Jun 19, 2020
United Kingdom Coronavirus Briefing Transcript June 19
British officials held a coronavirus press conference on June 19. Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson said all children in England will return to school in September. Full Downing Street news briefing speech here.
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Gavin Williamson: (00:00)
Welcome to today’s briefing from Downing Street. I’ll start with an update on the progress we’re making to beat the virus before moving to an update on schools. The first slide shows the latest COVID alert level. The COVID-19 alert level across the United Kingdom has moved down from level four to level three as recommended by the Joint Biosecurity Center. The chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have reviewed the evidence and agree with this recommendation. In all four nations, there’s been a continuing steady decrease in cases, but this doesn’t mean that the pandemic is over, the virus is still in general circulation and localized outbreaks are likely to occur.
Gavin Williamson: (00:58)
The second slide shows cases confirmed with a test. 7,433,114 tests for coronavirus have now been carried out or posted out in the United Kingdom. This includes 169,600 tests carried out or posted out yesterday. 301,815 people have tested positive, an increase of 1, 346 cases since yesterday. SAGE has confirmed today that their estimate for the R rates for the United Kingdom is unchanged on last week at 0.7 to 0.9. We want to keep the R number below one. R is the average number of additional people infected by each infected person.
Gavin Williamson: (01:59)
The third slide shows the latest data from hospitals. 494 people were admitted to hospital with coronavirus in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on the 16th of June, down from 534 a week earlier and down from a peak of 3,432 on the 1st of April. 354 coronavirus patients are currently in mechanical ventilation beds in the United Kingdom down from 392 or a week ago. And down from a peak of 3,301 on the 12th of April. The fourth slide shows what is happening in hospitals right across the country. There are now 5,030 people in hospital with coronavirus in the UK, down 10% from 5,608 a week ago. And down from peak of 20,699 on the 12th of April.
Gavin Williamson: (03:05)
As the graph show, while there is some variation, most nations and regions of the United Kingdom are broadly following a similar pattern. The fifth slide shows the daily figures of those who’ve sadly lost their lives after testing positive for coronavirus. Across all settings, the total number of deaths now stands at 42, 461. That’s an increase of 173 fatalities since yesterday. When measured on a seven day rolling average, the daily number of deaths currently stands at 140 down from a peak of 943 on the 14th of April.
Gavin Williamson: (03:55)
Turning to schools, in March, when we asked schools to close, we did something different from virtually every other nation, we made the decision to keep schools open, not just for the children of critical workers, but also for those most vulnerable children in our society. This was because we recognized the important role that schools play in keeping those children safe. From the start of this month, schools began to welcome back children from nursery, Reception, Year one and Year six as part of a phased and cautious return.
Gavin Williamson: (04:37)
And from this week we started to see return of Years 10 and 12. We want as many children back in school as possible, which is why this week we announced more flexibility for primary schools so that they can have the opportunity to bring back more of their pupils if they’re able to do so in line with the protective measures that we’ve already set out. Today with the overwhelming majority of primary and secondary schools as well as colleges and nurseries opening to more children and young people, I wanted to take the opportunity again to say, thank you. Thank you to all the teachers, childcare and support staff who’ve done so much and continue to do so much to welcome back our children in a warm, friendly environment where they have the opportunity to learn. I think all of us who’ve seen our children return to school, know that they’re enjoying being back in the classroom and being with their friends and their classmates.
Gavin Williamson: (05:47)
School is vital for every one of our children, that is why we will bring all children in all year groups back to school in September. While many children have already returned to school, I do understand there is anxiety still among parents. I want to assure you that the wellbeing of your children is the absolute top priority for every single one of us. We’ve put robust protective measures in place, including a hierarchy of controls and protective bubbles and we’ll stress, that is in every child’s best interest to return to school if they’re eligible to and able to.
Gavin Williamson: (06:33)
This measured return is part of our roadmap, it’s part of how we will recover and rebuild after this virus. But I think all of us recognize how much children have missed out and why it’s so important we support them to catch up on this lost ground. Having opened schools to more pupils and set out our intention for a full return in September, the next part of our recovery will be to roll out our hugely ambitious catch-up plan for all of our children.
