Education Committee hearing with the Secretary of State

29 April 2020

Education Committee hearing with Rt Hon Gavin Wiliamson, Secretary of State for Education (SoS)

The Chair of the Committee, Robert Halfon MP, opened the questioning by stating that the Coronavirus has thrown up three very serious issues:

  1. the risk of a wave of educational poverty;
  2. significant safeguarding concerns;
  3. a digital divide .


The following evidence was provided:

  • Only 5% of vulnerable learners are attending an educational setting.
  • Just 2% of teachers in the most disadvantaged schools think that all of their students have access to devices that would enable digital learning.
  • This issue is not limited to disadvantaged learners, 55% of teachers think that the average pupil is learning for less than 1 hour per day.


The Chair continued to ask for whether the SoS had figures on:

  • the impact of school closures for learners from different socioeconomic backgrounds; and
  • how many disadvantaged learners do not have access to a device that would enable them to learn digitally, despite the Government’s laptop scheme?

The SoS was not able to provide figures that answered either of these questions.


The Chair also asked about whether there were plans to use the ‘BBC red button’ to offer education via the television to those without access to a digital device. The SoS stated that conversations were underway with the BBC about the provision of education through this channel. However, the SoS was not conclusive on what would be made available and when. The SoS also updated the Committee that a series of pilot interventions are being explored with the Education Endowment Foundation. These interventions will target the most disadvantaged learners.


The SoS was not able to confirm a date for reopening schools, but suggested it would be phased, albeit he did not confirm what that phasing would look like. The SoS also suggested that schools were not likely to be open over summer, but a range of interventions were being explored that would engage young people over the summer, particularly for the most disadvantaged learners.


Once the questions opened up to the rest of the Committee, the first question was on the role of ‘live call attendance’ at the beginning of each lesson and whether this should be rolled out across the UK. The SoS stated that guidance is being rolled out on homeschooling / learning, but he did not offer a specific response about ‘live call attendance’.


The Committee also asked whether students could be encouraged to take part in community activities whilst they’re not in school, so that they can continue to develop their skills over the summer / when exams would have been taking place. The SoS highlighted that the National Citizens Service is exploring options for this type of activity throughout the summer.


The Committee raised that COVID-19 has hit those from Black, Asian and ethnic minorities the hardest, and asked how the Government were going to take the necessary precaustions to protect students and workers from these groups. The SoS reiterated that the phasing of reopening schools would be led by scientific evidence.


The final topic raised was a lack of resources for early-years. The SoS committed to making sure that a package is developed for this group.


There were also a number of questions about PPE in schools. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t clear from his response what decision has been reached - and so I’d suggest one hasn’t.


The Committee and SoS were mindful to say THANK YOU to all of the teachers & educational staff!

You can listen to the session on Parliament TV: http:// https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/0aa3b915-6d60-4469-8b59-4d2f49dc6fbf

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