Significant disruption to school year still possible, warns education minister

‘That is what we are trying to avoid,’ Mr Gibb says

Zoe Tidman
Tuesday 07 September 2021 17:43
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<p>Pupils queue for a socially distanced assembly at a school in in Manchester, England</p>

Pupils queue for a socially distanced assembly at a school in in Manchester, England

Significant disruption to education could still happen this academic year, according to a government minister.

Nick Gibb told the education select committee that the government is “trying to avoid” this situation.

Children no longer have to isolate after coming into contact with a Covid case, unlike during the last academic year.

Hundreds of thousands of students were off school as they were self-isolating as the summer holidays approached.

Dr Caroline Johnson, a Tory MP, said during Tuesday’s education select committee: “If you now get coronavirus, you have to isolate for 10 days, which is a maximum of eight days missing school. You’re unlikely to get it a second time.

“And then, the children who have been in close contact no longer have to isolate.”

She asked whether Mr Gibb believed – given this change and estimates around half of children have already had Covid – there was “going to be any significant disruption to children’s education” this academic year.

“I think so,” he replied. “I think there could be. And that is what we are trying to avoid.”

The schools minister said: “The figures that you cite about the proportion of children you already have the antibodies is correct.”

“That still leaves the other half of the … four million 12 to 15 year olds who don’t have those antibodies, who may contract the virus, who may then be off school.”

Also at Tuesday’s committee, MPs heard how the government and England’s exam regulator will set out contingency plans this autumn in case exams have to be cancelled again next year.

Ian Bauckham, the interim chair of Ofqual, said there were plans for a joint consultation this autumn to put forward proposals for what should happen if the “unthinkable” happens and exams are disrupted for the third year in a row amid the Covid pandemic.

But Mr Gibb insisted the government does not want to cancel exams.

“​​We do know that teachers and the school sector does want details of the contingency because they want to know what data they might or might not need to collect should the worst happen and we end up having to cancel exams,” he said.

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