Gavin Williamson hint on longer school days amid £700m Covid catch-up

Gavin Williamson says school day could be EXTENDED as he hails ‘boost for children’ with £700million Covid catch-up package including summer classes – but experts warn it could take TEN YEARS to heal ‘educational scarring’

  • Summer lessons are set to be offered to children leaving primary schools and to all secondary school pupils 
  • Secondary schools are set to offer face-to-face teaching over the holidays under new Government plans
  • The Government are expected to fund the new summer schools with a £200million government package
  • Announcement comes ahead of details on the replacement scheme for cancelled GCSEs and A-levels
  • Boris Johnson has unveiled No10’s ultra-cautious roadmap, which will see schools reopen on March 8

Gavin Williamson today hinted that the school day will be extended alongside summer catch-up classes as part of a £700million catch-up package after the pandemic.

The Education Secretary confirmed the government is looking at a ‘broad range of options’ when asked if school hours could be increased to make up for lost time during lockdowns.

Under plans announced today, secondaries will offer face-to-face teaching over the holidays, with ministers keen to see summer classes for incoming Year 7 pupils.

The summer schools will be funded with £200million from the package, while a £302million Recovery Premium will also see every primary school handed £6,000 and secondaries £22,000 each to fund further support for pupils most in need.

The Department for Education said this will come on top of another £200million in funding for the National Tutoring Programme and other tuition schemes and could be spent on extra clubs, activities or teaching for those who have fallen behind.  

However, other radical measures like permanently trimming the summer holidays or lengthening the school day do not figure in the plans yet.

Experts warned that the package is only a ‘start’ and it could take a decade to heal the ‘educational scarring’ suffered by children during the crisis. 

Social mobility professor Lee Elliott Major told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think we need a hugely ambitious drive over the next decade to equalise, level the playing field in education. Our research shows a whole generation could be educationally scarred by this pandemic. 

‘There was already huge inequality before the pandemic hit. This really is a fight for our future.’ 

Pressed on whether lengthening the school day was on the table, Mr Williamson told Sky News: ‘We’ll be looking at how we can boost and support children in a whole range of different manners.

‘But it’s not just about time in school, it’s about supporting teachers in terms of the quality of teaching and how we can help them.’ 

The announcement comes ahead of details expected to be released tomorrow on the replacement scheme for this year’s cancelled GCSEs and A-levels. 

In other coronavirus developments: 

  • A total of 5,691 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending February 12 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – the lowest figure since the week ending January 1; 
  • Unemployment has risen to 5.1 per cent with younger people bearing the brunt as Rishi Sunak prepares to extend the furlough scheme in his Budget next week; 
  • Matt Hancock has defended rushing through PPE procurement after a wave of criticism about lack of transparency and cronyism; 
  • Scientists have suggested masks will still be used in 2026 after Sir Patrick Vallance said they could reappear next winter;
  • Millions of secondary school pupils will have to wear masks in the classroom when they return to school on March 8;
  • Scientists unveiled ‘spectacular’ data suggesting one dose of the Covid vaccine is cutting the hospitalisation risk among the over-80s by three-quarters;
  • 178 virus deaths were announced yesterday – the fewest since mid-November. The seven-day average for cases was 11,186, compared with a peak of 68,053 on January 8;
  • Downing Street confirmed ministers will examine the case for so-called ‘vaccine passports’, having rejected the idea two months ago. 

Summer lessons will be offered to children leaving primary school and all secondary pupils as part of a £700million catch-up package designed to reverse the impact of Covid on education. Pictured: Boris Johnson takes part in an online lesson during a visit to Sedgehill School in Lewisham, south east London, on February 23

Under plans to be announced today, secondaries will offer face-to-face teaching over the holidays, with ministers keen to see summer classes for incoming Year 7 pupils (file image)

Britain has endured some of the toughest lockdown restrictions in the world — but has still suffered the fourth highest death toll of the pandemic, data showed.

Oxford University researchers ranked the UK’s curbs on daily life the sixth harshest out of 180 countries, after taking into account school and office closures, bans on social gatherings, international travel restrictions and orders to not leave the home.

