Thank you Chief Minister.
This week our school pupils returned from a brief half-term break to resume their studies.
In England the exam regulator, Ofqual has contacted the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson to provide more certainty and resilience for GCSE, AS levels, A levels, BTEC and other examinations next year.
The UK Government has already announced that exams will be delayed for up to three weeks to allow for extra teaching and revision. The curriculum in certain subjects has been modified and assessment arrangements have been clarified.
Options are also being explored to make exams less daunting for students whilst ensuring they remain a fair test of knowledge and understanding in each subject.
Here, the education service will continue to monitor the situation across and work with our teachers and schools to ensure a level playing field for all our students.
University College Isle of Man has expanded the range of options available and attracted more students to study academically for degrees or undertake vocational training to gain qualifications and skills.
GP trainees can now sit some of their exams here rather than having to travel across and our university is continuing to develop new courses to meet the needs of our NHS, essential services and commercial sector.
This time of year our students across are usually busy going to lectures and supervision sessions whilst enjoying sports and cultural opportunities and a lively social life.
From today in England, although schools, universities and colleges remain open, the restriction of socialising and travel mean that the experience of our young people across will be restricted and curtailed.
We are already aware of the stress and emotional cost this is inflicting and some students have decided to stay at home or perhaps come home early and self-isolate.
Government is constantly monitoring the health situation both here and across. We have a robust track and trace system in place, close monitoring of those self-isolating and rapid on-island testing facilities.
We have been in close contact with the Ministry of Justice in the UK to ensure our residents who need to return home can do so and will support them when they are back to ensure their safety and the continuing safety of our community.
Universities in England currently remain open. The new guidance in England does allow students to return for the Christmas break. It does however say that they must not move back and forward between their permanent home and student home during term time.
I know that a number of our students have already decided to return home before the end of term and continue their courses remotely until after the current lockdown. This is a decision for students and their families to make. But as things stand, this would seem the best way for students to return, self-isolate for the fourteen days required and still be able to enjoy Christmas with their families and friends.
Those returning students who need support can access facilities at UCM. They can use the online resources and library and take part in the exciting social life here.
Advice and support is available to those wanting to switch courses or consider their options and experienced staff are available to help students through this very difficult period for all of us.
But students are also helping each other. I know of several groups of young people who have hired flats and cottages to return together, self-isolate and support each other and do the right thing for their families and our community.
The Manx Students’ Union have set up a special scheme called “Operation Fairy Bridge”.
This Facebook group will help provide the latest government information and advertise quarantine accommodation offers and services to our returning young people.
Welfare representatives will be providing support and help guide students in the difficult position of juggling studies, travel and quarantine restrictions.
Our young people are our future and I am proud of the way they and their families are supporting each other during this testing time.
Their safety, and the continued safety of our community is our key priority and Government is ready to support our students whether they be home or away, to continue with their education, succeed in their goals, and achieve their true potential.