Education is a powerful force capable of transforming people’s lives. From expanding and enriching children’s understanding of history, culture and music; to developing a fascination and seeing the beauty in numbers, experiments and coding; to opening up horizons and opportunities to everyone to reach beyond their comfort zones and achieve the dreams and ambitions they have.
A good education can help us think and behave in a way that not only contributes to personal success and satisfaction, but also benefits our communities.
Media speculation in recent days has suggested that schools may not open until after the Easter, despite the Prime Minister's indication that they would reopen after the February half-term. It is vital that schools and colleges re-open as soon as it is safe to do so if we are to avoid an ‘epidemic of educational poverty’. I am deeply concerned about the impact not only on children's attainment, but on their mental well-being and social development.
The Covid-19 pandemic has proved challenging for pupils, parents, teaching and support staff, and their safety and well-being must be a priority. The aim of the vaccination programme is to reduce hospitalisations and deaths as soon as possible, but once the first priority cohort is vaccinated, I believe that school staff (and other ‘frontline’ workers) should be offered vaccines. This would minimise staff absences and ensure education gets back to normal as quickly as possible. Our local schools, teachers and support staff have all worked incredibly hard over the last year and I have been particularly impressed with the efforts made by our local schools to ensure that children of key workers and those most vulnerable are still able to attend school in some form during lockdown measures.
But, schools, pupils and their parents need certainty about the Government's criteria for school re-openings, as well as the support they will be given on their return to the classroom, how the Government will address the widened disadvantage attainment gap, and arrangements for exams. I understand that preparations are in hand for the re-opening of schools, now that the UK is past the peak of the current virus wave. The Prime Minister has appointed a ‘catch up tsar’, Sir Kevan Collins, who will head up a team of experts. This team are drawing up proposals on how best to address the amount of learning many children have missed out on during the pandemic. Suggestions include summer school and one to one tuition.
The disruption of this pandemic to children’s access to education and their learning development is of great concern to me. Disrupting a child’s education is not ideal – which is why schools take issue with non-attendance and holidays taken in the term time. However, Covid-19 has profoundly disrupted and affected our children’s education in a most unprecedented way. This has had a detrimental impact particularly on children from disadvantaged families. I am pleased that the Government, along with media organisations like the BBC and schools around the country, have found ways to bring classrooms to family homes. This shows the commitment and drive of the Government and many in the education sector to ensure children are continuing to benefit from some form of learning and development.
Schools and staff have played an extraordinary part in the way we have battled this pandemic so far, and I have no doubt that the role they will play in the weeks and months ahead will be crucial to ensure that children continue to learn and develop, and ensure that gaps in their learning are repaired.
I am sure Hastings and Rye residents will join me in saying a very big thank you to all our schools - to staff and governors - for all the work they have done to ensure that our schools have remained open to many children, including vulnerable and key worker’s children, and to the efforts they have made to ensure children at home have had access to remote learning.