Gavin Williamson: (07:09)
We must get them back to where they should be and put in place a secure foundation for longer term reform. We’ll not allow an entire generation to lose out on their education or accept lower expectations for them. That’s why we’re launching a £1 billion COVID catch-up plan, that will lift outcomes for all pupils. We’ve targeted support for those from disadvantaged backgrounds who are most at risk of falling behind because of this disruption. As part of this package, we’ll provide a universal catch-up premium worth £650 million for all state school children in England to help them make up for the lost teaching time in the next academic year. The Education Endowment Foundation has published a guide for school-
Gavin Williamson: (08:03)
The Education Endowment Foundation has published a guide for schools on how the money could be best spent, which will include intervention programs, access to technology or summer schools. This crisis will have affected children in many different ways. And for this reason, I’m giving schools the discretion to tailor this funding towards their particular needs and the needs of the children that they teach. The plan also includes a new 350 million pound national tutoring program to increase access to high quality tuition for disadvantaged children and young people. This will not only help children in the short term but create a positive, long lasting legacy to drive up standards, expanding the number of high quality tutoring providers for all schools to use. This one billion pound package is already on top of 14.4 billion pound deal over three years announced last year going to our schools. Recognizing this, our schools need additional support at this difficult time and helping them help students to catch up.
Gavin Williamson: (09:19)
Over the coming weeks we’ll publish further information and guidance to help schools prepare for a full return in September. We’re working across government and with the sector to ensure these plans are fully in place so that this can happen. And every child of every year group has the benefit of a first class education. The pandemic has dealt an unprecedented shock to our education system as it has to many other parts of our national life. Although we have a clear plan there will of course be times when we have to respond quickly to changing circumstances. This virus has taught us one thing. It’s the absolute importance of being flexible and adaptable when we have to be. The education system has shown that it can do this and do so much more. We all want to see every child back in school and we’ll work together to make sure that we achieve this.
Gavin Williamson: (10:26)
Now on questions. If we can first of all turn to Louise from Stoke-on-Trent.
The COVID-19 swab test is uncomfortable and difficult to conduct with children. This will become a major problem when winter virus season starts. What is the government going to do to make testing an easier, less intimidating process for children?
Gavin Williamson: (10:51)
Well Louise you raise an incredibly important points. I know this is a fact, having two children myself, it’s something that you do as a parent, worry about an awful lot. And that’s why the government is taking steps to make sure we get better testing for all children, especially as we approach the winter months. Next if we can turn to Bryn from Northallerton. And Bryn asks, “When will the government in England make it’s new advice for shielding available? So that employers and business can support those who were shielding back into shops and the workplace in a way that they will feel safe?” Bryn, I know this is incredibly important and having family myself that are currently shielding for worry that they have and the confidence and reassurance they want in order to be able to take those steps outside, it’s incredibly, incredibly important to every one of them.
Gavin Williamson: (11:48)
And that’s why in the coming weeks, very shortly, we’ll be getting that advice out to them, giving them the guidance they need to make sure that they know that they can go out safely and who is needing to continue to take those special protective measures.
Gavin Williamson: (12:06)
Next, if we can move to Branwen Jeffreys from the BBC. Good afternoon, Branwen.
The Prime Minister today has said that by September, all pupils will be back in schools like this full time. How are you going to do that when there is still any social distancing and when the government published the alert levels, it said that when we reached alert level three, social distancing would be relaxed. So is the two meter rule going to be relaxed?
Gavin Williamson: (12:40)
Well Branwen, you and I both have a great passion to see all children returning to school as soon as possible. We know how much children benefit from being in school. We know how vital it is to get them back into the classroom, learning, being with their teachers and being with their friends. And what we’re seeing with this pandemic, we’re seeing with this pandemic, the infection levels decreasing. We’re seeing the number of people who have affected with this virus are continuously declining and the levels reducing. This is all incredibly positive and means that we can look at bringing and making sure every child returns to school.
