I know that 2021 was another difficult year as the battle against coronavirus continued across the world.
But, as Education Secretary, and the minister previously responsible for the vaccine rollout, it’s my firm belief that, despite the bumps in the road that inevitably occur with a virus of this nature, we are transitioning from pandemic to endemic in this country.
That does not mean that we can take our eye of the ball or that we can throw caution to the wind. But it does mean that there can be no excuse for our children not learning face to face in the classroom where they want and need to be.
I know that Sunday Telegraph readers may be anxious about children or grandchildren facing more interruption to their learning in 2022.
Let me offer you some reassurance ahead of the start of the new school term.
The Prime Minister could not be clearer: education is our number one priority and we will do everything in our power as a government to minimise the disruption to schools. Skills, schools, and families remain at the heart of this government’s mission. So face-to-face teaching will continue to be the expected norm and exams will go ahead as planned in January.
We owe it to our children and the next generation to get this right and we will not shirk that responsibility. Teachers and support staff across the country have put in a Herculean effort over the past 18 months and more, and I know we can count on their steadfast support in the coming weeks as we weather the storm of omicron.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank every one of them.
Former teachers who have either left the profession or retired, such as Sir Michael Wilshaw, the former head of Ofsted, and Jonathan Gullis and Caroline Ansell, my Conservative colleagues on the green benches, show the best of this country by coming forward to cover for teachers isolating with Covid.
Countless others will do the same, and, as we’ve seen with folks returning to the NHS, the Blitz spirit shown by the whole of the UK continues to be essential in turning the tide on Covid.
In the coming days all educational and childcare settings should continue to encourage staff and students to test regularly.
That is why I took early action last year before the end of term to get lateral flow tests into schools, so they should have full testing capacity at the start of this new term, with their own supplies.
For schools with particularly poor ventilation, access to a further 7,000 air-cleaning units will be provided, building on the 1,000 already announced and the 350,000 CO2 monitors being distributed to classrooms across the country.
We want to maximise the number of children in school and college for the maximum amount of time. One of the additional, temporary measures that will help achieve this in light of the omicron surge is recommending face coverings are worn in secondary school classrooms and teaching spaces for the coming weeks – although not for longer than they are needed.
Unfortunately, it is unavoidable that some pupils and teachers will need to be at home for seven days due to contracting the virus.
That means some remote learning will be necessary.
Where that is the case, it is essential that children’s experience mirrors the one they would have in the classroom.
That is why we rightly expect schools to focus on five hours a day of remote education, including live streaming, wherever possible.
But, if I could urge you all to do one thing to play your part in our efforts, it is to answer the Prime Minister’s call to get your booster jab. A third dose of the vaccine significantly improves your defence against the virus.
As Education Secretary, it is also my duty to look at what we must deliver for children beyond Covid.
That is why we are building on our improvements to school standards by driving forward the Prime Minister’s ambition for school reform, to achieve world-class literacy and numeracy for every child and a good quality, knowledge-rich education that will set all children up for the future.
Nothing is more important than helping every child fulfil their potential, and that is exactly what this government will do.
Nadhim Zahawi MP is Secretary of State for Education