The inquiry will look at how the outbreak of COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of the education sector and children’s social care system and will scrutinise how the Department for Education is dealing with the situation.
It will examine both short term impacts, such as the effects of school closures and exam cancellations, as well as longer-term implications particularly for the most vulnerable children.
Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:
“The Education Committee recognises that the closure of schools has been a massive decision with huge implications and would like to put on record its thanks to the Education Secretary and Ministers who are having to make tough decisions in very difficult circumstances. We appreciate the briefings that the Committee have so far received from Ministers and officials at the DfE.
“We would particularly also like to thank all the education professionals - the staff, the teachers, the ancillary staff - who are doing everything possible to continue to educate our children. We recognise that this is in incredibly worrying time for all.
“The coronavirus outbreak is going to have a deep and long-lasting impact right across the education sector. While it is so important that all the right steps are taken to keep people safe, actions such as school closures and delays to exams add up to an unsettling time for everyone. We must make sure everything is in place to support our dedicated teachers and school staff who are looking after the children of key workers and also the hardworking pupils and students who are now facing such an uncertain future.
“We also must not forget the disproportionate and potentially devastating impact that the steps put in place to fight this virus will have on our most vulnerable children and young people. If we are to ensure we continue to fight social injustice, we must work to support the disadvantaged, including those with special educational needs and disabilities and those who rely on children’s social care services. Everything possible must be done to ensure that those children who are already left behind are not left behind further because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is a fast-moving and unprecedented situation and we hope the Committee can play its part in ensuring the right steps are being taken to ensure a prosperous future for all our young people while ensuring everyone in society is kept safe.”
The Committee is looking to hear from everyone involved in education, including students and families, staff from across the sector and childcare providers and youth services and local authorities. There is likely to be a series of one-off evidence sessions and other forms of engagement.
The Committee has today written to the Department for Education with some initial questions.
Likely topics of inquiry for the Committee include, but are not limited to:
- The implementation of the critical workers policy, including how consistently the definition of ‘critical’ work is being applied across the country and how schools are supported to remain open for children of critical workers
- The capacity of children’s services to support vulnerable children and young people
- The effect of provider closure on the early years sector, including reference to:
- Children’s early development
- The early years funded entitlement and the childcare market
- The effect of cancelling formal exams, including the fairness of qualifications awarded and pupils’ progression to the next stage of education or employment
- Support for pupils and families during closures, including:
- The consistency of messaging from schools and further and higher education providers on remote learning
- Children’s and young people’s mental health and safety outside of the structure and oversight of in-person education
- The effect on apprenticeships and other workplace-based education courses
- The financial implications of closures for providers (including higher education and independent training providers), pupils and families
- The effect on disadvantaged groups, including the Department’s approach to free school meals and the long-term impact on the most vulnerable groups (such as pupils with special educational needs and disabilities and children in need)
- What contingency planning can be done to ensure the resilience of the sector in case of any future national emergency
The Committee has today also agreed to conduct a series of inquiries into disadvantaged and ‘left-behind’ groups, with an initial focus on white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, including the white working class. In addition there will also be an inquiry on adult skills and life-long learning. These inquiries will be all the more important given the implications and the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. Full terms of reference and how to contribute to the inquiries will be published online soon.