Under-fire Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today broke cover to guarantee every school in England will have coronavirus home testing kits to hand
Mr Williamson also insisted schools will only close following local outbreaks as an ‘absolute last resort’.
The Government has stepped up its efforts to persuade parents to send their children back to the classroom in September and Mr Williamson said this afternoon it is the ‘right time’ for students to resume their classes.
But he remains under intense pressure after his handling of the Government’s A-level and GCSE results fiasco.
Mr Williamson has said he wants to continue in the role long into the future but there was fresh speculation over his position at the weekend after it was claimed he had cancelled a key meeting to go on holiday to Scarborough the week before the exams crisis.
His intervention today came after Boris Johnson issued a plea to parents to send their children back to the classroom as he said he knew some were ‘still a bit worried’ about the restart.
He said it is ‘vital’ for pupil’s physical and mental health that they go back and that the risk of children catching the disease is ‘very, very, very small’ and the risk of them suffering badly from it is ‘very, very, very, very, very small indeed’.
Meanwhile, deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said pupils are more likely to be hit by a bus on their way to school than catch coronavirus in the classroom.
Dr Harries said the risk of children being involved in a traffic accident or of catching the flu are ‘probably higher than the current risk’ posed by the deadly virus.
Gavin Williamson today guaranteed that all schools in England will have home testing kits to give out to parents when they reopen next week
The Government said in its school reopening guidance that ‘by the autumn term, all schools will be provided with a small number of home testing kits that they can give directly to parents/carers collecting a child who has developed symptoms at school’.
The kits will also be available to staff who have developed symptoms while at work.
However, some head teachers have reported that they still have not received the tests, just a matter of days before they are supposed to reopen.
Asked if he could guarantee that all schools in England will get the testing kits by the time they reopen next week, Mr Williamson replied: ‘Yes.’
He was also asked whether he expected schools to be shut in the event of a localised outbreak of the virus.
He told ITV: ‘We would expect to see schools closed as the very last resort. We know that children have missed out on so much by not being in school.
‘We know that children have missed being with their friends and being with their teachers and having the opportunity to learn in wonderful classrooms such as this.
‘So we would see schools closing as the absolute last resort.’
Mr Williamson said the Government has asked teachers to plan to be able to educate children from home if a school has to be closed.
‘We’ve seen in Leicester, where there was a local lockdown, when action does need to be taken more widely than just that school, we will be willing to do that,’ he said.
‘In our guidance, what we’ve asked schools to do is make sure that they are planning to ensure that actually children do not miss out on their education if they’re not in school and they are continuing to educate when they’re at home.’
Mr Williamson added: ‘At every stage, we’ve followed the advice of chief medical officers and we saw just at the weekend the chief medical officers for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland saying it is now safe for youngsters to return back to school and actually there’s more harm done to those youngsters by them not being in school.
‘That’s why it’s the right time for children to come back.’
Mr Williamson was facing fresh scrutiny after he reportedly cancelled a key meeting to go on holiday in Scarborough the week before the A-level exams fiasco, according to The Sunday Times.
The Education Secretary addressed the claims in a tweet as he said he had been in ‘constant communication’ with officials while he was away.
He said: ‘I cancelled our family holiday abroad this year to focus on the challenges COVID-19 created for the education sector.
‘Over the summer, I went to see family in Scarborough for the first time since lockdown, and while there I was in constant communication with the Department.’