The education secretary has admitted that there is no planned date for schools to reopen, as he announced the launch of a national online academy.
Speaking at the daily No 10 press briefing, Gavin Williamson thanked all of those working in schools and nurseries but said he cannot open their doors until the government’s five tests are met.
He said: ‘People are anxious to know when we’re going to relax restrictions, when schools are likely to be fully back and open again. ‘Of course, I want nothing more than to see schools back, get them back to normal, make sure that children are sat around learning and experiencing the joy of being at school.
‘But I can’t give you a date. Because before we do, we need to meet five tests.’ ‘First we must protect the NHS’s ability to cope, and be sure that it can continue to provide critical care and specialist treatment right across the whole of the United Kingdom.
‘Second, we need to see daily death rates from coronavirus coming down. ‘Third, we need to have reliable data that shows the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels. ‘Four, we need to be confident that testing capacity and PPE is being managed, with supply able to meet, not just today’s demand, but future demand.
‘And fifth, and perhaps most crucially, we need to be confident that any changes we do make will not risk a second peak of infections’. Mr Williamson said the government needs to be ‘confident that any changes we do make will not risk a second peak of infections.
‘We will work with the sector to consider how best to reopen schools, nurseries and colleges when the timing is right’. Mr Williamson also said a new national online initiative for teachers and parents will be launched tomorrow.
The Oak National Academy, led by 40 teachers, will provide 180 lessons each week for every year group from reception through to Year 10.
The education secretary described young people who have left care, or are about to as ‘really vulnerable’, adding that a further £1.6 million has been given to Childline and the NSPCC to help children and adults. ‘I know that families of seriously ill and disabled children are particularly worried at this time and I’m grateful to staff working so hard to support their education, health and care, particular those in special schools or care homes,’ he added. ‘I am asking local authorities to ensure that no-one has to leave care during this difficult time’. Mr Williamson announced further measures to help disadvantaged young people, including care leavers, and said those sitting key exams next year would be provided with laptops. In a bid to stop such students from falling behind in school, Mr Williamson said there was a ‘package of measures’ to support youngsters.
This includes supplying families with IT equipment and supporting schools to teach in homes. ‘Many of us take it as a given that we have good internet and IT facilities at home but that simply isn’t the case for every single child in the country,’ he said. ‘That’s why we have announced this package of measures to help some of those children who are from the most disadvantaged background.’ Mr Williamson added that the government was working with ‘major telecommunications providers to exempt certain educational resources from data charges’ so it doesn’t hike up household bills.
The education secretary also apologised directly to all pupils and students and thanked them for their efforts, adding: ‘I wanted to say how sorry I am you’ve had your education disrupted in this way… ‘I know you will be missing your friends, your teachers and your lessons. You are such an important part of this fight too and I cannot thank you enough’. As of Sunday morning, the UK’s death toll surpassed 16,000, while more than 120,000 people have tested positive for Covid-19.