Schools will re-open in phases, says Williamson

The re-opening of schools in England is expected to take place in a “phased manner”, says the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

He told the Education Select Committee the date for opening would depend on scientific advice – but schools would get “as much notice as possible”.

But when pupils start returning, it could just be for some year groups.

“All schools returning on day one with a full complement of pupils would not be realistic,” he told MPs.

With schools closed by the coronavirus outbreak, the education secretary faced questions on a timetable for re-opening and how to support the disadvantaged, while pupils were meant to be learning online from home.

Speaking to an online session of the select committee, Mr Williamson said he was keen for schools to return as soon as was safely possible because of the disruption to pupils’ learning.

But he said it would be a staged return, with schools given time to prepare.

Last week, Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union suggested that Years 6, 10 and 12 might go back first, with 1 June the earliest realistic date for starting to return.

The date for returning will be part of a wider, cross-government plan, Mr Williamson told MPs, with a sub-group of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) considering how to re-open schools.

The education secretary said he did not expect this term to be extended into the summer holidays – although committee member David Simmonds suggested some schools had been considering this.

Mr Williamson gave more details of the scheme to lend laptops to disadvantaged pupils studying at home – saying there would be 200,000 laptops, with the first expected to be delivered by the end of May, with most arriving in June.

The education secretary was challenged by MPs on failings with the free school meal voucher scheme.

Ian Mearns said school staff were spending “hours and hours” trying to resolve problems with the system being administered by Edenred.

Mr Williamson recognised there had been “big challenges” and the level of service was not what was expected.

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