Gavin Williamson: (13:26)
And we recognize there’s still going to be, have to be protective measures put in place to make sure that children are safe and make sure that our teachers and all those who work in school are safe as well. And that’s why we’re going to be issuing further guidance in the next two weeks. But in terms of the review of distance, the Prime Minister has made it clear that this review is currently being undertaken, is going to be a short period of time and it will be reporting to the Prime Minister and to Cabinet for Cabinet to make a decision. But I’m afraid we’re not in a position, I’m not in a position today to give you an exact date.
Schools have so that even if you went to one meter, it still wouldn’t allow them to get all pupils back every day of the week.
Gavin Williamson: (14:17)
Branwen as you well know that we’ve been creating bubbles of children in the classroom, creating a protective environment for those children. Currently that is at 15. What we would be looking at doing is expanding those bubbles to include the whole class. But the relaxation of social distancing is incredibly important, not just for schools, but for the whole economy. We’ve got to get Britain working again. We’ve got to get people back into their workplaces. We’ve already seen a relaxation of so much of the opportunity for people to go into non-food retail, the opportunity for people to gather in small groups. This is all positive progress. But we’re looking at how we make sure we create the safest environment possible for school children. And we’ve had schools open all the way through this period, catering for the children of critical workers, catering for those vulnerable children. We’ve seen a massive expansion in the number of children going into schools. And this has been done carefully and cautiously, and it’s been done safely and incredibly successfully as well.
Gavin Williamson: (15:33)
If we can next turn to Liz Bates from Channel 4 News. Liz.
Liz Bates: (15:40)
Gavin Williamson: (15:41)
Liz Bates: (15:42)
So just to follow up on Branwen’s question actually. Again, on the two meter social distancing thing, when we speak to teachers, they’re really desperate to hear these things as soon as possible. Northern Islands already done it. It seems like it’s coming down the line. Why don’t you just say it now? Why are we waiting?
Gavin Williamson: (16:02)
Well, Liz. We’ve…
Liz Bates: (16:02)
Say it now, why are we waiting?
Gavin Williamson: (16:02)
Well, Liz, we’ve already been very clear that we want to see all children in all classes returning full time to school in September, that’s what we’re working towards. And we’re actually much further ahead than Northern Ireland, not just in terms of critical workers, children’s and vulnerable children being able to come to school. We’re ahead of Northern Ireland because nursery school children are able to come back, reception school children are able to come back, year 1, year 6, year 10, and year 12. So we’re much further ahead than Northern Ireland. But this is why we’ve said clearly that we’re going to be publishing for further guidance within the next two weeks so that schools have a maximum amount of time to prepare for the next phase of welcoming children back. We think it’s important, but we also think it’s important to use the next two weeks to continue to work with the sector, to consult with a sector of how we make sure this works in the most successful way possible. Liz, would you like to [inaudible 00:01:09]?
Liz Bates: (17:08)
Okay, yeah. Can I just ask one more thing?
Gavin Williamson: (17:12)
Liz Bates: (17:13)
So on this cash that’s been announced today, early years and colleges are now excluded from it. When we spoke to colleges, they think that they were led to believe that they would get some of this money. So why have they been cut out at the last minute?
Gavin Williamson: (17:29)
Well, what we see and you’ve probably seen it yourself, our hungry, little mind scheme, which is a great scheme to really encourage the early educational development for those early years children. We want to look at different ways of how we can continue to support that sector, how we can help parents, but most importantly, how we can help children. And then we moved to the FE sector. We’re going to continue to work really closely with the FE sector to see how we can continue to add on the additional and extra support we know that they’re looking towards. And we want to help them in terms of able to support their students in order to continue to succeed. If next we move to Sam Coats from Sky. Sam?
