I recognise there has been significant concern about the status of schools.
I believe it is important that we start getting children back to school as soon as it is safe to do so. Now that we have made progress in reducing the transmission of coronavirus, the Prime Minister has set out plans for a phased reopening of schools and educational settings.
I am assured that the content and timing of the second stage of adjustments will depend on the most up-to-date assessment of the risk posed by the virus. To aid planning, the Government's current aim is that the second step will be made no earlier than Monday 1 June. When the time is right to begin re-opening schools, the plan is that primary schools in England will be asked first to welcome back children in key transition years – nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6. As the Prime Minister has said, progress will be monitored and schools will only reopen if five key tests set by Government justify the changes at the time, including that the rate of infection is decreasing.
I know that keeping children and staff safe has been the upmost priority for Ministers in making decisions about opening schools for more children, but I also appreciate that teachers and parents may have concerns about these plans. It is very welcome that the latest scientific advice indicates that more children will be able to return to school from 1 June, but it will be important to continue to limit overall numbers in school and introduce protective measures to prevent transmission. An overview of the latest scientific information can be viewed using this link - https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uplo…
In addition, sector representatives have attended an expert panel to be briefed on the science underpinning government decisions. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) regularly publishes papers outlining the scientific advice provided to the government. Further batches will be published in due course.
Return to school
The Prime Minister has since set out a COVID-19 recovery plan. As part of the second step of this plan, there will be a phased return to school and early years settings. No earlier than 1 June, children will be able to return to early years settings, and Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 classes will be able to return to school in smaller sizes. Secondary schools, sixth forms and colleges will also work towards the possibility of providing some face-to-face contact with young people in Year 10 and Year 12 to help them prepare for exams next year.
Whilst there will be no penalty for families who do not send their children to school, families will be strongly encouraged to take up these places - unless the child or a family member is shielding or the child is particularly vulnerable due to an underlying condition.
Priority groups, including vulnerable children and children of critical workers who have been eligible to attend throughout school closures, will continue to be able to attend schools, colleges and early years settings as they are currently.
Further information about who can send their children to school can be found via this link - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/closure-of-educational-setti…
These measures do mean that summer assessments and exams will not go ahead as planned. Students who were due to sit A level, AS level or GCSE exams this summer will receive a calculated grade, based on a range of evidence.
The calculated grade process will take into account a range of evidence, including, for example, non-exam assessment and mock results, and the approach will be standardised between schools and colleges. Ofqual, the exams and qualifications regulator, will work with the exam boards to ensure this is consistently applied for all students. University representatives have confirmed that they expect universities to be flexible and do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to higher education. There will also be an option to sit an exam early in the next academic year for students who wish to.
Free School Meals
Meals and food vouchers are available to ensure children eligible for free school meals will continue to receive a free meal. Effective immediately from day one of closures, schools were able to order vouchers directly from supermarkets or shops in their communities to be emailed or printed and posted to families, and they will have their costs covered by the Department for Education.
Private School Fees
It will be for individual private schools to decide whether they will continue to charge parents fees during the school closures, although of course schools should be reasonable and balanced in making these decisions.