Gavin Williamson faced questions in the Commons today and did not rule out the idea of reducing the length of the six-week summer holidays.
Wakefield Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan referenced a report from the Institute for Economic Affairs think tank, which he said “outlines a number of policies that would help resolve critical issues facing our schools”.
He said: “Summer holidays are one key area. It appears they prove counterproductive for pupils.
I wonder if the minister would kindly look into the proposal of restructuring the school year to reduce the length of summer holidays, a policy that would greatly benefit pupils and parents?”
And Mr Williamson responded: “We’ve asked Sir Kevan Collins to look across a whole and broad range of different ways of giving children a boost in terms of being able to not just catch up in terms of any learning that they’ve lost, but actually more fundamentally make major changes to actually how we drive educational attainment over a generation and more.
“And of course all of this is something that Sir Kevan will be looking at.”
Mr Williamson said he acknowledged that the pandemic has “impacted” the attainment gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils.
He said: “On this side of the House, we believe passionately in terms of driving up educational standards because we recognise that for children – especially from the most disadvantaged backgrounds – that is the best way to give them the opportunities in life that we want to see every child have.”
But Shadow Education Secretary, Labour’s Kate Green, said that by not agreeing to keep the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, the Government was doing the opposite.
And Mr Williams was also warned he risked creating “mask anarchy” unless regulations on face coverings in schools are made clearer.
Robert Halfon, who chairs the Education Select Committee, insisted “definitive regulations” must be put in place on whether students should wear face coverings.
Teachers are being put under “enormous pressure” because of the current confusion, Mr Halfon added.
MPs also heard many teachers are “worried” about a full return of schools, with some opposition MPs pressing the Government to adopt a phased return in England.
With schools set to reopen in England on March 8, only secondary school students are being advised to wear masks when social distancing cannot be maintained.
Mr Halfon told the Commons: “Given that the schools minister (Nick Gibb) said that the wearing of masks by pupils on the school estate is advisory guidance, if a pupil or a parent on behalf of a pupil objects to comply with the wishes of a head teacher to wear a mask, are we not in danger of creating mask anarchy?
“Enormous pressure is being put on head teachers in Harlow because of the confusion, like Vic Goddard, head teacher of Harlow Passmores School.
“Is it not better to come down firmly on one side or another and provide clearly definitive regulations to help teaching staff?”
Mr Gibb responded: “Well we said very clearly that we strongly recommend students in secondary schools to wear face coverings in classrooms where it’s not possible to keep social distances between pupils.
“And we’ve also said for quite a number of months that where in communal areas of a school it’s not possible to maintain social distance, then staff and adults and students in secondary schools should also wear face masks.”