Hundreds of thousands of children are still without the laptops and internet to learn from home – if the Government does not act now it would lead to a national disgrace.
This has been one hell of a year for young people. Despite the best efforts of parents, teachers and youngsters themselves, we’ve seen the impact that lockdown has had on their education and wellbeing.
Unless it acts now, the Government risks consigning this generation to worse life chances and opportunities than their parents.
This would be a national disgrace.
The Government says it is committed to help kids “catch up” on lost learning, but ministers need to catch up first.
Eleven months into this pandemic, with schools on half term this week, hundreds of thousands of children are still without the laptops and internet access they need to learn from home.
Getting every child online should have been a priority during the first lockdown. It is unforgivable that so many children are still left behind.
Providers of the Government’s own online National Tutoring Programme reported this week that a lack of laptops and reliable internet access was hampering their ability to help pupils in almost half of the schools taking part.
The Government says that schools will reopen to all pupils on March 8.
But it still hasn’t published a plan to make it happen.
At Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Boris Johnson told MPs that he would be sharing more details tomorrow, only for Downing Street to backtrack within 24 hours to say that details won’t be ready by then.
This has been the Government’s problem throughout the pandemic: poor planning and slowness to act.
Labour called on the Government to vaccinate all school staff this half term – starting tomorrow.
They could have done the whole lot over this week and had plenty of tests left to continue the vaccine roll-out for everyone else at the same time.
Failure to do so is a missed opportunity and will likely lead to more disruption when schools return.
Staff shortages for Covid-related reasons was one of the biggest challenges facing headteachers when schools came back in September. Buying in extra staff to cover sickness is costing a fortune.
Where’s the funding for extra safety and PPE? Labour has been calling for these provisions for months.
No wonder that schools have lost trust and confidence in the Government. In a survey for the TES, responses from more than 8,000 headteachers, teachers, and other school staff in England show that more than two-thirds have no trust at all in the Department for Education’s coronavirus response.
After a decade of Conservative government we went into the pandemic with rising child poverty, a widening attainment gap between the richest and poorest, and school budgets severely stretched.
Having grown up on a council estate in East London and been one of the few kids on free school meals to make it to Cambridge University, I know better than most the power of education and why it matters.
Labour’s leader Keir Starmer gets this too, which is why his vision of making Britain the best place to grow up in is the kind ambition our country needs.
Wes Streeting MP
Written for Sunday People.