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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, July 23, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Virtual) 23 July 2020

Agenda: Progress Towards Reopening Schools, Childcare


Contents

  • Progress Towards Reopening Schools
  • Childcare

Progress Towards Reopening Schools

Good afternoon. The first item of business is a statement by John Swinney to update Parliament on progress towards reopening schools. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

On 23 June, I confirmed to Parliament that the collective efforts of the people of Scotland to suppress coronavirus had enabled us to bring forward our plans to reopen schools, with the aim that they should be open to all pupils on a full-time basis from August.

Since then, we have continued to see improvements in the data, we have benefited from further, detailed scientific advice and we have witnessed a relaxation of some of the wider restrictions that were placed on non-essential aspects of everyday life. In Scotland, the infection rate in the general population is currently reducing by 30 per cent each week, which means that there are now only around 700 infectious people in Scotland, compared with 1,300 four weeks ago and 5,000 at the end of May.

Although our country has had to wrestle with the loss of so many of our citizens to Covid, there have been no deaths among people under 16 years of age, and, by 12 July, only 42 of the 5,939 hospitalisations had been of people aged under 15. That represents less than 0.01 per cent of the population in that age group and demonstrates an important message about the relative risk for school-age children.

Today, I will update Parliament on progress towards fully reopening schools in August and set out how we will address the wider impacts of the virus on the health and wellbeing and educational progress and attainment of our children and young people.

We are now about halfway through the school summer holidays. I want to express my appreciation to parents and carers for their support for young people, to the teaching and wider workforce across Scotland for their efforts to sustain education, and to children and young people for their resilience during this difficult period.

Throughout this crisis, the Scottish Government has been open when speaking with members of the public and in providing updates to Parliament. I have taken many opportunities to seek views from parents, teachers and young people on how the Covid situation and our journey out of lockdown are impacting on their lives. We know for certain that children and young people from across all age groups will have experienced some negative effects from being unable to attend school and from living in a world restricted by physical distancing. We know that academic learning, peer relationships, safety, wellbeing and mental health are all at risk. It is both a moral and an educational imperative that we lift those restrictions on our children and young people as soon as we know that it is safe to do so.

Last Thursday, our Covid-19 advisory sub-group on education and children’s issues published its latest scientific advice. The advisory group set out that we needed to consider the protection of the public from Covid alongside the need to address the other harms that are caused to children and young people by absence from school. It was clear in its advice that there was an overwhelming justification for the reopening of schools, with appropriate mitigating approaches in place, and that, on balance, that would be significantly better for the wellbeing of children and young people.

The advisory group specifically examined information on physical distancing and safe school transport. That advice, which draws on multidisciplinary evidence from within Scotland as well as internationally, makes it clear that, subject to complementary risk mitigation measures being implemented, there is no requirement for physical distancing between children in primary schools. Although the advisory group recommended that, on balance, no physical distancing is needed among secondary school pupils, it noted that the position was less clear in that respect.

After carefully considering that advice and the views of stakeholders, the education recovery group is developing guidance that involves taking extra precautions and envisages that secondary schools will be asked to take a practical approach to maintaining distancing between pupils where possible.

That could be accomplished, for example, by managing the flow of pupils and staff within schools and adjusting the layout of classrooms, always subject to that not reducing capacity within schools.

That approach, which is similar to that set out in the guidance developed by the Welsh Government and the Department for Education, means that pupils should be able to return to both primary and secondary schools full time, with appropriate mitigations in place.

The advice recommends that staff should observe 2m physical distancing from pupils wherever possible, and it is important that this point is reflected in advice.

Regarding transport, it is the view of the scientific advisers that dedicated school transport should be regarded as an extension of the school estate and, therefore, that physical distancing between pupils will not be necessary. The guidance will be developed to reflect that view and will set out a proportionate approach towards ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children, young people and transport staff.

I want to make it clear that the advice remains conditional on continued low rates of infection, effective surveillance measures and a process for handling any local outbreaks.

We are working with our partners in the education recovery group to produce guidance by 30 July that would enable schools to reopen in August. A final decision regarding whether we are in a position to reopen schools full time and for all pupils will be taken by the Cabinet on 29 July and will be set out to Parliament next Thursday. We will then introduce an educational continuity direction to implement the provisions that are agreed.

