Gavin Williamson scoffed at MPs who raised safety concerns about plans to reopen schools in September.
The government this morning announced guidance for schools to reopen in September.
Parents have been ordered to send all children back to school, including those who have conditions which aggravate Covid-19, like obesity or diabetes.
Neither will there be any special rules for BAME children, despite evidence people from BAME communities are more at risk from the virus.
And children who were until this month being told they were so at risk that they shouldn’t leave the house, will not be exempt either – and their parents will face fines if they’re kept at home.
Guidance issued this morning scraps the limit on the size of ‘bubbles’ – which were previously capped at 15 pupils.
Children in ‘bubbles’ should still be kept separate, according to the advice. But they won’t all have to go into isolation if one tests positive.
And the ‘bubbles’ could be as large as an entire year group.
And schools will be expected to welcome back all pupils full time and at the same time – without a rota system in place to make separation easier.
Labour MP Andrew Gwynne said this could be extremely difficult for small schools, which only have a handful of rooms, a single entrance and limited outdoor spaces.
Mr Williamson dismissed the question, suggesting Mr Gwynne had not read the guidance.
“When the honourable gentleman hopefully has the opportunity to read the guidance he’ll see from the guidance the important of having flexibilities for schools such as the one he outlines, that actually are operating in a very different type of estate that maybe larger schools are able to do so.
“We’ve tried to create a clear framework of how we can give schools good advice so can ensure the education of every single pupil.
The school Mr Gwynne referred to in particular has a series of shared facilities – including an assembly hall, which doubles as a dining hall, and one set of toilets for the whole school.
And it only has a tiny yard, so doesn’t have the flexibility to use outdoor spaces.
The Department for Education pointed towards a section of the guidance which says there may be a “balance” between separation of bubbles and straightforward distancing, if either is difficult because of the layout of the school.
But the guidance also said: “We do not consider it necessary for schools to make significant adaptations to their site to enable them to welcome all children back to school.
“We also do not think schools will need to deliver any of their education on other sites (such as community centres / village halls) because class sizes can return to normal and spaces used by more than one class or group can be cleaned between use.”
The guidance goes on to suggest good ventilation is important in classrooms, and teachers should open a window.
Further concerns were raised by fellow Labour MP Richard Burgon, who asked about reports that officials in Leicester had reported ‘unusually high’ instances of coronavirus in children in the city, before it was placed in local lockdown.
Mr Burgon told MPs: “We all want schools to reopen in September but only if it is safe for pupils, teachers and the wider community.
“Just this week the Health Secretary acknowledged that an unusually high rate of coronavirus infections amongst children in Leicester was part of the reason for reimposing restrictions there.”
Mr Williamson looked up at Mr Burgon, who asked his question via video link, and said: “Sadly, the honourable gentleman wasn’t on mute.”
He added: “I can absolutely assure the honourable gentleman that Public Health England have signed off all this advice.
“And actually if the honourable gentleman will take the opportunity to read what Public Health England recently said about Leicester, it states that ‘while there had been good provision of primary school access for children since the beginning of June, researchers said they could find no analytical link between this and any real or apparent rise in new infections in Leicester.'”