The government is not demanding longer school days or shorter summer holidays to make up for teaching time lost during the coronavirus pandemic, education secretary Gavin Williamson has said.
Mr Williamson was speaking after the Department for Education unveiled a £700m package to help children in England catch up on lost learning, as well as commissioning a recovery plan into how schools can overcome the longer-term impacts of the outbreak.
In a press conference at 10 Downing Street, the education secretary confirmed that algorithms will not be used to award GCSE and A-level grades this summer, after last year’s fiasco.
He said that judgments on pupils’ attainment will be placed “firmly in the hands of teachers”, but declined to give further details of how marking will work ahead of Thursday’s official announcement.
The recovery package for England announced by Mr Williamson includes £302m for clubs and activities this summer for primary and secondary children in most need of support; £200m to expand tutoring; and £200m for face-to-face summer schools.
But he made clear that state schools in England will not be asked to extend their working day or cut short the summer break to make up for lost time.
“On summer holidays… we want schools to be putting on great activities, whether it’s education-led or well-being led,” he said.
“We’d be hoping that schools can draw down that funding in order to offer that to children, we would hope that schools are offering time in schools for children. And that’s why we’ve put the funding there.
“In terms of lengthening the school day, that’s not part of the plan.”
Mr Williamson said that the latest scientific data supported the plan in Boris Johnson’s roadmap for schools and colleges in England to reopen to all children from 8 March, and that “everything is strongly in favour of children going to school”.
But he confirmed that secondaries will be able to stagger pupils’ return over that week in order to ensure they can offer Covid tests to all of them.
He said that the requirement for face coverings in secondary school classrooms will be reviewed at Easter
The education secretary said that, after a year of disrupted lessons, “many children are going to need longer-term support if they’re to make the educational progress that they need”.
He said education recovery commissioner Kevan Collins has been appointed to carry out a study on long-term action to address learning gaps.
“As someone who has two daughters at school, I’m absolutely certain that we are going to do everything we can do for all of our children to make sure that they are not set back by this pandemic, that their life chances are in any way not stinted,” said Mr Williamson.
“We’re going to do everything we can do to make sure that they can reach their absolute potential.
“This is why we’re willing to look at every single matter in order to be able to drive their attainment into the future.
“And we are not going to be timid, in terms of our aspirations for them, and the actions that we’ll have to take to deliver for them.”
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