Importantly, that guidance is being developed in partnership with local government, unions representing teachers and other school staff, parents’ representatives and public health representatives. This represents a shared commitment to provide parents, pupils, teachers and other staff with the reassurance that they need.

Clear communication with all staff, parents, providers and trade unions on the reopening of schools will be important as we develop and implement the guidance, to ensure that all those concerned understand the required changes and are confident in the revised arrangements.

Local authorities or schools will be in touch with parents regarding the specific arrangements for the return of children and young people to school. We know that, across different local authorities and within each local authority, there will be a range of unique challenges to address. There will be a need for some degree of flexibility in finalising the detailed arrangements for the new term.

Some schools and local authorities may phase children back in to school where necessary to provide assurance on safety. Those issues will need to be addressed by individual schools through risk assessments to identify the appropriate actions and put them in place.

The guidance will sit alongside similar information for early learning and childcare, other childcare services, youth work and community learning and development activity. This suite of national guidance is designed to help all our partners to operate within the clear public health measures. The guidance will set out the comprehensive package of protocols that are necessary to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus, as well as advice on practical arrangements.

Important school mitigations will include good hand hygiene practices, ventilation and improved cleaning regimes. Those school mitigations are about working together to protect and support each other. A number of specific public health measures will also be in place in schools, including test and protect, outbreak management and quick access to testing for all symptomatic staff and pupils. We shall also be monitoring very closely cases of the virus in schools, drawing on our tried and tested community surveillance and on existing healthcare surveillance measures.

In addition, we are currently developing proposals for a targeted enhanced surveillance programme, which will allow us to cast more light on any impact on pupils and staff in schools throughout the country. These measures will provide reassurance and will allow adjustments to be made, either to ease further or to tighten up, in the light of clear evidence of developments on the ground.

As we progress, we know that we must continue to be ambitious, to be led by the evidence and to work in partnership with others. There will almost certainly be additional costs involved, and the £100 million of additional investment that I announced in June demonstrates our commitment to this agenda.

As part of that new funding, we are ring fencing £50 million specifically for the recruitment of additional teachers and support staff for the academic year 2020-21. That will enable schools to intensify support for children and young people as they return to face-to-face education and will help to mitigate any learning loss.

Although I stress that final numbers will depend on the precise mix of staff recruited and the needs of children and young people, I expect that the money will provide sufficient funding for approximately 850 extra teachers and give local authorities the flexibility to bring in around 200 support staff in schools across Scotland, subject to final agreement with our Convention of Scottish Local Authorities partners.

Everyone in the school workforce has a crucial role to play in our education recovery mission, and it is vital that they are supported to do so. I do not underestimate the logistical challenges involved in reopening our schools safely, whether in providing enhanced cleaning services or in addressing continuing capacity constraints on school transport.

For that reason, I confirm that I intend to allocate a further £20 million of funding to local authorities to help to address those additional requirements. That allocation recognises the extremely valuable work of our school cleaners and facilities management and school transport staff, who are essential to the successful delivery of education in Scotland and to whom I pay tribute.

Although that funding should provide local authorities with the assurance that they require to progress plans immediately, we will continue to work with COSLA to understand the additional costs associated with the school reopening guidance that each local authority is facing and how those costs can be addressed alongside any loss of learning. COSLA has advised us that it will share the outcomes of the cost-collection exercise associated with the school reopening guidance, authority by authority, as soon as it has completed that work. We will take a responsible approach to supporting local authorities as we move forward, and the level of funding will require regular, rigorous and transparent monitoring of costs.

I make it clear that that funding is on top of the additional support that we have already made available. That has included providing local authorities or schools with enhanced flexibility of £182 million of attainment Scotland funding and the ability to redirect up to £508 million as a result of suspending the provision of 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare. We have provided a £350 million package of community and wellbeing funding to support those in need. In addition, we have provided local authorities with a further £27.6 million to continue the provision of free school meals and wider food support to families through the summer holidays.

We are investing £30 million as part of a huge digital boost through the provision of laptops for disadvantaged children and young people. That includes £25 million of funding to enable a roll-out of digital devices to school pupils to enable them to study online.

When these measures are considered alongside the range of other measures, the Scottish Government will have made available or provided flexibility of more than £1 billion across local authorities to tackle the impact of coronavirus and ensure that children get the support that they need.

