Gavin Williamson hints at extended school days and opening on weekends | UK | News (Reports)

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Gavin Williamson said the Education Endowment Foundation recommended longer schools days can have a real impact on children’s educational attainment. The Education Secretary was told by Conservative MP Bob Blackman that extending the school day for secondary pupils by 30 minutes would help them to catch up on learning they have missed due to coronavirus. One of the estimates is that more than two million young people are behind in their education.

Mr Blackman asked: “But what guidance is (Gavin Williamson) giving, for example, on extending the school day in secondary schools by 30 minutes a day, which will then enable young people to catch up and teachers to catch up with teaching the curriculum so we don’t have to reduce the impact of GCSEs or A-levels in terms of examining what children have learnt?”

In response, Mr Williamson said: “As part of the advice that was worked up along with the Education Endowment Foundation, one of their key recommendations was looking at how you can extend the school day, how you can look at provisional weekends in order to support children who really do need that little bit of extra help in order for them to have a real impact in terms of their educational attainment.

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“All of these measures can have an enormously positive effect and that’s why we developed a £1billion COVID catch-up fund because schools then have the ability to take such action.”

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Mr Williamson said he is “confident” the necessary preparations are in place to ensure a “successful return” for all schools pupils in England.

The Education Secretary said welcoming pupils back will be a “massive milestone” for schools and highlighted a letter from the four UK chief medical officers about the “low-risk of long-term harm from COVID-19 due solely from attending school in comparison to the higher risk of long-term from not attending school”.

Mr Williamson said pupils are returning to a “safe environment”, telling the Commons: “I know that these past few months have been some of the most challenging that schools, parents and, most of all, children have faced.”

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He thanked education staff for their “incredible efforts”, adding: “I’m confident we have the necessary preparations in hand to ensure a successful return for all of our pupils.”

For Labour, shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “I’m welcoming the Secretary of State back to his place after a summer of chaos, incompetence and confusion that has caused enormous stress to children, young people, their families and their teachers.

“Ministers must now learn from their mistakes and ensure that keeping schools open and pupils learning is a national priority.”

It comes as former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for secondary school teachers to be regularly tested for Covid-19 to improve parent confidence that classrooms are virus-free.

The Commons Health Committee chairman backed a call from epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, whose early coronavirus mortality modelling helped influence the Government decision to instigate the lockdown in March, for “rapid testing” in schools.

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Mr Hunt said the model had been used in Germany where pupils had been back with their teachers for a number of weeks.

His comments came as pupils returned to school for the start of the new academic year, the first time some of them had been in class since the lockdown was introduced six months ago.

The ex-cabinet minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think Professor Ferguson is right, and the reason he is right is because we know something now we didn’t know back in January, which is that about 70 percent of the people who transmit coronavirus don’t have any symptoms at all, and so that makes it much harder to get public consent for things like sending people back to school or going back to offices and so on, because it is a silent transmitter and even a silent killer sometimes.

“The way you get round that is by having very quick, very effective, large-scale testing.”

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