Last week the Prime Minister announced a clear roadmap out of lockdown, with a cautious and prudent approach to reopening the country safely, starting with the return of schools and colleges on 8 March. The Government’s scientific advisers have made it clear that schools are the best place for children, a view supported by the Children’s Commissioner. Getting young people back to face-to-face teaching has rightly been a priority for the Government as lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Young people, from those just beginning primary school to those completing GCSEs, A-Levels, BTECs, other vocational qualifications and university degrees have faced serious challenges as a result of the pandemic. While older people are clearly most vulnerable to the virus itself, it is essential to recognise the very real disruption the younger generation have faced to their lives and education. I know, at a very personal level, the difference that a great education can make, particularly to children who are most disadvantaged. It is vital that children can get back to school as soon as possible so that their education is not further disrupted.
The priority is not just for schools to reopen, but to reopen safely for staff, students, and parents, with an extensive programme of testing for those in secondary schools and further education colleges.
The Government is committed to helping children catch up with their education, with a further £400 million catch-up funding, on top of the £300 million announced in January and the £1 billion announced in June last year.
A number of parents have contacted me with concerns about their children due to take exams. I know that many students have put in a huge amount of hard work this year to study towards their qualifications and this work must be recognised. The Education Secretary has announced that exam results, for GCSEs, A Levels, and vocational qualifications, will be awarded and determined by teachers. There isn’t a perfect way to assess grades in these extraordinary circumstances. Certainly, last summer’s algorithmic approach caused great distress, and I was pleased to be part of the group of MPs who argued to reverse its damaging impact on local students and schools. Assessment by teachers provides a fairer way to recognise students’ hard work while ensuring that their life chances are not harmed at this time.
I look forward to seeing education for young people resume as we embark on the cautious journey out of lockdown and back to our day-to-day lives. Now it is essential that students are supported in their catch-up learning and that staff, students, and parents are provided with the necessary support to ensure that learning can take place safely and effectively. I have the health and welfare of all of our school community firmly in mind and I continue to work with schools and colleges to make sure they have the support they need so that we can get our young people back to school safely.