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UK Covid: Williamson hopes children will get ‘time in schools’ this summer – as it happened

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This live blog is now closed. For the latest coronavirus news from around the world, head to our global Covid blog

Wed 24 Feb 2021

First published on Wed 24 Feb 2021

6.22pm GMT18:22

On the summer holidays, what we have done in terms of a £200m programme is we want schools to be putting on great activities, whether it is education-led or even wellbeing-led, so we’d be hoping that schools can be offering that, draw down that funding in order to be offering that to children. Yes, we’d hope that schools are offering time in schools for children and that’s why we’ve put the funding there.

Williamson said that plans being announced in the Commons tomorrow about how exam grades will be awarded in England this summer would involve the government trusting teachers, not algorithms. He said:

We are putting trust in teachers. That’s where the trust is going – there is going to be no algorithms whatsoever but there will be a very clear and robust appeals mechanism.

And he also confirmed that secondary schools in England will be allowed to stagger students’ return to the classroom from 8 March. Primary school pupils will all go back on 8 March.

During the pandemic big corporations like Amazon have cashed in while working people struggle to get by. Labour should support both raising corporation tax and a special Covid-19 windfall tax for sectors that have made super profits.

We should use the cash to fund a new future for Britain based on a green jobs boom, a massive program of social house building, and taking rail, mail and utilities back into democratic public ownership.

That’s all from me for today. But our coverage continues on our global coronavirus live blog. It’s here.

at 6.23pm GMT

5.56pm GMT17:56

In the preface to the new edition of his expert and provocative book, The Covid-19 Catastrophe, Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the Lancet, says:

One hears otherwise intelligent and sensible people talking about a return to normality by the spring or summer of 2021. But there is no simple or straightforward return to the old life that we enjoyed before Covid-19. There is only a new normal to confront.

At his press conference on Monday Boris Johnson came close to saying we would get back to normal. Asked about the future of cities like London, he said he did not think there would be “fundamental change” to the way lives are lived in big cities.

According to some YouGov polling, the public don’t agree; they’re with Horton.

Boris Johnson has said he expects UK cities to bounce back to being “full of buzz and excitement again” after lockdown.

83% of Britons, however, think lockdown will have fundamentally changed cities long into the future

5.44pm GMT17:44

This is from Rob Parsons, political editor of the Yorkshire Post. The paper’s full story on Boris Johnson’s comment at PMQs is here.

Asked about funding cuts to Transport for the North at PMQs, Boris Johnson says ‘there has been no such cut’

Have a look at this recent TFN report and judge for yourself…

And this is from Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader.

Either @BorisJohnson is a liar or he is simply too incompetent to know that he has cut the budget of Transport for the North by 40%.

Either way, as usual the Tories are treating the North with contempt as usual.

5.38pm GMT17:38

Q: Are you worried that 96% of teachers do not have confidence in your handling of schools?

Williamson says his priority is getting children back to school.

And that’s it. The press conference is over.

5.37pm GMT17:37

Q: In August Boris Johnson said it was nonsensical to have children wearing masks in class. Do you agree?

Williamson says the government will follow the best medical advice.

Harries says face coverings are there to protect others. While a new variant is present, additional precautions are necessary.

She says the government will reconsider its advice on this around Easter. And she stresses it does not cover primary school pupils.

5.34pm GMT17:34

Q: Who is going to check pupils are doing the lateral flow tests at home? And who is going to staff the summer schools?

On summer schools, Williamson says schools will have the flexibility to make their own arrangements. They can either pay their own staff for this, or bring in other staff.

On testing, he says he hopes parents will supervise the testing. He says if pupils cannot get the help they need to do them at home, he hopes they can do the tests at school.

5.30pm GMT17:30

Q: William Hague has said the impact of Covid on teaching will require a revolution in teaching. How revolutionary are you willing to be?

Williamson says children are at the heart of everything they do. He says he wants to ensure he is always driving up the quality of teaching. Another is looking at the time spent learning. And another is targeting them in the best way.

He says it would be wrong to pre-empt what Sir Kevan Collins will come forward with.

Q: What assessment has been made of the damage to children’s wider development?

Harries says there are many families where children attach to significant, non-parent individuals, and not just grandparents. During the pandemic they have not been able to see these figures.

She says children’s mental health has deteriorated.

But she says, even if grandparents have been vaccinated, children should not go and see them yet. It is important to assess the impact of the vaccine rollout first, she says.

at 6.05pm GMT

5.24pm GMT17:24

Q: A report says the Kent variant of coronavirus may infect people for longer than the original one. Does that mean the quarantine period might be extended?

Harries says the government is looking at this. But she says they have to be careful. She says the quarantine time was set to minimise inconvenience, whilst also reducing the risk of infection.

5.20pm GMT17:20

Q: Will school days be extended? And will the summer holidays be cut short to help children catch up?

Williamson says he wants schools to put on activities during the summer. He hopes they will offer “time in schools for children”.

As for lengthening school days, he says he wants to see “a step change in what we can deliver”. That is why he has asked Sir Kevan Collins to take an extensive look at what can be done.

Q: Will it be full teacher assessment on exams, with no algorithms?

Williamson says there will be “no algorithms”. He will be putting his trust in teachers, with a rigorous appeals process. But he will give the details to the Commons tomorrow.

5.16pm GMT17:16

Q: You have provided short-term cash today. But when will you come up with a long-term plan? And are you promising all children will get help?

Williamson says he is giving schools the tools they need to help all children. He thinks they will be able to help all children. But the help should also be targeted to children who need most help, he says.

(This sounds contradictory.)

Q: Are you promising that all pupils will get help?

Williamson says schools always support all children.

5.13pm GMT17:13

Williamson is now taking questions. The first two are from members of the public.

Q: Will the roadmap out of lockdown be accelerated if the data turn out better than expected?

Williamson says there are no plans whatever to move ahead of the dates in the roadmap.

Harries says the government wants to stick to the timelines. They have been set for good public health reasons.

5.10pm GMT17:10

Williamson says Sir Kevan Collins has been appointed as education recovery commissioner.

He sums up the package announced overnight to help pupils catch-up. It will build on measures worth £1bn announced last year, he says.

It is time for children to be back in school, he says. But he also wants to ensure no child is held back by the pandemic. He says tomorrow he will announce how exam grades will be awarded in England this summer. He says he will be putting his trust in teachers.

5.05pm GMT17:05

Williamson is now talking about the route out of lockdown. (His tone has perked up markedly.)

He thanks teachers and parents for what they have done during lockdown. And he thanks pupils too for adapting, so they can continue to learn.

Everyone is longing for a return to normality, he says. The government is investing in summer schools and extra teaching.

The next steps will be cautious, he says, and “carefully managed at every stage”.

There will be a full return for schools and colleges from Monday 8 March. Primary school pupils will go back that day. And secondary schools will be able to stagger the return of pupils to allow for testing.


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