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Opinion piece by Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson

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Rt Hon Gavin Williamson - Education Secretary

Today, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote an opinion piece in the Daily Mail about schools opening to more pupils in a phased way from 1 June. Read a full copy of his opinion piece on our blog.

As Education Secretary, I pay attention when experts give me advice – I’d get into hot water very quickly if I didn’t. If, based on the latest scientific advice, we can get a limited number of children back to school, then I believe it’s my duty to do all I can to get them back there because being in school with a teacher is the best way to learn.

Of course safety comes first but we must also be aware of the potential damage to a child’s education from not getting them back in the classroom.

It is now over seven weeks since schools were restricted to all but a very small number of children and until the rate of infection from coronavirus starts to come down, we cannot bring more students back.

In that time I’ve been constantly talking to heads and teachers’ unions about how best to open schools in a phased and careful way. Later today I have arranged for union leaders to meet the Chief Medical Officer and other experts so they can be briefed on the scientific advice underpinning our approach.

The good news is that we are now past the peak of the virus. At the weekend the Prime Minister set out his roadmap for recovery and the second step of that plan is to start to get more children back into classrooms. Let me spell out why these proposals have put the interests of all our children first. The best place for youngsters to learn is in school and I have wanted to get more children back there as soon as possible. Parents are doing a fantastic job helping them to learn at home but nothing can take the place of a teacher.

It is known that the first few years of a child’s education are so important.

It is during this time that young students begin to develop essential social skills and start to learn the basics that will have a huge bearing on how well they do later in life.

That is why younger children are at the head of the queue to go back to school, along with pupils who will be moving up to secondary school and those older pupils who are going to be sitting their GCSEs and A Levels next year.

Now I want to be clear, this is the first phase of a controlled and careful return to school. It’s not happening overnight and it isn’t going to happen without schools putting in place a range of protective measures to reduce transmission. The safety of children and their teachers is my No 1 priority.

I know some teaching unions still have concerns, just as I know parents and teachers have some worries.

I intend to carry on talking to all of them and working with them on any issues they may have.

All of us in education have a duty to work together to get children back to school.

Let me reassure families that we are giving schools all the guidance and support they will need to welcome pupils back.

This includes keeping class sizes small, making sure children stay within small groups, and being rigorous about hygiene, cleaning and staggering break and mealtimes. We’re also paying close attention to what they’re doing in other countries, such as Denmark, where despite some initial concerns, children are back and adapting, as they always seem to do.

Children thrive and grow in schools best when they’re enjoying being with their friends and teachers.

It is time to start bringing some of our children back in the interests of their welfare and education.

But this will be done carefully so it’s right for our children, right for your family and those who work in schools and right for our communities.

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