Secondary schools are to be given funding to run summer schools under plans to help children in England catch up on lost learning.
The Prime Minister has pledged an extra £400 million of funding – on top of the £300 million announced in January – as part of its education recovery plan following months of school closures.
Summer classes will be introduced for pupils who need it the most, such as incoming Year 7 pupils, while one-to-one and small group tutoring schemes will be expanded.
The Government considered a variety of options as part of its catch-up plans – including extended school days and shorter summer holidays – but neither proposal was included in the details set out on Wednesday.
Education leaders called the package of measures “a promising start”, but warned recovery cannot happen in a single summer.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our package of measures will deliver vital support to the children and young people who need it most, making sure everyone has the same opportunity to fulfil their potential no matter their background.”
The funding announcement comes as ministers consider the ethical issues surrounding the possible introduction of vaccine passports under further plans to get the country back on track.
The Prime Minister has tasked senior minister Michael Gove with leading a review into the “complex” issues surrounding “Covid status certificates”, with the NHS app potentially being used to display vaccination status or latest coronavirus test results.
According to The Sun, ministers are hopeful of packing out stadia and live venues later this year – including Wembley for the European Championship football final on July 11 – by using the app to prove attendees have been jabbed or tested negative for Covid.
It is understood that Mr Gove’s review into vaccine passports will investigate whether businesses such as pubs and theatres could be prohibited from making access conditional on vaccination alone.
Allowing either a negative test or proof of a jab is understood to be one option being considered by ministers to avoid discriminating against those who decline the jab for health, or other, reasons.
The Prime Minister has said he is “very optimistic” he will be able to fully remove all of England’s restrictions on June 21, but warned “nothing can be guaranteed”.
Since announcing his road map on Monday, Mr Johnson has faced pressure to extend financial support packages, including the furlough scheme, to help people and businesses through the exit strategy.
The Prime Minister’s cautious approach to lifting restrictions means shops will not open until April 12 at the earliest and pubs will have to wait until at least May 17 before they can serve customers indoors, with groups restricted to either two households or a maximum of six people mixing.
Having insisted that the Chancellor’s Budget next week will be a plan to “protect people throughout the pandemic and beyond”, the Times reported that Rishi Sunak is preparing to extend a host of support packages.
The paper said furlough will be extended until June to match-up with the road map timeline, in a move allegedly costing £4 billion per month.
The business rates holiday for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors will also be extended, along with the VAT cut for tourism and hospitality, while stamp duty for purchases of properties worth up to £500,000 will be continued for another three months, according to The Times.
Treasury sources said Covid support had been planned “in parallel” with work on the road map but could not comment on how long any extensions would last.
Mr Johnson is set to face continued calls to accelerate the lifting of the lockdown, with a key Tory critic taking to social media to criticise the advice the Government’s plans are based on.
Mark Harper, leader of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) made up of Conservative MPs, said there are “serious questions” about the pessimism of the modelling from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) that Mr Johnson used to inform his decision making.
The former chief whip said the modelling had predicted Covid-19 vaccines would reduce the risk of infection by 48% and 60% with the first and second doses respectively but Public Health England data suggested it was more like 57%-70% after one dose and 85% after two.
“There is a clear and concerning pattern of assumptions not reflecting the (much more positive) reality,” Mr Harper tweeted.
“At the very least, this raises some serious questions about the extent to which these models should be relied on.”
His intervention came after Professor Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College London epidemiologist whose modelling in March led to the first lockdown, said there was a “faint chance” the restrictions could be lifted quicker than currently planned.
He told Times Radio: “Hopefully, what we’ll see when each step happens is a very limited resurgence of infections and hopefully very limited resurgence of hospitalisations and deaths, in which case, there’s a faint chance that we can accelerate the schedule. But we have to be driven by the data, as the Prime Minister said.”
In other developments:
– The sharp decline in the number of vaccines being administered across the UK has been blamed on temporary supply issues, with just over 150,000 jabs reported on February 21 – down from nearly 500,000 on February 17.
– First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed her lockdown road map, telling Scots she expects the stay-at-home order to remain in place until April 5, but indicated more children could return to classrooms from March 15.
– In Northern Ireland, First Minister Arlene Foster promised a “decision-making framework” on how the executive plans to exit lockdown will be published on March 1.
– Around 1.2 millions masks issued as personal protection equipment (PPE) to NHS workers may not meet safety standards, the Government warned.