Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, responding to the guidance issued today on children’s return to schools in September, said:
“All children must be safely back in school by September. By then, they’ll have suffered a six-month gap in their learning. Officials in the Department for Education have warned this could lead to a widening of the attainment gap of up to 75% as children from disadvantaged backgrounds have lacked access to resources to learn at home.
“Teachers, school leaders, staff, and parents have achieved a huge amount throughout this crisis, and now they desperately need the support of the government. With only three weeks to go before the end of term, there is an enormous amount to prepare: finalising health and safety arrangements, ensuring there is space for children to learn, restructuring the school day and providing reassurance to parents.
“The Government has been asleep at the wheel, but heads and staff cannot be left to do this alone. Labour is calling for a cross-party taskforce to focus urgently on getting the necessary arrangements in place so that all students can return safely in September.”
Incorrect guidance could force children to go hungry
Labour has criticised the Government for including incorrect information in its free school meals guidance which could lead to children from lower income families going without food this summer.
During the Covid-19 crisis, eligibility for free school meals has been extended to some children with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and the maximum household earnings threshold for this support was later increased from £7,400 to £16,190 per year. However, since 25th June, the Government’s guidance on eligibility has referred to the old, incorrect earnings threshold of £7,400, which would exclude many of the poorest NRPF families from free school meal support.
Most schools have only been given until 10th July to apply for the COVID Summer Food Fund, and there are fears that many children may be excluded if schools follow the incorrect guidance. The children this will affect are those whose parents are already unable to claim welfare benefits due to their NRPF immigration status, so this mistake could hit those who need free school meals support the most.
Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, said:
“Making sure that government guidance is accurate matters. This type of mistake could lead to many of the poorest children going hungry over the summer.
“Schools will be under huge pressure to identify the children who need free school meals over the summer and get applications in before the arbitrary deadline of 10th July. If they have followed the Government’s inaccurate guidance over the last few days, they will have unfairly excluded children whose parents are unable to access other types of welfare support.
“It beggars belief that this incorrect information has been on the Government’s website for nearly a full week. Ministers need to get a grip and do much more to make sure that those who are eligible for support are made aware of it and schools get more assistance to provide it.”
Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, responding to the joint statement from over 150 charities, teachers and frontline services calling on the Prime Minister to ‘make this generation of children as central to the nation’s Coronavirus recovery plans as health and the economy’, said:
“Children seem to have been an afterthought in the Government’s response to this pandemic. We knew that young people would be among the most vulnerable in lockdown, so their wellbeing should have been one of the top priorities from the start.
“Labour and the children’s sector have warned for months about the need to prepare for an increase in demand for children’s social care and mental health services. Despite these warnings, it’s not clear that Ministers have a plan to protect those children who need it most.
“The Government must start prioritising the wellbeing of children and make sure the services that support them are properly funded.”
(First published in the SEA journal, Education Politics , June 2020.)
In recent times I have been the designated safeguarding lead in three educational settings, including an alternative provision attended (or more often not) by some extremely vulnerable young people. In the present pandemic I have been working in the guise of educator.
Nothing I have experienced in these roles has challenged my view that barriers to learning are neither purely educational concerns to be addressed by teachers nor problems to be solved by social workers. In almost all cases they existed and continue to exist on the cusp of education and social care.
At the heart of this argument is of course the ground breaking legislation by Labour in 2003 and pockets of local initiatives that pre-dated and influenced in and which gave birth to the barely still breathing Sure Start project.
Every Child Matters (ECM) , the radical government initiative for England and Wales that was launched in 2003, at least partly in response to the death of Victoria Climbié, is one of the most important policy initiatives ever introduced and development in relation to children and children’s services ever. It led in the short to medium term to massive and progressive advances to the children and families agenda, leading to the Children Act 2004. ECM covers children and young adults up to the age of 19, or 24 for those with disabilities and it is important (especially perhaps in the time of Coronavirus) to remember its keynotes:
enjoy and achieve
make a positive contribution
achieve economic well-being
As well as my own harrowing experiences and observations that ranging from victims of abuse and violence to hunger and neglect, the SEA seminar, entitled, Vulnerable Children and the Lock Down, on 16 April provided some valuable input. One issue has been the provision of free school meal vouchers. In usual fake tory so called “value for money” solutions, it has been out sourced to a company with inadequate IT to deal with the demand. There are families who are starving because of it. One of the children I have been dealing with in Norwich only engages at all so that he can get a daily Aldi meal deal voucher. There are similar stories in a number of London boroughs.
The BBC’s Newsnight Special Coronavirus: How Britain’s invisible children are being forgotten, broadcast on 9 April (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0892xt2) also provided great insight into the social, economic and health crises. The low numbers of at risk children taking their crisis place in a school is frighteningly low and the most economically disadvantaged are without the free school meals service, in some areas as low as 10%.
Newington Green School in Islington was featured. It is in an area, though often seen as leafy and well to do houses and schools some of the most deprived children in the UK. The N1 postcode is on all kinds of cusps.
Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child protection told BBC Newsnight: “A worryingly low number of vulnerable children allocated a school place in England to keep them safe during the coronavirus crisis are actually turning up”. In some areas just a quarter of the “at risk” children who are meant to be in school are attending, the programme has been told. Norfolk is the only local authority to have reported an official figure. It is 13%. In some areas the figure is below 10%.A head teacher said that she believes those officially deemed “at risk” were “only the tip of the iceberg”.
Children who would probably be taken into care under normal circumstances, where a more specialised provision would be available are having to be dealt with in a wholly inadequate mainstream provision. Teachers and social workers are on the front line and having to have contact with children and their parents at their own risk.
The remedy for this, of course, as it was in 2003 and always has been: to achieve economic well-being for all of our young people.
This can only be done by preparing learners for employment and economic, independent living through training providers’, proper apprenticeships and work.
The following characteristics would provide the evidence for young learners achieving economic well-being:
■ examples of the development of learners’
■ learners’ involvement and achievement in
■ learners developing employability skills;
■ learners engaging in team building and
■ learners access to, and take-up of, careers
education, advice and guidance;
■ personal finance education
■ work experience;
■ work-based learning.
Information, advice and guidance must be evidenced by:
■ careers advice and guidance;
■ a schedule of one-to-one interviews.
The real fear is that the inequalities inherent in a social class rigged education system will be exacerbated by the pandemic school closure in a Michael Gove inspired wet dream with a well- resourced affluent middle-class keeping up with and getting ahead of the school curriculum and an army of disadvantaged youngster with no resource and no encouragement. A work-related curriculum needs to be rooted in a meaningful skills-based curriculum with transferable skills as its spine and entitlement at its heart and engagement, life-skills, literacy in its blood.
Rebecca Long Bailey MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, responding to the Government’s announcement on lost teaching time due to Covid-19, said:
“The funding and the principle of a tutoring scheme is certainly a welcome start but it needs to be backed with a detailed national education plan to get children’s education and health back on track.
“We want to see all pupils return to school safely as soon as possible and repeat our call on the Government to urgently convene a taskforce across the sector to develop detailed plans in collaboration with trade unions, local authorities, parent’s organisations, scientific and health experts.
“The present plans lack detail and appear to be a tiny fraction of the support our pupils need at this critical time. The Government must take its responsibility to support children’s learning and their safe return to school seriously and demonstrate leadership in making this happen.”
Labour will today use an opposition day debate in Parliament to call on the Government to continue to directly fund provision of free school meals, including the free school meal voucher scheme for eligible children over the summer holidays to ensure a holiday without hunger.
Nearly 1.3 million children in England are eligible for free school meals. During the Covid-19 pandemic a voucher scheme to provide food support to children at home was established instead which, after pressure, was extended to cover the May half-term. However, the Government has confirmed that it will not continue the voucher scheme or fund free school meals over the summer holidays. Labour is calling for this decision to be reversed as part of the ‘Holidays without Hunger’ campaign launched on Sunday 14th June.
Speaking in the opposition day debate, Rebecca Long Bailey MP, Shadow Education Secretary will say:
“Any government that is willing to let the poorest children in the country go hungry needs to take a long hard look at its priorities.
…Shamefully, children go hungry every year, but this summer will be especially difficult for many families as job losses and reduced incomes hit household budgets…
..It would be deeply callous of the government not to take this small step to ease the financial pressure on households and ensure children can eat during the summer holidays.’’
Labour will today vote to scrap regulations that substantially weaken legal protections for children in care in England after forcing a debate on this issue.
In April, the Government changed the law without parliamentary scrutiny to remove key safeguards for children in care, including the requirement for six-weekly care visits, regular assessments of care plans and fostering and adoption panels.
The Labour frontbench has forced a debate in the House of Commons today on these regulations, which the Children’s Commissioner for England has said are “not justified” and could put children “at greater risk”, and will vote to annul them. Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey will lead Labour MPs in calling for the changes to be revoked.
Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, said:
“It has been over two months since Ministers made sweeping reductions in children’s safeguards, and they have still not produced any reasonable justification for it.
“Labour understands the pressure that councils are under in this pandemic, but it is not an excuse to remove vital protections for children in care. There is no evidence that this bonfire of children’s rights was necessary, and to do so without any opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny or key safeguards was simply unacceptable.
“Today’s debate is an opportunity for the Government to admit that they got this wrong and work with us to help vulnerable children through this crisis.”
Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, responding to the TUC’s call for an emergency government bailout of the childcare industry, said:
“Childcare will be an essential part of our economic recovery from Covid-19, yet the sector is under huge pressure and could collapse without more support. This would be a disaster for working families, and many mothers in particular could be forced out of work if nurseries and childminding businesses aren’t able to survive this crisis.
“The TUC is right to highlight the need for more support for the early years sector and better protections at work for parents who aren’t able to find childcare. Labour has long been calling for better financial support for childcare providers to cope with significantly reduced demand and additional safety costs in this crisis.”
Jonathan Reynolds MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, responding to the publication of data from the Trussell Trust on food bank usage, said:
“These figures are a worrying sign that as the Covid-19 crisis progresses, families are still falling through the gaps in the safety net, especially as the largest increase was in parcels for children. The government risks exacerbating already unacceptable levels of child poverty in the UK.
“While existing changes to Universal Credit are welcome, the government must take further, urgent action to make sure that no-one goes hungry during the crisis.”