The education minister has “absolutely no plans” to close schools again during the pandemic.
Nadim Al-Zahawi pledged to keep schools open as he said testing pupils for Covid-19 and vaccinating eligible children would help keep them in class.
His comments come as a bill is being introduced in the House of Commons calling for a “triple lock” of protection to ensure that any future school closures must be approved by Parliament.
Al-Zahawi told members of parliament that a review of extending the school day – which experts have proposed to help children regain learning lost during the pandemic – will be published before the end of the year.
Addressing the House of Commons Education Committee, he said: “Protecting face-to-face learning is my absolute priority. I have absolutely no plans to close schools again.
My commitment to you is that this Secretary of State will keep schools open
“I know that the way we maintain face-to-face learning is by strengthening the most vulnerable in our society … and vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds as well, and of course the testing programme.”
“My commitment to you is that this foreign minister will keep schools open because we really know the damage caused by closing schools,” the education minister told MPs.
A bill from Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chair of the House of Commons education committee, aims to redefine schools as “essential infrastructure” to protect millions of students from future closures.
Zahawi told lawmakers on Wednesday that he would consider Halfon’s bill.
He added, “This is not the Snowflake generation. They have been really resilient, but actually keeping schools open should be my priority.”
His pledge came after the latest government figures showed that the number of children out of school for reasons related to Covid-19 in England rose to nearly a quarter of a million in the week prior to the half-October.
During the hearing, Mr. Al-Zahawi was also questioned about whether the Department of Education (DfE) plans to extend the school day to help students catch up on lessons after schools are closed.
What the chair is asking about, he said, is ‘will we have a longer school day?’ “No, we are not on the whole. We are saying we have target money to offer.”
Last week, the government announced it would provide an additional £1.8 billion to help children regain learning lost during the pandemic, bringing the total catch-up funding to £4.9 billion so far.
Mr Zahawi said: “Let me advance the £5 billion, keep evaluating, go back to your committee and show you, I hope, how successful we are, because the evidence shows that actually targeting and extending the day for 16 to 19 years, which we are doing, is the right thing to do. “.