The education of our children is crucial for their well-being, their health and for their future. So getting all students back to school in September is a national priority.
The message I have given to ministers and officials is: We can do it – and we will do it. Social justice demands it.
As early as March, we had no choice but to close schools to all but vulnerable children and critical workers in an effort to protect the NHS and save lives.
One of the most uplifting sights when our country came together during the lockdown was the conversion of living rooms and kitchens into classrooms as millions of parents faced the challenge of raising their children.
The message I have given to ministers and officials is: We can do it – and we will do it. Social justice demands it & # 39;
Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Discovery School in West Malling, Kent this July
For many, this has been achieved by balancing the pressures of work and childcare, which has been compounded by the increasing number of restrictions our fight against the coronavirus is forcing – swings and slides locked, play dates banned, grandparents not able to help.
It has been and is a truly Herculean effort for many families that I will always be in awe of. It was also backed by the many brilliant teachers offering distance learning to their students, the thousands of laptops and tablets we bought and delivered to the kids who needed them to access online resources, and the impressive founding of Oak National Academy that developed an entire online program curriculum in just a few weeks.
But we are in a different situation now than at the beginning of this year.
Thanks to the tremendous sacrifice of the British people, we have made significant strides in the fight against the virus. The number of infections was reduced from an estimated 157,000 in early May to around 28,000 earlier this month.
Scientists have learned more about how the virus spreads and how we can control it.
Crucially, studies have shown that children are at much lower risk than adults.
This pandemic is not over yet and the last thing any of us can afford is to get complacent.
But now that we know enough to safely reopen schools to all students, we have a moral duty to do so.
Because ultimately there is no substitute for a child who is studying in school to give them the knowledge, skills, and essentials to be successful in life.
It is for this reason that we have had compulsory education in this country for 140 years and the evidence is undeniable.
Time spent outside of class means a lower average academic degree, which has a lasting impact on future life chances. The fewer children there are in school, the worse it is for their health. Sport England reports that one in three children did less physical activity at lockdown. Many suffer from poor mental health, including limited access to vital support.
“The time outside of class means lower average academic performance, which has a lasting impact on future life chances. The fewer children there are in school, the worse it is for their health. & # 39;
Most painfully, the cost of closing schools has fallen disproportionately for the most disadvantaged, the children who need school most. Surveys suggest that the majority of students studied at home, while a quarter of students did less than two hours of schoolwork per day.
Children in the wealthiest families spent more than 75 minutes more home schooling each day than those in the poorest. One study predicted that the gap between children from economically disadvantaged households and their peers could widen by more than a third.
The child representative has reported an increased risk of domestic violence, exploitation and addiction both at home and on the street.
The longer this goes on, the more likely it is that some will drop out of education, employment or training and never return. Added to this are the rising economic costs for parents and carers who cannot work without the school or the comprehensive childcare they rely on. and the devastating long-term costs of affecting the future productivity of our children.
This damage occurs all over the world. The United Nations Secretary-General warned last week of a "generational disaster that could waste immeasurable human potential, undermine decades of progress and exacerbate ingrained inequalities".
We just can't let this go on.
It is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally unsustainable to keep our schools closed longer than absolutely necessary.
I've always believed that talent is evenly distributed but opportunities are not, and the first step in changing that is to help those who have fallen behind catch up.
So we're investing £ 1 billion in catch-up support, including a new £ 350 million national tutoring program. We announced an additional £ 14 billion for schools and a new ten year school building program as part of the government's mission to rebuild better.
But first we have to reopen the school gates to all students.
The Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies has indicated that the risk for children themselves of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus is low.
Our testing and tracking system is up and running – it has already identified nearly 200,000 people who could otherwise accidentally spread the virus and advised them to self-isolate – and we've worked closely with unions and school principals to make sure our schools are Covid safe.
Grouping children in bubbles, staggered delivery times, regular hand washing, and providing a range of home test kits for schools and colleges for those who do not have access to a test center.
It is a detailed plan for getting all of our children back to school safely.
In June we started the gradual return of Reception, year 1 and year 6, and after initial apprehension, many parents shared how much happier their children were and what a relief it was to be back.
Now we must all work together to use this best practice to reopen schools to all students in September.
Nothing will have a greater impact on our children's chances in life and nothing is more important for the future of our country.