Show leadership to ensure our children do not bear the brunt of this crisis, Catherine McKinnell tells PM

  1. Newcastle North MP is concerned children and young people have not been a Government priority
  2. Catherine has urged the Prime Minister to provide practical support for schools to safely bring more children back by expanding classroom space and teaching staff
  3. She also calls for online learning support and a package of catch-up funding for disadvantaged pupils

MP for Newcastle North, Catherine McKinnell, is concerned the Government have not made young people a priority during the crisis and has urged the Prime Minister to provide practical support so more children can access their education.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, Catherine says the Government’s U-turn on primary schools was ‘entirely foreseeable’ because schools have not been provided with the practical support to make it possible.

She calls on the Prime Minister to show leadership by working with schools, parents, and trade unions to develop a national plan, which could include installing temporary classrooms, repurposing community halls, and employing more teachers and supply teachers.

In her letter, Catherine says:

“I know from parents in Newcastle North that home learning has been a real struggle for lots of families, despite schools working incredibly hard to put provision in place during this time. However, children desperately need greater interaction with their school – whether online or in person – for their education as well as their physical and mental well-being.

“It is clear additional classroom capacity is needed and the potential for using portacabins, mobile classrooms, repurposing community halls and other solutions should be urgently investigated. If the Government made the funding available, schools could make provision for the possibility of supply teachers and returnees being engaged to overcome staffing needs, now that pupils will be taught in smaller groups and some staff will need to remain shielding.

“Prime Minister, I urge you to show leadership on this issue and work collaboratively with schools, trade unions and parents’ organisations to find consensus on the practical challenges and solutions going forward. It is simply unacceptable that our children and young people be left to bear the long term brunt of this national crisis.”

Catherine also calls for a package of support to help ensure pupils who were already disadvantaged going into this crisis, do not fall further behind and can catch up to their peers.

“The North East of England has large pockets of long-term disadvantage, which we know can result in lower average attainment at school. There is therefore widespread concern that our pupils could now fall further behind the rest of England. Potential solutions could include enhanced pupil premium funding weighted toward long-term disadvantaged pupils, delivering a national programme of emotional and well-being support to all students, and modifications to next year’s curriculum and exams.”

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Prime Minister,

Prioritising our children and young people

As we ease out of lockdown and see our shops and other amenities reopening, I write to express my grave concerns about the lack of urgency and priority of focus from Government for our children and young people during this crisis.

The wider opening of schools to more pupils has clearly presented huge challenges during the easing of the lockdown. I and other MPs continue to receive large volumes of correspondence from teaching staff and parents concerned about the safety of returning to school and the effect of closures on children’s education. I know from parents in Newcastle North that home learning has been a real struggle for families, despite schools working incredibly hard to put provision in place. Children desperately need greater interaction with their school – whether online or in person – for their education as well as their physical and mental wellbeing.

To take the country forward, we urgently need a coherent national plan, consensus among key stakeholders and strong leadership from the top. Unfortunately, all of these elements have been so far lacking in the Government’s approach. Announcements have been made without consultation, with little notice and scientific backing. Concerns over many aspects, including logistical issues, have been raised by parents, school leaders, teaching staff and trade unions for some time, and the problems that led to last week’s u-turn on primary schools were entirely foreseeable.

I am therefore writing to implore you to urgently focus on providing the practical support to schools needed to enable them to support their pupils with their education and get more safely back in to school, as should have been the priority over the past few months. It is clear additional classroom capacity is needed and the potential for using portacabins, mobile classrooms, repurposing community halls and other solutions should be urgently investigated. If the Government made the funding available, schools could make provision for the possibility of supply teachers and returnees being engaged to overcome staffing needs, now that pupils will be taught in smaller groups and some staff will need to remain shielding.

In addition, even as more children are returning to school, there are some who will not be full time back in a classroom for some time yet. While important social aspects of schooling cannot be fully recreated, Government should be working with school leaders on minimum standards, technical support, and innovative programs for all children and young people who continue to learn at home in full or in part during the pandemic. This at home support should extend to Free School Meals which have helped disadvantaged families during this crisis and at the very least should be extended through the summer.

A package of support is also urgently required to ensure that children who were already educationally disadvantaged going into this crisis do not fall even further behind. The North East of England has large pockets of long-term disadvantage, which we know can result in lower average attainment at school. Our pupils could now fall further behind the rest of England. Potential solutions include enhanced pupil premium funding weighted toward long-term disadvantaged pupils, delivering a national programme of emotional and well-being support to all students, and modifications to next year’s curriculum and exams.

It is clear we are going to be living with Covid-19 for some time and it is therefore vital that parents and teaching staff have confidence in the Government’s decisions and the evidence behind them. This is a monumental challenge but one that could not be more important. Whilst school leaders are working around the clock to meet it, they need more support from Government.

Prime Minister, I urge you to show leadership on this issue and work collaboratively with schools, trade unions and parents’ organisations to find consensus on the practical challenges and solutions going forward. It is simply unacceptable that our children and young people be left to bear the long term brunt of this national crisis. It is not only the wrong thing to do for those affected, but we have all the evidence to demonstrate that it is the wrong thing to do for the future of our country. The responsibility is yours Prime Minister – please put our children and young people first.

Yours sincerely

Catherine McKinnell MP