Pupils and teachers will have access to Covid-19 tests, says Education Secretary
All teachers and pupils will be able to be tested for Covid-19 if they develop symptoms when they return to schools, the Education Secretary has said.
Gavin Williamson said this would enable a “track-and-trace approach” to be taken with any confirmed cases, as schools plan to begin a phased reopening from June 1.
He added that based on the medical and scientific advice, the reintroduction of classroom teaching next month was “the right thing to do and the only reasonable thing to do”.
Mr Williamson also confirmed he was looking “very closely” at proposals for summer school catch-up tuition, following concerns that vulnerable children were not receiving the education they needed during lockdown.
Answering an urgent question in the Commons from Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran, Mr Williamson said: “On Monday my department published initial guidance for settings on how to begin to prepare and we’ll work with the sector leaders to develop this further in the coming weeks.
“This guidance sets out protective measures to minimise the risk of infection, including restricting class sizes and limiting mixing between groups.
“Crucially, all children and staff will have access to testing if they develop symptoms of coronavirus.
“This will enable a track-and-trace approach to be taken to any confirmed cases.”
He added: “When you have medical and scientific advice that is saying it’s the right time to start bringing schools back in a phased and controlled manner, it seems only the right thing to do and the only responsible thing to do.”
But Mr Williamson acknowledged that allowing pupils to return to school would be “challenging”.
“I know that this will be challenging but I know that nursery, school and college staff will do everything in their power to start welcoming our children back to continue their education,” he said.
Robert Halfon, Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee, raised concerns about children falling behind during the lockdown period.
“Will (Mr Williamson), while understanding schools won’t officially be open in the summer, support the opening of summer schools over the holidays to be staffed by volunteers, graduates, an army of retired teachers, to provide catch-up tuition to these children who have been left behind?” he asked.
In response, Mr Williamson said: “He’s right to highlight the many thousands of volunteers that want to reach out, help our children in order to be able to have the knowledge to succeed in the future, and we’re very closely looking at such schemes – working with schools, working with the sector – as to how we can make that available to them.”
Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said the guidance provided by the Government on schools did not provide the “clear assurances” needed on safety.
She told the Commons: “We all desperately want schools to reopen for the sake of children’s education and well-being.
“But (Mr Williamson) must appreciate that the guidance provided so far does not yet provide the clear assurances over safety that are needed.”