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Mon, 13 July 2020

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Reduced schooling a ‘dangerous’ threat to pupils' right to education, children’s commissioner warns

Reduced schooling a ‘dangerous’ threat to pupils' right to education, children’s commissioner warns

Anne Longfield said the reduced access to education in England was a "very dangerous place to be" (PA)

3 min read

The children’s commissioner for England has accused the government of putting the right to education at risk amid the ongoing row over school reopenings.

Anne Longfield warned reduced access to education was becoming “the default” in some schools as many struggle to expand teaching due to coronavirus restrictions.

Speaking to the Observer, she said: “It has taken 200 years of campaigning to get children out of the workplace and into the classroom, ensuring that education was a basic right for all children.”

“We seem for the first time to be prepared to let that start to go into reverse. And I think that is a very, very dangerous place to be.

“We heard from the prime minister back in April that education was one of the top three priorities for easing lockdown, but it seems to have been given up on quite easily.”

Ms Longfield also urged the Government to intervene further, adding: “It might be the whole of the next school year where kids aren’t going to be able to come into the classroom in normal numbers. 

“Maybe we need to look at enhancing the classroom space, getting more teachers, or more people in to teach.”

“You have to come up with the level of intervention, such as the Nightingale hospitals, such as the job retention schemes, which were amazing in their own right. There’s no reason why we can’t do that for children.”

It comes after education secretary Gavin Williamson was forced on Tuesday to confirm plans to bring all primary school children back to school for a month before the summer had been scrapped.

Instead, schools would welcome more year groups only if they had the capacity, but Boris Johnson later insisted he “fully intends” to have all children back at school by September. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the Prime Minister of trying to “blame others” over his failure to build a consensus on reopening classrooms after revealing his offer to help had been rejected.

Meanwhile, chair of the education select committee and Tory MP Robert Halfon wrote to Mr Johnson this week urging him to introduce a “catch-up premium” and a summer tutoring programme, for every pupil receiving free school meals.

He warned the “life chances of thousands of children” were at risk if such plans, which could cost £560million per subject, didn’t go ahead.

‘FINANCIAL HARDSHIP’

Elsewhere, shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey has called on the Government to extend free school meals in England over the summer to ensure a “holiday without hunger”.

Nearly 1.3 million children are eligible for the scheme, which has been replaced by a voucher system while schools have been closed. 

The support usually ends over the summer holidays, but Labour is now calling for it to be extended to support families struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Long-Bailey said: “Covid-19 has plunged many families into financial hardship, and this is likely to get worse over summer. 

“Parents should not be forced to decide whether to feed themselves or their children over the upcoming summer holidays, when the government could easily continue providing free school meals.

The former Labour leadership candidate continued: “We know that the time spent away from school will have widened inequalities between children further and disadvantaged children need more support than ever during this pandemic. 

“The Government has repeatedly said it will do ‘whatever it takes’ to help our economy through this crisis, the same should apply to children who are at risk of going hungry for six weeks this summer.”

Such a policy has already been implemented in Wales, with the devolved government providing each eligible child with the equivalent of £19.50 a week in food vouchers. 

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