Below is the full text of the speech delivering by Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green in parliament this afternoon.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome 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 teachers. Ministers must now learn from their mistakes, and ensure that keeping schools open and pupils learning is a national priority.
Labour is absolutely clear – we want children back in school, and we want them to stay there. I’ll always work constructively with the government to achieve that. And I hope the Secretary of State will hear my questions in that constructive spirit. Because, while I’m delighted that the vast majority of schools will reopen fully in the next few days, there remain many issues of concern.
Let me start with the ongoing situation regarding this summer’s exam results. After days of confusion following A-level results day, the Secretary of State finally heeded the calls of young people, and of the Labour Party, and accepted centre-assessed grades (CAGs). While that was the right thing to do, it leaves many of the problems created by his previous flawed standardisation approach unresolved.
The Secretary of State should have known of the risks – it’s been reported that a former senior official raised serious concerns. So can he tell the house when he first knew of the potential problems with his approach, and what he did about them? What advice was he given about BTEC students, who have faced more uncertainty and delay?
Can he tell us how many BTEC students have still not received their results? External candidates who do not have a CAG remain in an extremely difficult situation. What are their options, and what support they will receive?
There are also significant consequences for higher education. Can the Secretary of State tell the House how many young people who missed their first-choice university because of his now discredited approach to awarding grades have still not been granted those places?
What assessment has he made of the impact on universities that will lose students because they can now take up their original choice? What discussions has he had with the Treasury about providing those institutions with additional financial support?
Mr Speaker, turning now to the reopening of schools, we’re all pleased to see children return. School is the best place for them to be, not only for their learning, but for their emotional and social wellbeing. I pay tribute to the school staff who’ve worked through the holidays to welcome children back safely.
The test now for the Secretary of State is that pupils continue to receive a full education throughout the year, and catch up on the learning they have lost. So when will pupils begin to receive support through both the catch up premium and national tutoring fund? And why are early years and post-16 providers ineligible for the catch-up premium?
Why is the funding available for just a single year, when the impact of any further disruption to education is so significant? Can he guarantee that every child will have full access to learning in the event of a local lockdown? Parents’ top priority as schools return is the wellbeing of their children. What plans does the Secretary of State have to provide additional pastoral support? What extra support will be available for children with SEND?
Parents will not be able to return to work without childcare and wraparound care. What plans does the Secretary of State have in place to ensure every parent can access the care they need? And can he tell us how he will ensure all children can travel safely to school? Finally, what additional financial support, if any, will schools receive to cover Covid related costs this term?
Turning to the year ahead, I was glad to read this morning that the Secretary of State has once again listened to Labour and will delay exams in summer 2021. Pupils entering Y11 and 13 have already experienced serious disruption to their learning and the assessment process must recognise that.
But schools, colleges, and universities need time to plan. What discussions is he having with the sector and with UCAS to ensure workable arrangements are in place. And can he guarantee that a contingency plan will be put in place – this month – in case exams are disrupted again?
Mr Speaker, children and their families should have been the government’s top priority. But for weeks their interests have taken a back seat while the Secretary of State U-turned on everything from CAGs to face masks, and let officials take the blame. He must now take responsibility for ensuring that a summer of incompetence does not descend further into an autumn of disaster and dismay.
I implore him to listen to the concerns of parents, education professionals and the Labour Party. He must now make the education of our children and young people a national, and his first, priority.