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The process of school reopening will not mean that children will be forced to spend their summer holidays catching up in the classroom, says the Education Secretary.

Gavin Williamson was speaking at this week’s Education Select Committee meeting on Wednesday where he also discussed the impact of the closures on vulnerable children.

Earlier this month, we reported that Williamson may prefer an earlier lifting of lockdown restrictions due to the impact on the education system. However Williamson refused to be drawn on a date.

Earlier today, Shadow Education Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey stressed schools should only be open when safe to do so.

Education Secretary: School reopening to be phased

Speaking at the online Education Select Committee meeting on Wednesday morning, Williamson said that no timescale had yet been set on a return to education but he thought it likely it would come in stages – echoing comments from his counterparts in Scotland and Wales this week.

Asked whether he thought primary schools or secondary schools would open first he said:

This is obviously something we are giving a great deal of thought to. Just a couple of weeks ago I chaired a meeting with SAGE (Scientific Advisers to the Government) to look at the particular issues that opening schools will cause, making sure that when schools are reopen they are done in the best possible way, with the best possible medical advice.

The information that we get from SAGE, as well as Public Health England, will be best used to inform us how to reopen schools but I do expect this (to be done) in a phased manner. I also intend on giving schools as much notice as possible.

Gavin Williamson

School holiday lessons ‘not expected’ for catch up

Much has been made of the inequality that the decision to close schools and subsequent lack of learning had caused. Some coverage had therefore focused on how children from these affected year groups would ‘catch up’ their education compared to previous year groups. One idea which had been floated was that children may have to forgo their summer holidays to return to the classroom for learning:

We’re not planning on running schools in the summer.

But we are looking at a whole set of interventions to help children both catch up with their work (all) backgrounds. We’re looking at different interventions we can make, in order to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Gavin Williamson

Could former teachers be drafted in to help with catch up?

Williamson was also asked whether former teachers could be brought back to help with the catch up period during school reopening. However, for the time-being he refused to be drawn on exact policy for this period.

I like to think we are ahead (of where you think we are) in terms of catch up premium. We actually realise we need to put in a whole set of measures to help all children. This is why we’re working very closely with schools in terms of looking how we plan resources better in future to make sure children from whatever background are helped.

We’re discussing a whole different range of aspects to be able to form our policy. Those policies are not yet ready to be launched. We are looking at different ways we can use the enormous volunteer army of people that may come forward, many of who with past educational backgrounds and many with an awful lot of knowledge of specialist subjects. We’re working incredibly closely with Ofsted who have been incredibly important in terms of supplementing many different aspects of education.

Gavin Williamson

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