Nick Gibb – 2021 Statement on Reopening Education

The statement made by Nick Gibb, the Minister for School Standards, in the House of Commons on 26 January 2021.

Throughout the pandemic, the Government have been clear that education is a national priority. We had worked hard to keep all schools, colleges and universities fully open, but the scientific advice we received in January meant that we had no choice but to close schools and colleges to all but vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, and to restrict in-person teaching in university to those studying to be future critical workers.

It is the Government’s strong desire to reopen all schools, colleges and universities as soon as possible. We will prioritise the reopening of schools as we begin the process of lifting lockdown restrictions. We are acutely aware of the damage done to children’s education and development, particularly for the most disadvantaged pupils, by being away from school, and of the increased burdens that are placed on parents. That is why we allowed early years providers to remain open throughout this lockdown.

The decision about when and how we can reopen has to be based on clear public health data and guided by scientific evidence and the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, the Joint Biosecurity Centre, Public Health England and the chief medical officer, including on issues such as hospitalisation rates and mortality, the rate of vaccination, and the challenge of new variants. Ultimately, it was the pressure on the NHS that caused us to move into a national lockdown, and the Government are monitoring NHS capacity carefully as they review whether easing lockdown might be possible.

The Government recognise that headteachers, teachers, support staff, parents and carers need time to prepare for reopening. That is why the Secretary of State made it clear last week that we will give two weeks’ notice to schools, colleges and universities so that they can prepare for a return to face-to-face education. We want to give two weeks’ notice so that parents can make arrangements for the care of their children, and we will be making announcements in the next few days.

Until schools can reopen fully, it is crucial that they continue to provide high-quality remote education alongside the on-site provision for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. I would like to take this opportunity to thank teachers and school leadership teams across the country for working around the clock to keep schools open for some while also rising to the challenge of providing remote education for the millions of children who are continuing their education from home.

However, remote education can never be a substitute for days spent in a classroom led by a brilliant teacher, or for children being with their friends. We want those days to return as quickly as possible, and with them this Government’s continuing determination, made still more urgent by the pandemic, to raise standards in all our schools to improve the life chances of every child and to transform the start in life for those children facing the toughest challenges.