Plans to support vulnerable children set out as schools close amid third coronavirus lockdown

Fiona Simpson
Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The government has vowed to extend the education support available to vulnerable children following the closure of schools as a third national lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus is imposed.

Millions of children have returned to home schooling. Picture: Adobe Stock
Millions of children have returned to home schooling. Picture: Adobe Stock

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday evening (4 January) that all primary and secondary schools and colleges would close for at least six weeks until February half-term to all pupils except the children of frontline workers and vulnerable children.

Early years settings, including nurseries and childminders, special schools and alternative education providers will remain open to all pupils, Johnson said.

During a televised statement, the Prime Minister vowed to ensure children eligible for free school meals would receive supermarket vouchers similar to those provided during the first lockdown and during the summer and Christmas holidays.

The Department for Education has confirmed it will go ahead with previously announced plans to increase the number of free laptops and 4G routers made available to disadvantaged children.

It said it aimed to provide one million devices by the end of the current academic year having handed out 560,000 as of December.

Announcing the extension of the scheme last month, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The DfE will provide more information to the schools, colleges, trusts and local authorities able to order these devices in the spring term 2021. We’ll continue to support schools experiencing disruption as a priority.”

The government-funded National Tutoring Programme, aimed at helping the most disadvantaged children impacted by the pandemic catch-up with peers, has said it will continue to provide tutoring remotely - it delivered support to 62,000 pupils last term.

A statement issued by the programme said: “Tuition Partners have undergone a rigorous process to ensure they are able to deliver tuition online to pupils in their homes safely. This includes confirmation of parental consent and clear communication with parents and schools about safeguarding processes. 

“Before delivery begins, schools and tuition partners also need to confirm whether the pupil has access to suitable technology at home.”

Meanwhile, the government has admitted that GCSE, AS and A level exams are “unlikely” to go ahead as planned this year.

“In the circumstances, we do not think it is possible for all exams in the summer to go ahead as planned. We will accordingly be working with Ofqual to consult rapidly to put in place alternative arrangements that will allow students to progress fairly.

“Public exams and vocational assessments scheduled to take place in January will go ahead as planned,” Johnson said.

University students who left campus over the Christmas break may not be able to return until mid-February, early government guidance states, with most tuition being carried out online.

A handful of courses including social care, medicine and education will continue face-to-face teaching.

The announcement came on the same day many schools reopened under government advice which ordered primary schools outside of Greater London to welcome back pupils after the Christmas break.

Secondary schools were told to introduce a phased return starting with exam pupils in years 11 and 13 with mass testing to be made available on site. 

Council leaders and teaching unions earlier called on the government to close schools to most children amid a spike in cases above figures seen ahead of the first national lockdown.

However, Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman said closures would “put children's lives on hold” and should be kept to an "absolute minimum".

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