Only the Republic of Ireland was found to have tougher restrictions in Europe. Although its curbs are broadly similar to England’s, the country has also stopped construction work and click-and-collect shopping. Germany, the US and France all had less stringent curbs on daily life. 

But when countries were ranked by Covid deaths per million people, the UK had suffered the fourth highest death toll, according to separate figures from OurWorldInData, despite having stricter measures than Belgium, Slovenia and the Czech Republic — the only countries where more people died of the virus.

It had also suffered the highest fatality rate from the virus out of the top 10 countries with the harshest restrictions, although this may be because the lockdown became stricter only after cases had surged.

The UK may have suffered more fatalities than other countries because of the rapid spread of the more infectious Kent variant, and after tens of thousands died in the darkest days of the first wave when potentially infected patients were discharged to care homes. Delays in taking action and differences in how the data was compiled between countries could may also explain the differences.

The data does not show that lockdowns do not work because a lack of any restrictions, scientists estimate, would have killed tens of thousands more people.

In Cuba, which had a lockdown ranked the toughest in the Oxford study, the death rate was 2.4 per 100,000 people, compared to 178 per 100,000 in the UK.

Reacting to the news, headteacher Carl Ward warned: ‘its going to take a lot longer than one year, it could take the next decade to catch up but may I add that we do not know the depth of the problem yet. Once we’ve got children back in and schools back to normal, it will take some time, it’ll come out of the system and then we’ll know in more detail in the coming three to four months perhaps the scale of the problem.’

Boris Johnson said: ‘Teachers and parents have done an heroic job with home schooling, but we know the classroom is the best place for our children to be.

‘When schools reopen and face-to-face education resumes on March 8 our next priority will be ensuring no child is left behind as a result of the learning they have lost over the past year.

‘This extensive programme of catch-up funding will equip teachers with the tools and resources they need to support their pupils and give children the opportunities they deserve to learn and fulfil their potential.’

It follows new official figures showing infections falling by 20 per cent on last Tuesday as Britain recorded just 8,489 Covid cases in the lowest daily rise since October 2, while deaths tumble with another 548 victims.  

The promising figures will be pounced upon by anti-lockdown Tory MPs who are calling for Mr Johnson to ease lockdown quicker. Even top scientists have hinted that economically-crippling measures could be relaxed sooner.

This week, the Prime Minister unveiled No10’s ultra-cautious blueprint back to normality, which could see all virus-controlling restrictions eased by June 21, if things go well. Schools will return on March 8, but there will be almost no further loosening of the draconian curbs before Easter.

Nicola Sturgeon yesterday unveiled an even more cautious lockdown exit roadmap for Scotland, which will see the stay at home rule lifted and the return of some non-essential shops on April 5. The Scottish First Minister said the coronavirus situation in Scotland is ‘still quite precarious’.

But hopes of lockdown being drastically eased in the next few months could be dashed if Britain’s vaccine roll-out fails to pick up pace. It has slowed down over the past month, with just 210,000 doses dished out on Monday in the UK – down a quarter on last Tuesday.

It means around 335,000 Britons are getting inoculated for the first time each week, piling pressure on No10 to urgently ramp up the drive so that the path to freedom isn’t threatened. 

An extra £18million is being directed to support language development in the early years sector to try to stop the very youngest children being permanently disadvantaged.

Mr Williamson said: ‘Our package of measures will deliver vital support to the children and young people who need it most, making sure everyone has the same opportunity to fulfil their potential no matter their background.

‘I know that longer-term support over the length of this Parliament will be vital to ensure children make up for lost learning. Our Education Recovery Commissioner Sir Kevan Collins will be engaging with teachers, school and college leaders and families over the coming weeks and months to develop our longer term plans.’  

The Times Educational Supplement reported that one aspect of the plan, which was to issue grades significantly earlier than normal – in early or mid-July – is now in doubt. 

