Last reviewed 7 January 2021

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has made a statement to Parliament regarding schools in national lockdown in which he confirmed many of the arrangements previously announced by the Prime Minister (see “New lockdown announced for England”).

“Unwelcome though this latest lockdown is,” he said, “and I am very conscious of the real challenges parents are facing with their children at home, we are far better placed to cope with it than we were last March.”

Online learning

In particular, Mr Williamson emphasised, establishment are much better prepared to deliver online learning.

“We have set out clear, legally binding requirements for schools to provide high-quality remote education,” he said. “This is mandatory for ALL state-funded schools and will be enforced by Ofsted. We expect schools to provide between three and five teaching hours a day, depending on a child’s age.”

If parents feel their child’s school is not providing suitable remote education, Mr Williamson went on, they should first raise their concerns with the teacher or headteacher and, failing that, report the matter to Ofsted.

Ofsted will inspect schools – of any grade – where it has serious concerns about the quality of remote education being provided.

The Oak National Academy continues to provide video lessons for all ages across all subjects, the Education Secretary pointed out, and the BBC has announced that it will be delivering the biggest push on education in its history, bringing 14 weeks of educational programmes and lessons to every household in the country.

In addition, the Government has purchased more than one million laptops and tablets and will have delivered three-quarters of a million devices by 15 January.

It is working with all the UK’s leading mobile network operators to provide free data for key educational sites and EE, Three, Tesco Mobile, Smarty, Sky Mobile, Virgin Mobile, O2 and Vodaphone are supporting this offer.

Exams

With arrangements for awarding grades in 2020 failing to deliver what students and parents needed, Mr Williamson said that lessons had been learned.

“Although exams are the fairest way we have of assessing what a student knows,” he went on, “the impact of this pandemic now means that it is not possible to have these exams this year. I can confirm that GCSEs and A and AS Level exams will not go ahead this summer.”

This year, Mr Williamson confirmed, we are going to put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms.

While the details will need to be fine-tuned in consultation with Ofqual, the exam boards and teaching representatives, the Education Secretary will, he said, use a form of teacher-assessed grades, with training and support provided to ensure these are awarded fairly and consistently.

With regard to January exams and assessments of vocational and technical qualifications, schools and colleges may continue with these assessments where they judge it is right to do so.

“No college should feel pressured to offer these and we will ensure all students are able to progress fairly, just as we will with VTQs in the summer,” Mr Williamson said.

Free school meals

Recognising the concern about free school meals, the Education Secretary confirmed that he would be providing extra funding to support schools to provide food parcels or meals to eligible children.

Where schools cannot offer food parcels or use local solutions, a national voucher scheme will be put in place so that every eligible child can access free school meals while their school remains closed.