Thursday 25 February 2021 / 12:04 PM Education / Kate Green

Kate Green responds to Education Secretary’s statement on education return and awarding qualifications in 2021

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, responding to Gavin Williamson’s statement on education return and awarding qualifications in 2021, said:

On these benches we want to see every pupil safely back in class, where they can see their friends, their teachers, and get the structure and stability they need.

But it is not enough simply to say that schools will reopen. There must be a credible plan that will not only enable schools to open in March, but will keep them open.

The Secretary of State has failed to use the period when most pupils were not in school to put the necessary measures in place.

In January he said he wanted school staff to be in the next wave of vaccinations. So why has there still been no commitment from the government to prioritise school staff? Does he no longer believe they should be a priority?

Many schools have lost income and face higher costs because of the pandemic. Why has he failed to review the funding?

One way to reduce transmission of coronavirus is to allow schools to teach on a rota basis. Labour, school leaders, and teachers have all asked him to consider this. He has refused. Why?

Ventilation has an important role to play in reducing transmission indoors. Will he update his department’s guidance to ensure that it is clear, robust, and specific enough for all schools to implement it effectively?

Can he tell me why, months after Labour called for it, he has not made any progress in providing Nightingale Classrooms so more pupils can study in small groups?

It is welcome the Secretary of State has finally caught-up on Labour’s call to expand the wearing of masks in schools to reduce transmission.

But I worry that he is taking one small step in the right direction while leaving a great many others issues unaddressed. He must do better if we are to keep schools open, and he must work with, not against, teachers, school staff and unions

This year’s exams were cancelled 52 days ago. For seven weeks pupils, parents, and staff have faced damaging and utterly unnecessary uncertainty.

The Secretary of State could have avoided this by listening to Labour and put a clear Plan B in place months ago. But instead he was, once again, slow to act, with millions of young people paying the price.

Now, he claims to have solved the problem, but guidance from exam boards will not be available until “the end of the spring term,” meaning more weeks of anxiety for young people and their teachers.

The Secretary of State blamed a “rogue algorithm” for last year’s fiasco. But the real cause of the chaos was not an algorithm, it was his incompetence.

Now, for the first time, he has said he trusts teachers. I cannot help but wonder why he only trusts teachers when there is a chance to make them responsible for what happens with exams, rather than his Department.

I am glad a wide range of evidence will be used, assessment materials will be made available for schools, there will be guidance from exam boards on how to award grades, and individual schools won’t be responsible for appeals.

But how will he make grades fair and consistent between and across schools? If the answer is teacher training, why has he not used the last seven weeks to provide it?

Is he not concerned that the lack of common evidence, and the lack of a link to an existing grade distribution, puts enormous pressure on schools and colleges while creating a huge challenge in ensuring fairness?

Mr Speaker, coming out of the pandemic, we enter a new chapter for Britain, and children’s recovery must be at the heart of it. It was nearly six months ago that Labour first called for a national strategy to help children catch up and to close the attainment gap.

I welcome the appointment of Sir Kevan Collins to lead the education recovery work. I hope this means the Secretary of State is breaking from the great Conservative tradition of only finding work for friends and donors.

But can he confirm that yesterday’s recovery announcement amounts to just 43 pence per pupil per day over the next school year?

And that just 500,000 pupils – less than one in three of those eligible for free school meals –will benefit from the summer schemes?

Can he tell me why there was no mention whatsoever of the hard-working staff who will deliver this summer’s support?

Why there is no specific support for children’s mental health and wellbeing?

And why is there only limited support for college students?

Children’s recovery from this pandemic is a five year mission, not a task for five months only.

Mr Speaker, this has been a very challenging year for children, parents, and education staff, made more challenging by the government’s incompetence.

With schools set to open their doors to more pupils in a matter of weeks, there is a final chance to get things right.

The Secretary of State must do so.