Angela Rayner response to education statement

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, responding to the education statement in the House today, said:

“Thank you, Mr Speaker.

“And may I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, and for our discussions over recent days.

“As he knows, I have written to him with a number of questions about his Department’s dealing with the fallout of COVID-19. I hope he will provide answers now, but I also look forward to his detailed response as soon as possible.

“Let me put on the record our thanks and support for all those working in our education and children’s services through this crisis.

“They, along with parents and learners of all ages, now seek both reassurance and guidance from government.

“The steps that have finally been taken today are welcome. But can the Secretary of State tell us when detailed guidance will be issued setting out how the reduced service provided in schools will work?

“I hope the Secretary of State will commit to giving daily updates on the gov dot UK website, covering the entire education system, and ensure that his department is able to answer questions from education providers?

“Can I press him on free school meals? He says he will give schools flexibility. But with millions of children in poverty, and many families now facing worse, can he guarantee that free meals will be made available to all those eligible, and will he take steps to extend that to breakfast, and over the school holidays too?

“Children with disabilities and underlying health conditions are at particular risk. Can he tell us what steps he is taking to support them and their parents, and ensure that the guidance is easily found?

“Similarly for parents with underlying health conditions: where is the guidance available for them?

“Can they take children out of school if they are themselves in isolation or at risk?

“Will new guidance be issued on fines for parents who withdraw children from school?

“And what advice and support is he offering to special schools, serving those with particularly serious physical conditions, which are often residential?

“The same is true for the education workforce. Will he make absolutely clear to all employers that workers in the vulnerable categories identified by the Government must not be placed under pressure to be in work and should be sent home?

“Staff are also worried about being paid. What reassurances can he give, especially to those sadly now on casual contracts or insecure terms, and what is his plan for supply teachers?

“There is widespread concern around exams. Clarity is required about pupils who were due to sit SATs, GCSEs and A-levels and will now not do so. Can he tell us when decisions will be made and how they will be communicated?

“He mentioned that he expect childcare providers to close. Many are already close to collapse. Can he confirm what support is available and whether emergency business rate relief will apply?

“He also said that he will support Vice Chancellors in their decision making in higher education. But is it not time for him to avoid all doubt by issuing clear guidance protecting staff and students alike? Can he share the evidence and modelling behind his decision not to do so?

“Let me turn finally to an area he did not mention but is vital for the most vulnerable, and that is children’s social work.

“Already, children’s services are suffering from years of cuts. Now, they will face staff shortages just at a time that there will be greater need than ever.

“The poorest and most vulnerable paid the highest price for austerity. We cannot allow them to pay the highest price for this latest crisis too.

“Will he commit to return to the House next week with a statement on that area of his responsibilities, and I hope with new resources to support those in the front line?

“Mr Speaker, the coronavirus disease presents unprecedented challenges to governments across the world.

“Ours is no different.

“We will overcome it, but it requires Ministers to listen to the concerns of the people outside of this place.

“On this side of the House, we will place the greatest priority on protecting the most vulnerable. I urge the Government to do the same.”

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