I mentioned in my statement on 23 June that we would be seeking the assistance of the youth work sector in supporting those families and communities who need it most. The sector has continued to support and engage children and young people throughout the pandemic, including through the use of digital technology and outreach work, to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health, learning and development of children and young people. I take the opportunity today to reinforce that commitment by announcing that we will make a further £3 million investment in youth work to support education recovery.

As well as providing important updates on the practical and logistical preparations for reopening schools, I restate our vision and ambition for education in Scotland. Our collective aim is to achieve excellence and equity for all children. Our education recovery mission must be to further improve Scottish education and accelerate progress in closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

At the outset of this planning, our partners in the education recovery group agreed five guiding principles to ensure that the child is always placed at the centre of our considerations. We agreed that our approach must be safe, fair, ethical, clear and realistic.

The guidance and health mitigations that we are developing, based on scientific advice, will be designed to demonstrate to parents, carers, staff and pupils that it is safe for schools to reopen, subject to the continued suppression of the virus. A final decision on the reopening of schools will be announced on 30 July.

The plans for blended learning remain an essential contingency, which could be applied at local, regional or national level, if needed. I am grateful to local authorities for their continuing work to refine their local plans for blended learning, with appropriate challenge from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education.

In parallel, Education Scotland is expanding its close working with e-Sgoil to ensure the availability of online lessons that will help to support and augment the work of classroom teachers when schools reopen. E-Sgoil will train additional teachers to provide online lessons, across a range of subjects, which learners in the senior phase across Scotland can access via the glow network. Partners are now working together so that the lessons are designed, in the mediums of English and Gaelic, to complement what is being delivered in local schools.

This statement has inevitably focused on the many practical and logistical issues around the reopening of schools. It is vital, however, that the work is set in the context of the moral and educational imperative of delivering education to every one of our children and young people. They have suffered during lockdown, and the Government and our partners are focused on putting in place the opportunity to access school to support their wellbeing and develop their potential. That drive must lie at the heart of all that we do.

We have around 30 minutes for questions, after which we must move on to the next item of business. Members who wish to ask a question should type “R” in the chat function.

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement. Given the progress that we have made in tackling Covid-19, the question that many people still have is: what scientific trigger is the Government waiting for to give the green light to reopen schools fully? We could do that today and end the uncertainty. Pubs, restaurants, churches and even the tourism sector have all reopened. We know that children are at least risk of anyone in the country from Covid-19. Surely the balance of evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of schools reopening next month. I can see that and the public can see that, but we still have a refusal today to commit to schools reopening in just three short weeks.

I have three additional questions. First, I think that the cabinet secretary again used the phrase “a phased return”. Can he tell us how many of our 32 local authorities have indicated that they will be reopening schools fully to all pupils in the week commencing 11 August? If the answer is anything less than all of them, parents have a right to know when their children are going back to school.

Secondly, if there are localised clusters of Covid outbreaks, can the cabinet secretary confirm that those would be dealt with on a school-by-school basis, rather than being addressed through a blanket closure of all schools across the country?

Finally, on the issue of funding, given that one council alone has stated that it would require £20 million to reopen its schools safely, does the cabinet secretary consider that the additional £20 million announced today for all local authorities will scratch the surface of what they need in order to reopen schools safely?

Mr Greene has asked four questions. First of all, the Government has made clear that the planning assumption is to reopen schools full time to all pupils in August, and that is what we and our partners are working to achieve. However, we can do that only when it is safe to do so, and we must see the continued suppression of coronavirus in our community. Therefore, it is important that we make the judgment at the correct moment, when we can see some of the effect of the relaxation of lockdown that has taken place.

Mr Greene mentioned some of the relaxations that have taken place. We must monitor the data to determine whether there is any increase in the prevalence of coronavirus as a consequence of some of the measures taken to relax the lockdown, and we must guard against any of that taking its course. Therefore, the decision will be taken next week and communicated to Parliament next Thursday.

Secondly, on the return to schooling, all local authorities will open their schools on 11 August, as we indicated that they would. That is the start date for the school term. Schools must make individual judgments, based on the circumstances that they face and those that might face individual pupils, on whether it is safe for pupils to return. For example, we need to take great care to ensure that proper and effective transition arrangements are put in place to meet the needs of young people with additional support needs. Ensuring that there is local flexibility in that respect within a national framework to resume education on 11 August, as we have promised, will be a priority for the Government.

