Kate Green – 2020 Speech on Re-opening Schools

Below is the text of the speech made by Kate Green, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 2 July 2020. This was her first intervention in her role, following the dismissal of Rebecca Long-Bailey in the previous week.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for an advance copy of it. I also thank him for his call last night. I very much look forward to working with him.

Mr Speaker, every child must be safely back in school in September. By then, many children will have experienced nearly six months’ gap in their education. Some have been able to maintain their learning during that period, but there has been a huge gap in learning for others, especially the most disadvantaged. A senior official in the Secretary of State’s own Department has warned that the attainment gap could widen by as much as 75% as a result of the crisis. Today’s announcement finally recognises the desperate pleas of heads, staff and governors for information and certainty about plans for the next academic year. For too long, the Government have been asleep at the wheel. The announcement today comes just three weeks before the end of term, and an immense amount needs to be done to prepare.

Staff have been working flat out since February half term and I, too, want to thank teachers, school leaders and everyone who works in our education settings for their exceptional efforts during these unprecedented times. Over the summer they will need a break, and as they prepare plans for return, they will also need the active support of the Department. It cannot be left to heads to struggle through on their own. So I have a number of questions for the right hon. Gentleman. What consultation has been undertaken in preparing this guidance with heads, teachers and school staff, governors and unions, who have made many sensible and practical suggestions for students’ return? The Government need to learn from their previous mistakes. That is why Labour suggested a taskforce of school leaders, which would have meant we could bring children back to school sooner.

Can the Secretary of State guarantee that every school will have full access to testing and tracing, and all the personal protective equipment and other resources that they need to open safely? The Government’s track record has not been impressive so far, and we cannot allow any further failure to supply the safety essentials to prevent children’s return. I support the Secretary of State in reintroducing compulsory attendance, but fining poor parents will not serve the best interests of their children. Parents need reassurance that their children will be safe, especially in communities, including ethnic minority communities, where the prevalence of covid is higher. Many children will have found the past few months unsettling, even traumatic. What is needed is a trauma-informed approach to school and to families.

Staggered starts may present difficult challenges for parents. Can the Secretary of State say more about wraparound care for families and about transport arrangements for children to travel to school? Can he confirm that all children are expected to be safe in school in September? Will there be a delay in incoming reception children starting school?

In relation to early years, what financial support will be available for parents or childcare providers to protect their viability if children cannot attend, or if settings are forced to close?​
I welcome the recognition of the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities, and the assurances on education, health and care plans. Will the Secretary of State guarantee to the House that the needs of those children will be met in full?

Does the Secretary of State agree that a broad curriculum, including arts and humanities, supports children’s attainment in the core subjects, too? What discussions have taken place with further education providers about how they will provide the “full education” envisaged?

Will the Secretary of State say a little more about plans for students who are due to sit exams? What about home-schooled children whom schools refuse to assess? A huge divide is opening up between children who have had a good study experience at home and those who have lacked the resources to learn. Ofqual must address that in its recommendations for arrangements for exams next year.

The announcement of the £1 billion of catch-up funding is welcome, but can the Secretary of State confirm that it is all new money and will not be funded by cuts elsewhere? What guarantee can he give of the availability of sufficient high-quality tutoring capacity with tutors expert in the subjects they will teach? Does he share my concern that requiring schools to contribute 25% of the cost of the national tutoring programme advantages the better-off schools? Why have post-16 students been excluded from catch-up funding support?

On Tuesday, it was reported that the 230,000 laptops that had been promised for children who lacked full digital access had not been delivered in full, as promised, by the end of June; when will they arrive?

Finally, the six-week-long summer holiday always widens the attainment gap, and this year that will be exacerbated by the time already spent out of school. What activities and support are being put in place for the summer break? The funding for pupils on free school meals is welcome, but what about children who become eligible for free school meals during the summer holiday? Will the Secretary of State guarantee that no eligible child will miss out?