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It’s time to put tribalism aside – we need a national schools plan to ensure no child is left behind

Pupils at Landywood Primary School in Staffordshire

3 min read

We need to do everything we can to prevent a generation of children being left behind forever. It’s time for the government to work with teachers, parents, experts and opposition politicians to develop a clear plan

Using divisive rhetoric. The side-lining of the professionals, the unions and parents from decision making. Attacking the very people you need to implement your plan.

That’s bad leadership. And yet that’s exactly how the Government handled its plans to reopen primary schools to all pupils this academic year.

Last month in the Commons, the Education Secretary accused teachers and others of ‘scaremongering’ because they were raising concerns, only for the Government to accept its plans were untenable.

Did Gavin Williamson apologise? Of course not. Serious questions must be answered about when the Government knew their plan was bound to fail, and why concerns from teachers about safety and capacity were not just brushed aside but deliberately demonised in the press.

Yesterday’s statement was profoundly lacking in detail as to what the Government is actually doing, now that its phased reopening plans have been set back.

But this situation is too urgent for the divisive debate to continue. We are arguing in the Commons chamber whilst the disadvantage gap between poorer pupils and their more well-off peers becomes a gulf. We need to do everything we can to prevent a generation of kids being left behind forever. It’s already starting to happen.

Serious questions must be answered about when the Government knew their plan was bound to fail, and why teachers were deliberately demonised in the press

Enough is enough ­– we need to move forward together on this, for our children’s sake. It’s time to put tribalism aside; the Government can still work with opposition politicians, with the unions, with the experts, to put together a national plan to fix this situation.

And what would I say if in a meeting with the Education Secretary now? This needs to start by making sure every child has the ability to learn at home. Last week, the Children’s Commissioner told the Education Committee that 700,000 children lacked access to the equipment needed to learn from home (such as a laptop), a figure that may come as a surprise to some.

So yesterday in the Commons I helped Gavin Williamson with his maths – he confirmed that the Government would be giving out a total of 230,000 computers to the children who are deemed to be most in need in England. That clearly leaves far too many kids behind. Many others lack internet access at all at home; some will get routers from the Government, some won’t.

Now is not the time to do things by half-measures. We all want schools to reopen – of course we do. Every day they remain shut the shameful attainment gap between rich and poor widens. But until we have a practical plan that works with schools’ space and staff capacity, that is safe and has the confidence of children, staff and families alike, we need to do everything we can to get children online and learning.

Now’s the time for a clear plan that leaves no child behind, developed with teachers, parents and the experts all working together. The Children’s Commissioner needs to be brought on board, and the scientific evidence must be at the centre too.

There’s still time to make up for the mistakes that have been made, but only if we work together and if the Government listens to what people have to say.

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