Exams regulator Ofqual will also need to clarify the potentially important role of ‘mini-exams’. Meanwhile, teaching unions yesterday appeared to back down in their opposition to Mr Johnson’s ‘big bang’ plan for all schools to return from March 8.

Last week the main unions signed an open letter demanding the PM ‘go no further than a phased return’, but their call was disregarded by the Government.

The National Education Union yesterday said its priority was ensuring schools had ‘robust safety measures’ instead of trying to block the reopenings.

Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that while a slower return would have been more logical, there was a ‘whole range of different views’ among headteachers. 

He added that, although mass testing presented a ‘huge logistical issue’ for larger schools, most teachers were ‘looking for ways of solving those problems’.

Scientists have warned that school reopenings could increase Covid’s reproduction rate by up to 50 per cent. 

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty on Monday insisted the risk posed by coronavirus to children at school is ‘incredibly low’ as he ‘categorically denied’ a claim he opposed a full return to classrooms on March 8. 

The Government’s top medical advisor said there are ‘huge advantages’ to reopening schools across England in terms of the mental and physical health benefits for children as well as for their education.

He said falling infection rates meant that ‘there is some headroom’ to resume face-to-face lessons next month and that ‘everything is strongly in favour of children, whether primary or secondary, of going to school’.

Professor Whitty’s comments came after the Prime Minister revealed that secondary pupils will undergo a ‘testing blitz’ and be required to wear face masks in classrooms ‘for several weeks’ in his lockdown roadmap.

Secondary pupils will be tested three times at school and once at home during the first fortnight before being asked to continue testing themselves twice a week at home, according to the Government’s exit strategy.

They will be allowed to return to class as soon as they have received a negative test result, while all teachers at primary and secondary level – as well as early years – will be entitled to twice-weekly testing at home.   

However, the Prime Minister’s plans were immediately criticised by teaching unions who wanted a phased return to classes and accused Mr Johnson of ‘failing to learn the lessons of his previous mistakes’. 

Reports at the weekend suggested Prof Whitty was opposing the ‘big bang’ return but he told a Downing Street press conference tonight that he had ‘categorically denied’ the claim. 

Setting out why he supports the return to classrooms next month, he said: ‘First thing is, it is absolutely universally accepted that there are huge advantages for children to be at school from a health point of view, mental and physical, as well as from educational and from a life course point of view.

‘Those are overwhelming, they are not in any dispute, everyone accepts that and if you keep children out of school, every single one of the children you keep out of school is disadvantaged.’ 

He continued: ‘The second point we made at that time which is still the case is the risk to children is incredibly low from going to school and indeed from catching Covid.

‘Covid, one of the few good things about Covid is the risk to children, whilst not zero, nothing in Covid the risks are zero, the risks are so much smaller than they are for adults and others.

‘Therefore we are confident that schools, given the huge benefits of schools, the very small residual risk is strongly in favour, from the child’s point of view, everything is strongly in favour of children, whether primary or secondary, of going to school and the data on that I think are unambiguous.’ 

However, radical measures previously discussed, like permanently trimming the summer holidays or lengthening the school day, do not figure in the plans 

The announcement comes ahead of details expected to be released tomorrow on the replacement scheme for this year’s cancelled GCSEs and A-levels (file image)

The summer schools will be funded with £200million from the package. A £302million Recovery Premium will also see every primary school handed £6,000 and secondaries £22,000 each to fund further support for pupils most in need (file image)

An extra £18million is being directed to support language development in the early years sector to try to stop the very youngest children being permanently disadvantaged. Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Sedgehill School in south east London on February 23

Nicola Sturgeon reveals rival roadmap out of lockdown: Scotland will begin ‘significant return to normality’ with shops, gyms and hairdressers starting to open from April 26 – as First Minister hints pubs and restaurants could fully reopen BEFORE England 

Nicola Sturgeon unveiled a lockdown exit roadmap for Scotland which will see the stay at home rule lifted and the return of some non-essential shops on April 5 – a week earlier than in England. 

She said her ‘deliberately cautious’ plan will start with more pupils heading back to classrooms on March 15 and with the limit on outdoor mixing being increased on the same date to allow four people from a maximum of two households to meet.   