Mr Greene asked about the emergence of coronavirus in localised clusters. I suspect that it is fairly likely that we will see outbreaks of coronavirus within the school estate once schools reopen. The Government is currently dealing with a localised outbreak in Lanarkshire. We will take the type of targeted action that is currently being taken in Lanarkshire to deal with a particular circumstance, should an outbreak arise in an individual school, because we want to avoid having more extensive lockdowns than are, in fact, necessary.

Finally, I acknowledge that there are funding issues associated with the reopening of schools. That is why, as a consequence of my statement today, £70 million will be invested directly in the delivery of education in Scotland. That is within the context of two other factors. The first is that the Government has allocated about £1 billion-worth of public expenditure to local authorities in order to provide flexibility and support their activities. The second is that the Government is actively engaged in dialogue with local authorities to assess the proceeds of their cost-collection exercise on the reopening of schools, which have not yet been supplied to the Government in full. The Government will consider that issue in due course. It is important to consider the context in which the Government has, today, announced a significant amount of money to support local authority activity.

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement. Schools are due to open in just over two weeks, yet we still have no final decision, councils still do not have the additional resources that they need and guidance on risk mitigation is still being written. The Government has never had a route map for the return of schools, and it still does not have one—it still looks as though it is making it up at the last minute.

The number of additional teachers referred to today amount to fewer than half a staff member per school, and councils have two weeks left to try to recruit them. Hundreds—perhaps thousands—of newly qualified teachers, probationer teachers, supply teachers and retired teachers, who all want to help to get their schools back, still cannot get a job. Surely, we need to use every available qualified teacher we can. How ready are we, really? How many additional teachers have been recruited? What proportion of school buildings have been risk assessed for the return of pupils?

As for mitigation, anyone over the age of five is wearing face coverings in shops. Can it really be the case that nobody is to wear a face covering in schools?

Our dialogue with local authorities on the recruitment of teachers is under way. We are setting out to local authorities the financial support that is available to them to recruit teachers. I am very keen to ensure that newly qualified teachers are able to be utilised in the education recovery work that is taken forward. Local authorities and schools around the country have done an extensive volume of risk assessment and planning for the resumption of schooling. That work has been on-going for considerable time, as a consequence of the lockdown, to enable us to be in a position to reopen schools.

On the question of face coverings, my view is quite simple: if anyone in a school environment wants to wear a face covering, they should be able to do so. However, the scientific evidence does not indicate to us that we should be obliged to enforce that position in schools. Individuals should be left to judge what their considerations and priorities are in that respect, and they should be supported in their judgment.

I have 13 questioners and 20 minutes for them, so the usual mantra applies: there should be short questions and answers, so that everybody gets their shot.

I am grateful for today’s update from the Deputy First Minister. He has confirmed that the routine testing that the Greens called for will not be offered to staff and pupils in schools. Will he explain why there will be no such routine testing?

There was nothing new in the cabinet secretary’s statement about vulnerable young people. Last week’s advice was that the burden to request protection should, in essence, be on them. We can compare the situation with that for health boards, which have been told to conduct risk assessments for black and minority ethnic staff, for example. Will schools be required to conduct equivalent risk assessments for vulnerable young people and staff?

On Mr Greer’s final question, the answer is yes. Risk assessments must be carried out in schools to support the resumption of schooling for young people and the work of individual staff.

I sympathise with Mr Greer on the issue of surveillance testing. The Government has taken extensive advice from Public Health Scotland on the appropriate approach to surveillance testing. It is obvious from the measures that are available in the community in general that we will have in place a very active test-and-protect arrangement, which we have seen working effectively in Lanarkshire in recent days. That will be supplemented by additional surveillance testing in schools.

I will be in a position to set out more detail on that next week but, at the request of the education recovery group, Public Health Scotland has been exploring what more can be done to provide the reassurance that Mr Greer seeks. The details of the approach might not be identical to Mr Greer’s proposals, but I assure him of the Government’s interest in the issue and of its determination to ensure that we have in place effective surveillance testing that can address the legitimate issues that he has raised.

It is right to prioritise the health and wellbeing of pupils when schools return, as young people might have experienced trauma during lockdown. However, teachers have reported that they were ill-equipped to deal with pupils’ mental health concerns before Covid and were feeling the effects of the loss of thousands of support staff. How many of the extra 350 school counsellors who were to be in place by September 2020 will be in post in time for schools reopening?