Secretary of state, I’m confused with what the government’s proposing and promising today. So Boris Johnson said quite clearly that from September, he wanted all children back every day without fail, but I’m not entirely clear that that’s what you’re committing to. Have you signed up to that pledge in full that all school children will be able to go in every day, every week, not on rotation, and is this now government policy? Yes or no? And how much of a plan do you have to get there? Is one option actually getting rid of social distancing all together, or are you going to plan to spend the summer helping schools get new buildings and recruit new teachers for classrooms that are not yet built? Because unless you one or the other, then the prime minister’s suggestion isn’t going to be fulfilled today.
And the second thing, private schools from the start of lockdown have been able to do interactive video lessons on Microsoft Teams or on Zoom, teachers looking kids in the eye, but this hasn’t been possible in almost any state school. Why on earth not? Shouldn’t it be? Isn’t failing to get proper interactive teaching at home the biggest black mark of your department during lockdown?
Gavin Williamson: (19:30)
Well, Sam, I’m very sorry that you’re so confused. And to be absolutely clear, absolutely signed up to the fact that we want to bring every child back in every year group in every school. So I hope that is as much clarity. And as I did just say a little bit earlier that, over the next two weeks, we want to consult closely with the sector before we issue our guidance, our plans wider across secondary schools, across primary schools, across all settings and FE colleges as well. And you highlight a important issue, a really important issue about children and their ability to learn while they’re being in lockdown. I want to see every child get the very most from their teachers, as I know every teacher does, and we’ve seen some amazing efforts and some amazing work. If I look at the Oak National Academy that we set up in record time, that’s delivering lessons for every single year group across every single subject range, not just in GCSE level, in secondary schools, but at primary schools and early years as well.
Gavin Williamson: (20:51)
And just over the last few weeks, over 12 million lessons have been downloaded. And I was hoping that you are going to even welcome the fact that we’ve made over a hundred million pound investment in terms of laptops, which we’re rolling out to some of those children who are from the most disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds and making sure that they have internet access. But we see the ability to support their learning is not just over the last few weeks and over the next few weeks, but a longterm project. And that’s why we’ve launched a COVID catch-up plan to help children, not just over the next few weeks, not just over the summer, but over the next year, supporting them to learn. And the other initiative that we took up, and I’m sorry that Sky didn’t have the opportunity to report on it, but we made available to every single school in England Microsoft teams and Google Classroom, just like you highlighted that many private schools have had. So every school is able to match what the very best private schools are able to do, because I don’t want any child who is in the state sector suffering or falling behind anyone else. And that is why we’re spending a billion pounds supporting children to catch up, supporting them to learn. Sam, would you…
But what proportion of state schools are actually doing interactive video learning on things like Microsoft Teams? My understanding is that it’s incredibly low and isn’t that a problem?
Gavin Williamson: (22:30)
Well, we’ve seen every school around the country delivering amazing support for children, sometimes that has been through Microsoft Teams and through Google. In other ways, it’s making sure that resources go to the children at their home is through teachers contacting those children. But this is a bigger effort that we’re making. It’s a billion pound effort that we’re investing in schools. And we’re looking at some of those children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, because actually a lot of the evidence points to the fact that those are the children we need to be most worried about that they may have fallen the furthest behind. And that’s why we’re introducing this tutoring program and all the evidence points to the fact that this tutoring program can deliver the biggest benefit for those children, have a biggest impact on their life chances. And it’s certainly something that I hope that we’ve seen right across the sector. So many people welcome it because they were-
Gavin Williamson: (23:33)
Lucy Fisher from the-
Lucy Fisher: (23:35)
…Change the curriculum to ensure this?
Gavin Williamson: (23:38)
Well, Lucy, as I’m sure you’re aware our national-
Gavin Williamson: (23:42)
…Vitally important, incredibly important that when children are learning about our nation’s history, they learn all aspects of it, both for good and the bad. But we mustn’t forget there’s in this nation, we have an incredibly rich history and we should be incredibly proud of our history because time and time and time again-
Gavin Williamson: (24:03)
We should be incredibly proud of our history, because time and time and time again, this country has made a difference and changed things for the better right around the world and we should, as a nation, be proud of that history and teach our children about it. Lucy, would you like to follow up?
