Coronavirus: Education Secretary 'can't give date' for schools reopening

19 April 2020, 17:15

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson led Sunday's government press briefing
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson led Sunday's government press briefing. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The education secretary said he “can’t give a date” for schools to reopen but ruled out teaching taking place over the summer holidays.

Speaking at Sunday’s government press briefing, Gavin Williamson said five tests around the coronavirus outbreak must be met before students can return to school.

He also confirmed the launch of the Oak National Academy, which will be launched online tomorrow and provide video lessons for pupils up to Year 10.

The briefing came as the UK's death toll passed 16,000, up 596 from Saturday.

Mr Williamson 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 the 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.”

He continued: "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.

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify

"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.

"When we can be sure that we have met these five essential points, we can think about getting children into schools again, learning, mastering new ideas and being with their friends once more."

Mr Williamson was asked about schools being open over the summer and whether he thinks social distancing is feasible in schools, and he replied: "I think we recognise the challenges that anyone who's a parent of trying to instil social distancing in small children, and we have to understand really that sort of broad context.

"We are in a stage in terms of dealing with this pandemic where there are an awful lot of questions that sadly, people would love to have answers to, but in terms of how the virus develops we have to see that.

"There are currently no plans to have schools open over the summer period and we haven't been working on plans to have them open over the summer period."

Mr Williamson praised parents for dealing with home-schooling children during the lockdown and said he “recognises all the challenges that families will be facing at the moment.”

Discussing the Oak National Academy, the Secretary of State said it would be led by 40 teachers, providing 180 video lessons each week across a broad range of subjects.