Gavin Williamson believes he is “very much” in control over the return of schools, despite several Covid-19 cases already being recorded as teachers and pupils return to classrooms.
The embattled education secretary launched the defence of the reopening as he also suggested longer school days and Saturday classes could be used to help pupils catch up with teaching they missed during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Speaking in the Commons, Labour MP Matt Western said: “Just in the last week, a few days ago at the start of term, we’ve had 46 cases in schools across the UK.
“In Scotland, there were 86 cases, a total of 158 schools already have cases. In a Suffolk school, five teachers, I think it’s in (Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s) own constituency, five teachers and the school has had to close. Is (Mr Williamson) confident the Government really has this under control?”
Mr Williamson responded: “Very much so and if I draw (Mr Western’s) attention to the joint letter by the chief medical officers of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, what they were pointing out is that children are best served by being in school.”
He also told MPs that schools will only ever be closed as an “absolute last resort”.
Mr Williamson said: “On July 2, we outlined our expectations and what is required for schools in terms of delivery of continuity of education.
“That’s why we’ve made an investment of a further 150,000 laptops that will be provided for those communities that are in a position where they’re not going to be able to be providing face-to-face teaching within schools.
“But to be absolutely clear – schools will only ever be closed as an absolute last resort because we all understand in this House, on both sides of this House, how important it is for children to be benefiting from being in school with their teachers and learning in the school environment.”
On catch-up support, Mr Williamson said schools will assess the individual needs of their children – adding there is “clear guidance” about what works in the classroom.
He told MPs: “That might mean extending the school day for some, that might mean Saturday classes for others.
“There are so many different interventions that can really deliver significant results in terms of helping youngsters catch up on the learning that they have lost.”