opening over the summer holidays. 

He told MPs: ‘I do expect schools to be opened in a phased manner. I also intend to be giving schools as much notice as possible.’

Schools, colleges and nurseries across the UK closed their doors to the majority of pupils, apart from the children of key workers and vulnerable youngsters, more than five weeks ago.

Gavin Williamson, pictured in Number 10 on April 19, today announced schools across England will reopen in a ‘phased manner’ when the decision is taken to allow pupils back

Addressing the Education Select Committee, Mr Williamson said: ‘We recognise that the idea of schools all returning on day one with the full complement of pupils is not realistic or practical.’

Mr Williamson did not say which year groups could return first, but he said they were looking at best practice in other countries, such as Germany and Denmark, where schools had begun to reopen.

The minister added that there was no plan to ‘run schools through the summer’.

Education is a devolved issue which means the administrations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be able to take their own decisions on the return of schools.

The re-opening of schools will be a key focus of the UK government’s lockdown exit strategy because resuming teaching will free up workers to return to their jobs and kickstart the economy.  

Mr Williamson’s comments come after the Welsh education minister said on Tuesday that schools would not be reopening to all students any time soon, but that there could be a phased return for some pupils.

When asked whether the Government would update its guidance on Personal Protective Equipment and social distancing in schools to ensure teachers were kept safe, Mr Williamson suggested they may review advice when a phased return of schools began.

He said: ‘It is incredibly important that we get the right balance in terms of actually making sure that we create an environment that is good to learn in but also that is a safe environment for people to both work in and learn in as well.’

Mr Williamson was pressed by MPs on what the Government was doing to ensure the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers did not widen amid school closures.

Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the committee, asked whether the Government would support his idea of an ‘army’ of volunteers – made up of retired teachers, graduates, and Ofsted inspectors – to help tutor and mentor disadvantaged children when the lockdown ended.

Mr Halfon also called on Mr Williamson to introduce a ‘catch-up premium’ to provide tuition for these poorer pupils.

Some 55 MPs and peers warned on Wednesday that the attainment gap would widen without additional funding.

Mr Williamson said the Government was ‘open’ to ideas, such as the volunteer scheme, and that they were discussing a range of policies to help disadvantaged children catch up.

‘We are looking at different ways about how we can use the enormous volunteer army of people that have come forward, many with past education experience, many with an awful lot of knowledge in specialist subjects,’ the minister said.