UK schools set to reopen in 'phases'

29 April 2020, 15:48

Schools are closed across the UK except for children of key workers
Schools are closed across the UK except for children of key workers. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Schools in England will start to reopen in 'phases', the Education Secretary has said, as he hinted that schools will likely stay shut until Autumn.

Gavin Williamson has told MPs that he cannot give a set date for children to return to school.

However, he did explain that this reopening would need to be "phased", and that headteachers would be given "plenty of notice".

Schools have been shut since March 20 except for children of key workers.

In an unprecedented move, GCSE and A-level exams will not take place and will instead be awarded in July based on mock exam results.

Speaking in front of a committee of MPs, Mr Williamson said: "The decision to return schools in a phased manner will be made right across government in the best interests of the schools and the teachers, making sure all considerations are taken on board.

"We are looking at many countries across the globe which are some weeks ahead of us - such as Germany and Denmark."

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He also said that he has been speaking with SAGE and asked for a report on which children should return to schools first.

The report will also look into whether ethnic minority staff may be at higher risk.

Gavin Williamson was grilled by MPs
Gavin Williamson was grilled by MPs. Picture: PA

Committee chair Conservative MP Robert Halfon pushed the education secretary on the widening attainment gap and the "digital divide" affecting poorer children.

He said the impact this would have on children who do not have a computer at home would fuel "a cascade of mounting social injustice which could last a generation."

Mr Williamson explained that policies are being considered to help all schoolchildren "who will suffer from missing out on a period of their education", and that additional support will be targeted towards the most disadvantaged.

A government scheme has been put in place to provide 200,000 free laptops and wifi connections to disadvantaged children including those in care or with a social worker, but this will not start until late May.

Children are currently being home schooled
Children are currently being home schooled. Picture: PA

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Also on Wednesday, a group of more than 50 MPs and peers wrote to the education secretary, calling for urgent action to prevent the poorest pupils falling behind long-term.

They suggested funding of £300m, which adds up to £700 per pupil for those on free school meals, be put aside for 30 minutes of tuition three times a week for 12 weeks, to help these pupils catch up when schools reopen.

The MPs, who all hail from constituencies in the North, said in the letter: "The most disadvantaged children fall behind their peers over a long summer holiday and the shutdown will widen the North's disadvantage gap and with it the North-South education divide.

"We need to deal with the consequences of this crisis for the most vulnerable in our society and that must include children from low-income households."