Gavin Williamson to face MPs over exams and school reopenings as pupils return

Gavin Williamson is to explain to Parliament how the Government is mitigating risks to children’s futures as thousands of pupils return to classrooms in England and Wales.

The Education Secretary will face MPs as they return to Westminster after the summer recess following a series of U-turns – including on exam results and face coverings in schools – over the last few weeks.

Mr Williamson is due to make a statement in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon on the reopening of schools and colleges to all pupils, as well as GCSE, A-level and Btec exams.

Gavin Williamson
Gavin Williamson

It comes as the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) has written to the Education Select Committee with concerns that poorer pupils are still being “overlooked” due to limited criteria for appealing over grades.

Meanwhile, a YouGov survey suggested one in six (17%) parents in England and Wales is seriously considering not sending their children to school this month over Covid-19 fears.

Approximately 40% of schools are expected to welcome back students for the start of the autumn term on Tuesday, despite concerns about their ability to reopen safely.

It will be the first time many pupils in England have stepped into a classroom since March, when schools were closed except to look after vulnerable children and those of key workers.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has called on the Government to temporarily scrap fines for parents who do not send their children back to class due to fears around coronavirus.

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The YouGov poll of more than 650 parents found that nearly half (48%) think it would be unfair to fine parents who do not send their children back to school because of the pandemic.

The Department for Education said fines for parents who refuse to send their children to England’s schools will only be used as a “last resort”.

Schools minister Nick Gibb appealed to families on Tuesday morning to send their children back to school, adding that any pupil with coronavirus symptoms would be sent home to be tested.

Mr Gibb told BBC Breakfast: “I would urge parents to send their children back to school to help them to catch up on the lost education that they will inevitably have suffered during the lockdown period, and schools are doing everything they can to make sure that their pupils and their staff are safe.”

Mr Gibb said the Government will make a decision “very soon” on whether to delay exams in 2021.

He said the time needed for exam marking and the university admissions process is being considered as part of any decision.

Mr Gibb told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are a whole range of factors that the exam boards, Ofqual and the Department (for Education) are looking at, but we will form a decision very soon.”

The SMF – which supports high attaining students from low-income families who aspire to attend top universities – is calling on the Education Secretary and exams regulator Ofqual to resolve “outstanding issues” to ensure disadvantaged young people are not “penalised” by the grading process this year.

Across the country schools, colleges, nurseries and childminders are welcoming back children and young people.

https://t.co/DfrvSsEF5t#BackToSchoolSafelypic.twitter.com/BmbINLMLir

— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) September 1, 2020

In a letter to MPs, Sarah Atkinson, chief executive of the SMF, said: “We are particularly concerned by examples of students who have concerns about racism and discrimination affecting teacher predictions who are having difficulty persuading the school or college to appeal on their behalf, since to do so would be to admit their own institutional failings.

“We would welcome assurance that the lessons will be learned, and planning has already begun, to ensure that disadvantaged students currently expecting to take exams in summer 2021 are better supported and protected.”

Mr Williamson – who will face questions on this summer’s exam chaos – told the Daily Telegraph that next year’s GCSE and A-level exams could be pushed back to give pupils more time to study.

Exam season usually begins in May, but the paper said sources suggested they could be pushed back to June and July.