We expect the overwhelming majority of those counsellors to be in place by September 2020. However, because of the disruption of Covid to the recruitment process, some of the personnel might not be recruited and able to start until October.

The recent report from the advisory sub-group on education and children’s issues states that activities that cross classes and age groups, such as assemblies, choirs and gyms, should be introduced incrementally. What might that look like? Will any other practical subjects be affected, bearing in mind the positive effect that most of them have on mental health?

I am afraid that, for obvious reasons, we must proceed cautiously with activities that involve large gatherings, such as whole-school assemblies and choirs. The act of singing can contribute to the spread of coronavirus, as we had to make clear in relation to the arrangements for the reopening of places of worship.

We are proceeding with caution because we want to create a safe school environment for children, young people and staff. We want to minimise the risks for everyone involved. There may well be constraints on some of the activities that have traditionally taken place, but it is important—as I stressed in the guidance that has been issued to schools about priorities for the school term—that we take time to address the experience of young people during the lockdown period, particularly in relation to the issues raised by Gail Ross and Beatrice Wishart, and to make sure that we properly, fully and effectively support the wellbeing of children and young people at what has been a difficult time.

The education secretary said that

“plans for blended learning remain an essential contingency”.

However, the Scottish Government’s failure to address severe gaps in digital poverty since schools were forced to close has been all too apparent. Can the cabinet secretary confirm how many of the 25,000 laptops that he mentioned have been issued to local authorities or to pupils? Can he confirm whether the Government still expects, as it did at the start of the month, that those 25,000 devices will be in the hands of the young people who need them by 11 August?

We are now in the school holidays. We are working with local authorities to make sure that the 25,000 devices that we have ordered are in the hands of school pupils for the start of the term.

I welcome the £20 million that has been allocated to support schools with other costs that they will face as they introduce the new health protection and cleaning regimes. Will it be a decision for local authorities to determine how those funds are best invested to meet local need?

Those resources will be allocated to individual local authorities and it will be up to them to decide how to utilise those resources to support their priorities.

[Inaudible.]—proportion of the existing teaching workforce will be unable to return for the new school year because of shielding and other coronavirus-related considerations? What additional resource, over and above existing workforce levels, is it estimated will be required to implement the new guidance? How much of that will be covered by the implied uplift in funding that the cabinet secretary announced today?

Did you manage to get all of that, cabinet secretary?

I think that I caught most of it, Presiding Officer.

As Mr Johnson may have heard in the First Minister’s statement earlier today, we expect that shielding will be paused at the end of this month, so issues around shielding are less likely to arise at the start of the school term.

Local authorities and schools will have to make individual judgments, school by school, about the staffing resources that they have available to them. The Government has today set out provision for additional teaching resources to support local authorities and schools to tackle the loss of learning as a consequence of lockdown. Those resources will be taken forward in consultation with local authorities, with which we are engaging, in order to ensure that they are additional to the teaching complement that is currently available and active in the education system.

Many pupils in my constituency rely on school buses to get to school. The Deputy First Minister has advised that social distancing will not be needed on school transport. First, can he give us the rationale behind that decision? Can he also indicate whether any additional guidance and support is available to parents, pupils and bus operators with regard to any measures that they may have to take to make school journeys as safe as they can be?

The rationale behind the advice that our expert group has provided to us is that the prevalence of coronavirus among children and young people is very low and that the evidence that is available to our advisers—which takes account of evidence from Scotland, the United Kingdom, Europe and further afield—indicates that young people are not particularly active in the transmission of coronavirus. A requirement for physical distancing in schools is therefore judged not to be appropriate. The advice goes on to say that we should consider school transport as an extension of the school estate and that, therefore, no physical distancing should be required in that context.

On 30 July, we will publish guidance that will draw together advice on all questions that relate to the reopening of schools. That guidance will cover issues connected with school transport to provide clear and proper advice for bus operators, with whom we have been in active discussion, as we have with parents and families, to ensure that everybody has knowledge of the issues and can proceed safely.

Given that the cabinet secretary promised to offer all newly qualified teachers guaranteed employment for the next academic year, I welcome the funding to which he committed in his statement today. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that councils will be given all the necessary funding and support to fulfil the commitment on teacher employment and support job security for newly qualified teachers?