I would, please. Just two quick things. Firstly, do you think that there is more that needs to be done in schools to tackle racism? And if so, what? And secondly, you mentioned the government’s new funding for tutoring. Charities have welcomed this and called for it to extend beyond the coronavirus crisis.
So I wanted to ask you whether you would potentially support making personal tutoring for the poorest children a permanent initiative to drive up standards?
Gavin Williamson: (24:50)
So tolerance and respect have to be, and I believe are, at the cornerstone of absolutely everything that this country does and teaches in all of our schools, in all of our colleges, and in all of our universities and that’s how it should be. That is what I want to see everyone teaching in schools right across the United Kingdom and in England.
Gavin Williamson: (25:18)
We’ve taken the approach of a personal tutoring because we recognize that all the evidence points to the fact that this can make the biggest single difference to childrens’ lives. The evidence seems to point to the fact that if a child has 12 weeks of this personal tutoring, for just two hours a week, it can deliver up to five months worth of catch up for those children from the most disadvantaged communities and what we’re looking at is how this works, how this impact really, really changes the educational outcomes of children. We’re very confident it will make a big, big difference and this is why we’ve focused on these efforts and we’ll be looking at how we support schools, whether through the use of their pupil premium, as to how we can continue to build on evidence-based initiatives that deliver brilliant outcomes for our young people.
Gavin Williamson: (26:24)
Next, if we can turn to Martin Brown from The Express. Martin.
Hello. Will your plan for schools, have a plan in place of what to do if there is a second wave of coronavirus infections in the autumn or in the winter?
Gavin Williamson: (26:43)
Martin, while we move to the position of making sure that every school is ready to be welcoming back children of all ages right across the spectrum into the classroom, we always have to make sure that we have proper, thoughtful and careful consideration for every single eventuality and I think that’s the right and proper way of doing it.
Can I just ask another question, please?
Gavin Williamson: (27:13)
Just on summer holidays, what countries would you like to see the UK have Air Bridges with? And are you concerned that one of the countries that has been mooted as a possible country we could have an Air Bridge with, Portugal, is seeing some spikes in coronavirus cases?
Gavin Williamson: (27:33)
Well, as someone who grew up in Scarborough, my personal view is everyone, if they have the opportunity, can have a great benefits and great advantage of visiting some beautiful seaside resorts right around the UK, and frankly, you can’t get better than visiting places right across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland and I hope people will take up that opportunity during the summer. But the Secretary of State for Transport continues to have discussions with his counterparts on this and we’ll report back when he’s in a position to do so.
Gavin Williamson: (28:14)
Finally, if we can turn to Amy Gibbons from the Times Education Supplement.
Thank you. Education secretary, do you agree with the prime minister, but it is crucial that teachers draw up, catch up plans for every pupil before the summer?
Gavin Williamson: (28:31)
For, prime minister and myself are in complete agreement. We need to be doing everything that we can do to support children who have suffered as a result of not being in school and we’re asking all schools, even if the pupils are not attending school, to be getting in touch with those children, trying to encourage and invite them into school so they can have some face-to-face time, understand their learning needs and actually give them the support to be able to catch up and be in the best possible position to be able to benefit from world class education that be receiving within the classroom in September.
Gavin Williamson: (29:13)
Amy, would you like another question?
Yes, please. Can I please ask, do you want teachers to work this summer to help their pupils catch up?
Gavin Williamson: (29:23)
We’ve already set out and there’s some brilliant work by the Education Endowment Foundation about how teachers and schools can support their pupils.
Gavin Williamson: (29:34)
One of those packages that we’re putting a billion pounds behind this catch-up plan, COVID catch up plan, so it’s a big investment of an awful lot of money. One of those schemes is to have children coming back during the summer, into schools, but we recognize it’s important for the schools to be able to tailor their plan for their children, to make sure it delivers the maximum impact so those children catch up and really succeed.
Gavin Williamson: (30:09)
Thank you so much, Amy.
Gavin Williamson: (30:11)
I’d just like to thank you all for joining me in today’s daily briefing.
Gavin Williamson: (30:16)