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Government woefully underprepared to ensure every young person can return to school 

July 2, 2020 3:14 PM

Speaking following the statement on schools reopening, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran said:

Layla Moran (Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)] https://pds.blog.parliament.uk/2017/07/21/mp-official-portraits-open-source-images/)"Today's statement shows just how woefully underprepared the Government are to ensure every young person can return to school in September.

"Despite the very real risk of further local outbreaks of Covid 19, the Education Secretary refused to give any commitment that children will get the equipment they need to learn from home. Without them, too many will have no chance of catching up on their education and will continue to fall behind.

"Every day disadvantaged children go without the laptops they need is another day the digital divide gets worse. This is a complete dereliction of duty by the Education Secretary and he must take immediate steps to address it."

The Liberal Democrats have a five-point plan for reopening schools to more pupils in England.

  1. Increase capacity for physical learning. Combine local spare space registers, where local councils and school leaders can cooperate on using suitable empty buildings in the community as learning spaces.
  2. Recruit an army of extra teachers to cope with demand. Launch a Teach for Britain recruitment campaign to bring out-of-work supply teachers and recently-retired teachers into schools so more pupils can return. Build on the success of the Social Work Together campaign, developed with the Local Government Association. Work with unions to try and get more teachers into learning spaces in any one school day.
  3. End the online learning void for thousands of children. Develop a bold strategy to leave no child behind by partnering with the private sector to get laptops and internet access to any disadvantaged child currently unable to learn online. Recognise that the current target of 230,000 leaves too many children behind, and that councils are neither receiving the equipment they have asked for, nor seeing high uptake rates for the kit they're given. Begin major advertising campaign to encourage families and children to ask for equipment. Back this up by working to get more physical resources including textbooks to children lacking internet/computer access.
  4. Consider designing a flexible, phased reopening that follows the science and has the trust of parents and the profession by being developed with them, following the lead of Kirsty Williams in Wales. Consider extending the summer term by one week, and stagger pupils' attendance in school, so that at most a third of pupils are normally present at any one time. Begin the next academic year on time in September, but double the autumn half-term break to two weeks. We must recognise that many schools are doing a fantastic job at phased reopening, and ensure local authorities, academy trusts and government are learning from their successes.
  5. Halt the widening of the disadvantage gap. Extend the free school meals over the summer holidays, but recognise the scheme is flawed and excludes many families and so combine it with an emergency uplift in child benefit of £150 per child per month, with £100 for every subsequent child, during this crisis. Implement a 'catch-up premium' of £700 per disadvantaged child, to enable schools and charities give them a much-needed boost in the next academic year. Also create a Summer Learning Fund so that councils can run summer learning camps for children, focused on local authorities in the most deprived areas. This will prepare children for September and give many children a positive environment in which to learn and re-acclimatise to an educational environment. Fully fund places for children on free school meals.