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Fri, 27 November 2020

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The government should hang their heads in shame for their dereliction of duty to our nation’s children

The government should hang their heads in shame for their dereliction of duty to our nation’s children

Our government put more thought into the safe re-opening of pubs than the re-opening of schools, writes Wes Streeting MP. | PA Images

4 min read

Ofsted's report shows in stark terms the damage that the first lockdown inflicted on pupils. The government must ensure that children’s education is not halted again.

This week Ofsted released a grim report detailing in stark terms the damage that the first lockdown inflicted on pupils in terms of lost learning, the impact on their mental health and physical wellbeing, and the heightened risk to our most vulnerable children.

Over the course of 380 one-day visits to schools over a month from the end of September, Ofsted spoke to teachers and school leaders to explore how schools were managing the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic and their observations about the impact of school closures on children.

Lost learning is having an impact, particularly in terms of literacy and numeracy. In primary schools, some children had fallen behind on language and communication skills and even regressed in their oral fluency. School leaders were particularly concerned about forgotten and lost learning for pupils with special educational needs.

In secondary school, literacy and mathematics were a concern, but secondary leaders also reported gaps in practical subjects like PE, design and technology and music - and that pupils had particularly fallen behind in modern foreign languages. While schools reported that pupils were happy to be back and eager to learn, challenges have emerged in terms of pupils’ concentration, physical stamina and some pupils struggling to readjust to the school environment.

Most worryingly of all, school leaders reported increasing cases of pupils self-harming during lockdown and experiencing domestic violence and trauma at home. Some leaders of special schools and alternative provision reported pupils having become victims of criminal exploitation, including gang violence and child sexual exploitation.

Clearly, being in schools is the best option for children and young people across the country and the government must ensure that children’s education is not halted again.

The Department for Education would surely be thrown into special measures if we sent the inspectors in to judge the quality of their leadership during this crisis

It was bad enough that our government put more thought into the safe re-opening of pubs than the re-opening of schools for all pupils before the summer. But it is simply unforgiveable that the we are now approaching the end of the year with head teachers and staff on their knees as they struggling to keep the show on the road with a lack of support from the government.

Having treated schools like an afterthought during the first lockdown, the government is continuing to fail schools, parents and pupils during the second lockdown.

Whether on access to testing for pupils and staff to minimise time lost to self-isolation, making sure that head teachers have the funding they need for PPE, cleaning equipment and staff cover, making sure that pupils have access to laptops and broadband when they’re isolating at home, making sure that hungry children are fed during the holidays or even having a plan in place for exams later this year. The Government is failing on every front.

Where is the plan from the Government to provide the mass testing that our schools need?  Where is the plan for schools that have been in lockdown the longest? Where is the plan to make sure that no school is prevented from doing the right thing to keep pupils and staff safe? Where is the plan to make sure that no child isolating at home is without the IT they need? Where is the plan for social services to make sure that every child is safe? Where is the plan to make sure that exams this year are fair and accessible?

The Department for Education would surely be thrown into special measures if we sent the inspectors in to judge the quality of their leadership during this crisis. The Secretary of State and his ministerial team should hang their heads in shame for their dereliction of duty to our nation’s children.

 

Wes Streeting is the Labour MP for Ilford North and shadow schools minister.

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