Gavin Williamson – 2020 Statement on School Reopening

Below is the text of the speech made by Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 13 May 2020.

Mr Speaker, I am grateful to you for granting this urgent question. We had requested to make a statement this week, but Members will understand that there are restrictions on the number of statements, so I am grateful to the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) for the opportunity to answer questions today.

It is over seven weeks since we asked schools, colleges and childcare settings to close to all but vulnerable children and those of critical workers. This has been a huge ask of teachers and parents, but the greatest impact of all has fallen on children themselves. I am immensely grateful for the response of all those working in education, childcare and children’s social care, but we all know that the best place for children to be educated and to learn is in school, and it has always been my intention to get more of them back there as soon as the scientific advice allowed.

As the Prime Minister has confirmed, we are now past the peak of the virus, and he has set out a roadmap for the next phases of our recovery. If progress continues to be made, we expect that, from 1 June at the earliest, we will be able to begin a phased return to school, college and childcare for children in key transition years, alongside our priority groups. Primary schools will be asked to welcome back reception, year 1 and year 6 children in smaller class sizes. Nurseries and other early years providers, including childminders, will be able to begin welcoming back children of all ages. Secondary schools and colleges will be asked to provide face-to-face support for years 10 and 12, who are due to take key exams in the next year.

On Monday, my Department published initial guidance for settings on how to begin to prepare, and we will 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.

We continue to follow the best medical and scientific advice, and we believe that this phased return is the most sensible course of action to take. I know that it 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.