April 5 will then see all remaining pupils return to school as well as communal worship being allowed to restart. 

The definition of ‘essential’ retail will also be changed at this point to allow more shops to reopen – one week before the return of all retail in England which is earmarked to take place from April 12. 

However, Scotland will have to wait until April 26 for a ‘phased but significant reopening of the economy’ when the nation will return to a tier system of restrictions.   

Prof Whitty said that falling case numbers and the R rate of infection meant the Government had some ‘headroom’ to reopen schools. 

‘The third question is, and this is the one that led to having to close schools this time around, as it did indeed on the first wave, is the impact this can have on R,’ he said. 

‘And the view is that as things are falling down rapidly at the moment there is some headroom to go ahead and the first priority as the Prime Minister has repeatedly said is for schooling and I think everyone would agree with that.’

The reopening of schools is the first step to freedom in Mr Johnson’s lockdown exit roadmap.

The PM said the strategy will ‘guide us cautiously but irreversibly towards reclaiming our freedoms’. 

Outlining the wearing of masks in schools the Government’s Spring 2021 Covid-19 response document states: ‘The Government also recommends that the use of face coverings in Higher Education, Further Education and secondary schools is extended for a limited period to all indoor environments – including classrooms – unless 2m social distancing can be maintained.

‘Face coverings are now also recommended in early years and primary schools for staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible, for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas.

‘All children will once again be expected to attend school, as they were in the autumn term.’ 

The Prime Minister told the Commons: ‘I can tell the house that two weeks from today pupils and students in all schools and further education settings can safely return to face to face teaching’.

Mr Johnson also said the return of students will be supported by twice weekly testing of secondary school and college pupils.

He told MPs: ‘All the evidence shows that classrooms are the best places for our young people to be and that’s why I’ve always said that schools would be the last to close and the first to reopen. 

‘And based on our assessment of the current data against the four tests, I can tell the House that two weeks from today, pupils and students in all schools and further education settings can safely return to face-to-face teaching, supported by twice weekly testing of secondary school and college pupils.

‘Families and childcare bubbles will also be encouraged to get tested regularly.’ 

However, the plans were immediately attacked by teaching unions who claimed the testing process may take at least two weeks, meaning some children could still be learning from home on March 22.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the mass return, instead of a phased reopening, was ‘hugely problematic’. 

It ‘may prove counterproductive and lead to more disruption’, he said, adding: ‘Nevertheless, we will, of course, now work with the Government to try to make this plan work as safely and sustainably as possible.’

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said Mr Johnson had ‘failed to learn the lessons of his previous mistakes’.

‘A ‘big bang’ school reopening brings 10million people back into crowded buildings with no social distancing and inadequate ventilation,’ she said. 

‘Headteachers should have been given the flexibility offered in the other nations to plan for a phased school return.’

Yesterday the Prime Minister hit back at Tories and scientists suggesting lockdown could be eased faster – as Wales and Scotland warned his roadmap might be too quick. 

Ireland’s Level 5 coronavirus lockdown is extended for ANOTHER six weeks as PM Micheal Martin begs ‘completely fed up’ nation not to drop its guard 

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin last night extended the country’s coronavirus lockdown for another six weeks until at least April 5 as he appealed to a ‘completely fed up’ nation not to drop its guard against Covid.  

In a live TV address to the nation from Government buildings, the Taoiseach confirmed Level 5 measures inflicting huge damage to the economy will remain in place until after Easter amid fears of the UK variant. 

Refusing to give specific timelines for the wider reopening of society, Mr Martin said: ‘I know that people are physically and emotionally exhausted by this pandemic. It has placed enormous pressure on each of us.  

‘Businesses and workers are deeply worried about the future. We are all completely fed up with the impositions on our lives.’

But he went on to call the more infectious B117 variant that has spread from England since Christmas ‘equivalent to a new virus almost, and it is a major problem’. ‘It is critically important that we do not let our guard down. When we open things, we want them to stay open,’ the Taoiseach added. 

