In My View: Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood

The start of 2021 has been a time of very mixed emotions for all of us.

There is hope on the horizon with the start of the coronavirus vaccine roll-out, but still many challenges as the rate of coronavirus has risen rapidly recently, at least partially due to the new variant of the virus.

At the same time the pressure on our hospitals has been growing and growing, with NHS staff who are already exhausted and burnt out, working relentlessly to look after higher numbers of Covid patients than ever.

Since the start of term, schools across London have switched to teaching children from home, with schools only open for children of key workers, children unable to study from home because of a lack of internet access, or those without a laptop or tablet, and vulnerable children.

This followed yet another U-turn by the Government for the education sector.

Just a month ago schools in Lambeth were told that they must open at the start of term, while schools in Southwark were told to close.

On a conference call on the day of this announcement, the Tory education minister was unable to provide any justification for it, and it is just another example of the chaos and confusion that schools and parents have had to contend with since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the debacle of last August’s GCSE, BTEC and A-level results, I have been pressing ministers to bring forward plans for a fair replacement for the national exams that normally take place every summer.

It is only fair that this year’s exams have been cancelled due to the impact that coronavirus has had on so many young people’s studies, but the detail of exactly what replaces this will be key and the ongoing uncertainty is causing great anxiety for many students, and preventing teachers from being able to plan.

The pictures of the free school meal boxes distributed to some families across the country in recent days are absolutely shameful. Every child needs nutritious food to thrive and it is unconscionable that any organisation should be profiting at the expense of hungry children.

It is absolutely clear that parents would be able to access much more, much higher-quality food which also caters to their own children’s preferences and dietary needs if they were provided with vouchers for free school meals instead of meagre, poor quality food parcels and the Government must act urgently to sort this system out.

As we wait for the relief that the vaccines will bring, our thanks continue to go to staff in our NHS and social care, schools and everyone working in front line roles, helping to see us through this very challenging time.

We owe it to them to stick to the restrictions, stay at home wherever possible, stop the spread of coronavirus and save lives.

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