Primary school return cancellation is latest education U-turn during pandemic

The announcement that around a million primary school pupils in England will not return to their classrooms next week as planned is the latest in a string of U-turns performed by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson since the pandemic began.

A staggered approach was due to see primary school pupils and Year 11 and 13 students returning in the first week of January, but this has now been cancelled following warnings from experts over the danger of the new coronavirus variant.

Here PA looks at the other education-based U-turns that have occurred since march.

– The first primary school return

Following the first national lockdown, Mr Williamson set out ambitions in early May that all primary-age children would return to school for at least four weeks before the summer break.

But on June 9, he said there was “no choice” but to scrap those plans amid concerns that the two-metre social-distancing rule would make a full return impossible.

– School meals voucher scheme

Following pressure from a campaign headed by England footballer Marcus Rashford, the Government reversed its decision not to extend the children’s food voucher scheme into the summer holidays.

Cabinet minister Grant Shapps said on June 16 that free school meals were not normally extended to cover the summer period.

But a few hours later, No 10 backtracked on its stance, confirming that it would in fact extend the programme.

– School face coverings

The policy that children should not be required to wear face coverings while in school was reversed by the Department for Education in August, when it announced that face coverings should be worn in corridors and communal areas by staff and students in Year 7 and above in schools in areas with coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Williamson had insisted previously that the Covid-secure measures being adopted in schools meant that the wearing of face coverings would not be necessary.

– A-level and GCSE results in England

Following criticism from students and headteachers, and a backlash by Tory MPs, the Government announced A-level and GCSE grades would be based on teachers’ assessments rather than a controversial algorithm devised by regulator Ofqual.

Students protest after the summer's A-level results
Students protest after the summer's A-level results

The Prime Minister and Mr Williamson had previously defended the “robust” system, which saw almost 40% of A-level grades reduced from teachers’ predictions.

The announcement on August 17, just days before GCSE results were due to come out, followed an earlier vow from Mr Williamson that there would be “no U-turn, no change”.