Mr Martin spoke after his Cabinet published a new lockdown plan following weeks of haggling after many businesses have spent nearly a year closed.  

The Irish Government, which has imposed one of the toughest lockdowns in the world, has spent more than €10billion keeping shuttered firms on life support and wages flowing to more than 600,000 workers made redundant. 

Outlining his revised Living With Covid plan, most existing lockdown measures imposed in late December will be extended until after Easter.

People will be instructed not to leave their homes except only for essential reasons and should not travel more than 5 kilometres from their households. Schools and childcare will be reopened gradually, with junior and senior infants among the first to return to the classroom on March 1. 

The PM said he was being ‘sensible and prudent’ with his four-stage plan after attacks on the approach from both sides.

‘Some people will say we’re going to be going too fast, some people will say we’re going too slow,’ he said on a visit to a school in South London.

Mr Johnson refused to guarantee that all restrictions will definitely be lifted by June 21 as scheduled, but insisted he was ‘hopeful’ it can happen.

The intervention came after Matt Hancock slapped down Professor Neil Ferguson for suggesting the government’s blueprint for England could be speeded up if things go well.

However, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg risked setting more hares running by suggesting that there could be ‘flexibility’ if the government keeps ‘smashing’ vaccine targets.

Tories and business have been voicing disquiet about the ultra-cautious approach being taken by ministers, even though the vaccination drive has been surging ahead.

Schools will return on March 8, but there will be almost no further loosening of the draconian curbs before Easter. There will be a five week gap between each of the four main stages of the plan, with scientists having won the argument in government that time is needed to assess the impact.   

The PM has been boosted by snap polls showing the public largely backs his stance, with 46 per cent telling YouGov it is about right – and around a fifth suggesting it is too fast. 

Nicola Sturgeon unveiled her own far more cautious exit strategy this afternoon, with non-essential retail not set to start opening until the last week in April. Welsh government experts have also warned that Mr Johnson’s timeline is ‘risky’ and the outbreak could spiral out of control again.

Professor Neil Ferguson – whose grim modelling triggered the initial lockdown last year – sounded a bright note on Times Radio last night.

‘Hopefully what we’ll see when each step happens is a very limited resurgence of infections. In which case, there’s a chance we can accelerate the schedule,’ he said.

However, Mr Hancock dismissed the idea of speeding the schedule up in a round of interviews this morning. ‘No. We need to see the effects of each step, and that takes five weeks,’ he said.

A row also erupted over vaccine supply as Pfizer slapped down the Health Secretary’s claim that a lack of doses was to blame for their slowest ever jabbing day on Sunday.

Matt Hancock claimed a delay in the supply schedule will result in fewer jabs being dished out. But he also said there would be some ‘bumper weeks in March’ to make up for the lag.

Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca – manufacturers of the jabs currently deployed in the UK – say there is no issue with deliveries.

Pfizer sources told MailOnline there were ‘no supply challenges’ and deliveries were arriving as planned. AstraZeneca admitted there were ‘fluctuations’ in supply at plants but that it was still ‘on track’ with orders.

Official figures showed Britain only administered 150,000 vaccines on Sunday, in the worst daily performance since the NHS roll-out began to gather speed last month. The number of first doses dished out has dropped by 40 per cent week-on-week.

With a rapid inoculation drive crucial to Britain’s hopes of lockdown being eased in the next few months, critics say there is ‘no excuse’ for the rollout slowing down.

Think-tank bosses believe it is unlikely supply is solely behind the downturn because there would be reports of centres across the country running out of stock – which hasn’t been the case.

Mr Johnson put a successful vaccine roll-out at the heart of his lockdown-easing plan. So long as the operation continues successfully, all restrictions could be dropped in England by June 21. Any hiccups could threaten that target.

Britain is racing to give as many first doses to over-50s as possible before the end of March, when millions of second jabs must be rolled out – which will inevitably slow the operation. The PM has pledged to jab all 32million in the top nine groups by April 15 and every adult by the end of July. 

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