The Government is allocating resources to enable local authorities to employ additional newly qualified teachers. The funding will be ring fenced to ensure that it is used for that purpose. That will ensure that we are successful in boosting and expanding the teaching population to enable staff to contribute to the necessary work of supporting children and young people to address learning loss, which has been a factor arising from the experience of lockdown.

What support will be available for pupils who might have to self-isolate for two weeks, to ensure that they do not fall behind with their school work and that they can continue to engage with classroom activities?

That is one of the issues that I suspect will be an on-going feature of our education system in the period ahead. Coronavirus has not disappeared; cases will still emerge, and it is likely that some young people might have to self-isolate as part of efforts to contain the virus’s spread. There will therefore be an obligation on the education system to make sure that those young people are properly supported in their learning at home, so that they suffer no learning loss in any way.

When the overwhelming majority of young people are physically present at school, one of the priorities for the education system will be to ensure that the needs of all young people are met. In some circumstances, when young people are unable to be physically present because of the constraints of self-isolation, we will have to make sure that their education is properly supported.

There has been a level of inconsistency in the educational offer across schools, which risks increasing the attainment gap. After the cabinet secretary’s most recent statement, I asked him to commit to a pupil equity audit, which he agreed to do. What progress has there been on implementing that audit, and what targeted interventions will be introduced?

The Government is taking forward the necessary work to identify all the issues, factors and responses inherent in an equity audit. That will enable us to identify the scale of the challenge, what measures we can take to address it and what impetus we can bring to the education system to ensure that issues arising from the equity audit can be properly and fully explored.

The interventions that we are taking forward are focused strongly on boosting the size of the teaching workforce. That will enable the workforce to make a substantive contribution to ensure that there is no further expansion of the attainment gap and that the needs of children and young people are met as part of their activity and participation in the education system. That will be a focused element of the work that we take forward to address the contents of the equity audit.

I have been contacted by peripatetic teachers, who go around different schools and who have a lot of contact with different teachers and with a range of pupils. Are there any special arrangements for those teachers when schools go back?

It is likely that we will have to make alternative arrangements about how peripatetic teachers deliver their contribution to the education system. Mr Mason is correct: many peripatetic teachers may be in a number of schools even during one day, and certainly during a week.

Local authorities and schools will work closely with peripatetic teachers to work out how we can minimise the number of visits that they make to schools. One of our priorities will, unfortunately, be to reduce the number of school visits so that we avoid unnecessary circulation of the virus. That will involve some degree of change to working approaches, but that will be taken forward in discussion with peripatetic teachers.

I call Jeremy Balfour, to be followed by David Torrance.

Mr Balfour, you do not have your microphone on—we cannot hear you. We will get that sorted and come back to you. I will take David Torrance first.

I am pleased to hear that £50 million will be used specifically to recruit additional teachers and support staff. What guidance will be provided to ensure that that additional resource can support young people in order to mitigate any loss of learning as a result of a lack of access to resources or because they have additional support needs?

Before the cabinet secretary answers that question, I suggest that, if we cannot get Jeremy Balfour back, he can type his question in the chat bar so that it can be answered.

Mr Torrance’s question gets to the heart of what I mentioned in my statement: the moral purpose and imperative of education, which is to ensure that young people’s life chances are transformed by its positive good and benefits. The additional resources that we are putting into the education system for the employment of teachers are designed to address directly the point that Mr Torrance raised.

We must also make sure that the needs of all young people who have additional support needs are properly met when schooling resumes. In that context, we must—and schools will—take care to ensure that proper transitional arrangements are put in place so that young people can make a safe and effective return to school when it is appropriate for them to do so.

Is Jeremy Balfour able to come in now?

We cannot hear Mr Balfour, but he has typed his question in the chat bar. I will read it out. His question is, will after-school clubs and breakfast clubs be able to open in August?

Ideally, yes—but we will have to take specific risk assessment steps to ensure that we come to the right decisions on those activities. I see essential breakfast clubs as a priority, as they ensure that young people’s wellbeing is supported. Some after-school clubs may involve a degree of connection and contact that runs contrary to the general advice that we are putting in place about minimising circulation within individual schools. Those clubs may have to wait longer before they can be restarted.

The priority is to commence mainstream education and to ensure that it is available for young people. We will do our level best within the education system to open up broad opportunities for young people at the earliest possible opportunity.

That concludes questions on the statement. We will find out what went wrong with the sound for Mr Balfour, but we got there in the end.

14:45 Meeting suspended.  

14:55 On resuming—