A number of people have contacted me recently regarding closing schools and the impact this will have on children, families and early years providers, and other organisations.
As I know you’ll appreciate, this is an unprecedented and fast-moving situation. I wanted to share the information I have received so far, as well as the concerns colleagues and I are pursuing.
The latest government guidance is available to read here:
In the meantime, you’ll be aware of the statement the Secretary of State for Education made in parliament yesterday, where he confirmed that schools will close until further notice from Friday 20 March. You can read the full transcript here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-03-18/debates/FCD4DEB2-86A8-4F95-8EB8-D0EF4C752D7D/EducationalSettings.
The Secretary of State confirmed that schools would be closed to everyone apart from the children of key workers and children considered vulnerable. The examples of key workers given were NHS staff, police and delivery drivers. Colleagues in parliament asked for this definition to be kept flexible. Vulnerable children are considered those that have social workers or an EHCP.
The Secretary of State also confirmed that schools will be given the flexibility to provide meal vouchers for children who qualify for free school meals. He also confirmed that no exams will take place this summer but that the children affected will get the recognition they deserve. We were told that the government is working with Ofqual and more information will follow.
A number of early years providers have been in touch with me regarding the impact this situation will have on them. I raised this issue in parliament- as did a number of other colleagues. The Secretary of State advised that some providers will qualify for the Business Rates support package the government is putting together. He also confirmed that government early years funding will be maintained. However, he did not respond to questions around providers set to lose top-up fees.
The Secretary of State also acknowledged the challenges around keeping special schools open and said officials are working with local authorities and social services across the country.
I appreciate this may not answer all the concerns raised with me and may generate further questions.
However, in summary, these are the key issues we’re continuing to pursue with ministers:
- How a reduced school service will be provided for children who cannot be supervised at home;
- How millions of children living in poverty in this country will be supported, with a guarantee that free meals will be made available to all those eligible and steps taken to extend this to include breakfast;
- What financial measures will be provided for education staff on casual contracts or insecure terms, including supply teachers;
- What financial support will be made available for already stretched childcare providers, and whether they will be eligible for emergency business rate relief;
- What is required of students who were due to sit GCSEs, A-levels, or SATs and now will not do so, with clarity over when and how decisions around examinations will be made;
- What support will be made available for children’s services, which have already suffered from years of cuts and will be needed now more than ever.