Tuesday 29 June 2021 / 1:03 PM Education / Kate Green

Labour demands action to keep kids learning, as new data shows 375,000 children are missing school and catch-up plans branded ‘feeble’

Labour is demanding urgent action to keep children in school and deliver a proper education recovery plan as new data shows 375,000 pupils were out of school due last week and the Government’s former education tsar brands ‘catch-up’ plans as “feeble”.

Renewed disruption to children’s learning comes as Sir Kevan Collins – the Government’s former education expert advisor – laid into Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson for failing to deliver a recovery plan that supports learning and wellbeing.

The Conservatives’ failure to control our borders has let the Delta variant take hold in the UK, forcing children out of their classrooms and away from their friends. This is on top of the 115 days of in-person school children have already missed.

Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Kate Green MP has written to Gavin Williamson urging that a review of self-isolation guidance is taken now, warning that delaying measures until September risks leaving parents, schools and pupils experiencing ongoing disruption throughout the final four weeks of this school year.

As well as calling for review of self-isolation guidance, Labour says the Education Secretary must look again at things like ventilation and face masks in schools, urging him to “do everything possible to keep children in school”.

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary said:

“The Conservatives have treated children as an afterthought throughout this pandemic and Kevan Collins is right to describe their plans as ‘feeble’.

“Parents and schools are crying out for help and they’re just not getting it. The Government cannot simply wait until September to act on self-isolation and other measures we have been calling for.

“Ministers must work with their expert scientific advisers now to review the bubbles system ahead of the summer holidays to ensure as many children can be in the classroom as possible.”

Ends

Full text of Kate Green’s letter to the Education Secretary

Dear Gavin

Last week the number of children out of school due to Covid-19 has increased to 375,000, up from less than 100,000 two weeks previously.

With children having missed well over half a year of in-person school your former education commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins has called your recovery proposals ‘feeble’. Will you now accept that you must do more to help every child bounce back from the pandemic and will you adopt the measures set out in Labour’s Children’s Recovery Plan on learning and wellbeing which would help every child bounce back from the pandemic and reach their potential.

Parents and school staff are crying out for help but have heard nothing from you or your department about how you will tackle this renewed impact of Covid on children and young people, and support parents who are once again having to juggle caring for their children at home with work and other commitments.

The government’s neglect of children throughout this pandemic and negligence in letting the Delta variant take hold in the UK, have led to hundreds of thousands of children being driven from their classrooms. This is a betrayal of the education staff, parents and pupils who have worked tirelessly to keep our education system going over the last 16 months.

Your refusal to work with and support the education system has led to children missing an average of 115 days of in-person schooling, well over half a normal school year. The impact of this on children’s learning and on social and emotional development is severe and will only get worse if the government does not act urgently to prevent increasing numbers of children being forced out of their classrooms.

Given the huge uncertainty and concerns facing families and hardworking education staff across the country, I urge you to do everything practical to keep children in school, and follow the advice of Sage members who are saying the current system must change. I hope that you will now answer the following questions urgently.

Self-isolation

The Government must urgently work with scientific advisors to review the system of bubbles in schools and the requirements around self-isolation. Waiting until September to act on this is not sufficient when rates are rising now and we must keep children in school for the final four weeks of term.

Instead of drip-feeding information, schools also need clear, guidance on the process for September urgently so they can put plans in place ahead of the summer holidays.

Where pupils do have to self-isolate, guidance has been clear that parents can be furloughed if they are unable to work due to childcare commitments, but this is not something that the government have made sufficiently clear to parents. Will you commit to working with employers and unions to make this clear to the parents who are affected?

Testing programme

In the week to 16 June, just a fifth of school pupils took a lateral flow test. This has fallen consistently since the return to school on 8 March. What steps is the government taking to increase the uptake of testing this term and in light of increased case rates?

It has also been reported that the Schools Improvement Minister has written to schools advising them to prepare for the return of in-school testing in September. What support will schools get to deliver this testing on site? In January and March, school leaders and teachers warned of personnel shortages if they had to test all pupils in school regularly. What steps are you taking to ensure no school has to divert teaching capacity onto testing?

Mitigations

Time and again throughout this pandemic Labour has proposed measures which could have helped keep more pupils in school, from calling for nightingale classrooms, better guidance on ventilation, priority for PCR testing. Time and again the government have dismissed, implemented too late without proper planning, or simply ignored these proposals. The Government must do everything possible to support schools to prevent ongoing damage to children’s educations.

What steps is your department taking to support schools in making their premises Covid-secure and will you review your decision to cut the funding available to help schools cover the costs of implementing these mitigations? Will you also publish the latest advice on the wearing of facemasks in schools and explain why you removed the guidance on the wearing of masks in classrooms?

I have written to you throughout this pandemic urging you to take further action to support schools to keep children learning. Education staff, parents and pupils have risen to the challenges of this pandemic, but they have done this in spite of your government. I do not believe that you understand or appreciate the immense pressure that staff, students and parents have faced. Your government has added to that pressure through a combination of poor planning and incompetence. I hope you will now finally give young people the support the deserve and get a plan in place immediately to stop the rise in school absences. I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely

Kate Green MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Education