Our schools have done an incredible job to respond to the pandemic. Initially when the country went into lockdown, they remained open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children and since the reopening of society staff have gone above and beyond to ensure schools are safe to return to.
The task has been huge, but our teachers and school staff have stepped up to the mark. Sadly however, they have been let down by the absolute failure of the Government to get a robust testing system in place.
I have had countless reports from parents and teachers who have been unable to access tests. In some cases, they are not able to get one within five days of symptoms developing and in others they cannot access one at all. Some have even reported it taking over a week to get the results.
These delays are forcing many pupils and teachers away from the classroom, and risk further crucial periods of education being lost. I wrote to the Health Secretary about this and to the Education Secretary with regards to the unique circumstances of special schools both in September but have yet to of received a response.
I invited all of the Headteachers in my constituency to a virtual meeting to discuss this problem and hear out their concerns. For example, schools have initially been given just 10 tests to cover their pupils and staff. This is nowhere near enough and as we enter the ‘cold season’ it is clear schools need far better testing in place otherwise they may risk having to close.
Schools are also facing huge additional cleaning costs and costs associated with additional staff and supply teachers to cover and support bubbles. Schools budgets have already been cut to the bone over the last decade and without additional funding support now many will be pushed into financial uncertainty.
Finally, schools need clarity on whether exams will be going ahead or not. It strikes me that given what pupils have been through over the last six months, some facing very challenging home conditions, the focus for the time being should be getting children back to some sense of normality.
I have written urgently to Education Secretary outlining this complex situation and calling for answers. Without this, schools are being left in the dark having to make difficult decisions with no idea of what future support will be in place.
For the work staff have already put in and for the sake of our children’s education we owe our schools clarity on these issues and the knowledge that they will be supported to the best of our country’s ability. I will keep pushing on the Government until they deliver this.