In My View: Harriet Harman, MP for Camberwell & Peckham

Covid infections are rapidly increasing. In Southwark, one out of every 20 people are Covid positive. Rising infection is followed by more people going into hospital and sadly, rising deaths.

With the worst yet to come, King’s College Hospital is badly overstretched so we all have to do what we can and play our part by doing everything possible to try and avoid getting Covid.

The Government has ordered that schools should be closed except to those children who are vulnerable or whose parents are critical workers. Though delayed, this is the right decision.

But for those children who are at home, their education is still of huge importance.

Even where schools are providing great lessons online, children need supervision and that is a big challenge for parents who often are having to work from home.

There needs to be recognition by employers of the difficulty for parents who are supervising education at home.

There should be huge respect for what teachers and all school staff have been doing throughout the pandemic. The rules have been changing from week to week.

Cleaners have been working throughout the day, school kitchens providing home meal packages as well as in-school lunches. Staff have been teaching children at home online as well as the children who are in school.

Headteachers have had to reassure anxious parents, reorganise the school, comply with Covid safety procedures, cope with the instability of teachers being off work either because they or someone they’ve been in contact with have got Covid and keep children enthusiastic for their learning despite the disruption.

So many people backed the demand for children who are eligible for free school meals to get food vouchers during the holidays, that the Government had to back down and agree.

But right now there are many children who are eligible for free school meals who are not in school and not getting the healthy daily meal that their family can scarcely afford.

We need food vouchers for all children on free school meals who are not in school and especially when it comes to half term and the Easter holidays. It shouldn’t take Marcus Rashford to, once again, force the government to do what’s right. And it shouldn’t be left to schools to make up and deliver food parcels.

For children who are not in school, we must ensure that all have access to laptops or iPads and decent broadband.
It’s not fair on children where there’s one laptop between three. Or where the child has to engage in lessons from a mobile phone, or where there’s unsuitable or unaffordable broadband.

The Government knows which schools are in deprived areas and knows from Ofsted inspections that heads are competent financial managers. They should not make heads jump through hoops applying for laptops which are too few and are delayed for a basic educational necessity which the Government should pay for.

The Government has rightly opened the public purse to finance businesses so they survive the lockdown and pay for employees who are laid off.

But the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not taken the same approach to schools where schools have been expected to conjure funds out of nowhere and eat into their reserves to pay for Covid necessities.

Heads and their staff have been working since last March to shield their pupils from Covid’s disruption. They need to be given the resources their pupils need especially in the Southwark communities who struggle financially. As things are going now, schools will be punished by being left with deficits and that will be a disgrace.

 


 

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