School return delay is latest education U-turn during pandemic

From school meal vouchers to exam results, the Department for Education has been forced to change its approach numerous times since March.

School return delay is latest education U-turn during pandemic

The announcement of a delay to school pupils in England returning to their classrooms after Christmas is the latest in a string of U-turns performed by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson since the pandemic began.

Mr Williamson said students in exam years will return to secondary schools a week later than planned, from January 11, while other secondary and college students will go back full-time on January 18.

Primary schools where Covid-19 infection rates are the highest will not reopen for face-to-face teaching to all pupils as planned next week, following warnings from experts over the danger of the new coronavirus variant.

Here PA looks at the other education-based U-turns that have occurred since March.

– The first primary school return

Following the first national lockdown, Mr Williamson set out ambitions in early May that all primary-age children would return to school for at least four weeks before the summer break.

But on June 9, he said there was “no choice” but to scrap those plans amid concerns that the two-metre social-distancing rule would make a full return impossible.

– School meals voucher scheme

Following pressure from a campaign headed by England footballer Marcus Rashford, the Government reversed its decision not to extend the children’s food voucher scheme into the summer holidays.

Cabinet minister Grant Shapps said on June 16 that free school meals were not normally extended to cover the summer period.

But a few hours later, No 10 backtracked on its stance, confirming that it would in fact extend the programme.

– School face coverings

The policy that children should not be required to wear face coverings while in school was reversed by the Department for Education in August, when it announced that face coverings should be worn in corridors and communal areas by staff and students in Year 7 and above in schools in areas with coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Williamson had insisted previously that the Covid-secure measures being adopted in schools meant that the wearing of face coverings would not be necessary.

– A-level and GCSE results in England

Following criticism from students and headteachers, and a backlash by Tory MPs, the Government announced A-level and GCSE grades would be based on teachers’ assessments rather than a controversial algorithm devised by regulator Ofqual.

Students protest after the summer's A-level results
Students protest after the summer’s A-level results (Jacob King/PA)

The announcement on August 17, just days before GCSE results were due to come out, followed an earlier vow from Mr Williamson that there would be “no U-turn, no change”.

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