Concerns over pupils being repeatedly sent home for Covid-related reasons

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson acknowledged ‘some inconsistencies’ exist in how schools approach the issue.

A-Level results
A-Level results

Pupils at some schools have been sent home on five occasions in recent months for Covid 19-related reasons, according to Labour.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green warned this means children have missed “up to one third of their time in school” as a result of coronavirus.

School leaders and staff are also “stressed and exhausted”, Ms Green said as other MPs raised concerns over pressures on school budgets due to increased costs of supply cover for isolating teachers and extra cleaning.

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Shadow education secretary Kate Green (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson acknowledged there have been “some inconsistencies”, with the Government working with schools to ensure there is a common approach, after Conservative former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith warned about the “patchiness” of advice to schools.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Green asked: “Can the Secretary of State say how many pupils have been sent home from school for Covid-related reasons, and of those how many have been sent home on more than one occasion?”

Mr Williamson replied: “We keep a close monitor of those children who are being sent home and we’re working with the sector so we can provide her with those details and we’ll send it on to her.”

Ms Green said she was “disappointed” Mr Williamson “doesn’t know those figures”, adding: “Parents, pupils and teachers have told me of students having being sent home three, four, even five times, some have missed up to one third of their time in school.

“I’m sure the Secretary of State agrees that will have a disastrous impact on their learning.”

Mr Williamson argued the Government has “done everything we can do to support schools to welcome children back” and provide laptops for home learning when Ms Green warned of the stresses placed on staff.

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Conservative former minister Steve Baker (PA)

Conservative former minister Steve Baker said pupils using the NHS Covid-19 app was leading to school absences if they are told to isolate.

Mr Williamson replied: “Under-16s shouldn’t be using that app and I’d like to thank schools who have done so much, and the leadership of schools who have done so much, in terms of working with Test and Trace to ensure that the number of youngsters who need to self-isolate as a result of a case has reduced significantly over the past few weeks.”

Shadow schools minister Wes Streeting later asked when ministers would “actually present a plan that teachers and pupils can see for exams to go ahead in a fair way”.

He said: “We all agree that exams would be the fairest and best way to assess pupils this year, but given the absolute chaos at the heart of last year’s exams, it would be reasonable to expect ministers to have had a plan in place by now and the ministers answers this afternoon have been woefully inadequate when school leaders, teachers, parents and pupils are crying out for certainty.

“Given the obvious challenges that exist to make sure that exams go ahead in the way that is fair to all pupils and the fact that any delay makes that job harder, when will ministers actually present a plan that teachers and pupils can see for exams to go ahead in a fair way?”

Schools minister Nick Gibb replied: “I know that he knows that these issues are complex, they need to be thought through and they need to be consulted on which is what we are doing with pace, with rigour and with energy, but I recognise in opposition of course there’s always the temptation to reach for the slogan rather than the solution.”

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