The end of an educational period is often an opportunity for parents, pupils and teachers to reflect on what has gone well and plan for the near future. The half term and even term breaks may be less reflective than a Summer period but nevertheless this week will hopefully be a chance for a bit less of the usual daily challenges and some relaxation. There is of course also an opportunity for people who are having a break to use some of their time to reflect on what is happening elsewhere, particularly if the elements are related to their own situations. As it happens, last Wednesday the Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts published a report under the heading of “Third Report – COVID-19: Support for children’s education” which has raised many issues. Whilst there are no MPs from Sussex that took part in the Committee it is clearly vital that the elements that have been raised will get raised within Parliament. To help that all Sussex MPs need to read the report and add their views to it both publicly and in the House of Commons. Indeed, there are also a number of people in Sussex who are part of the House of Lords and they too could do something similar in their setting. This week is an ideal week for those of us who are having a bit of a break to send a message to our MP or any Lords we are aware of, to ask them to respond to the report for the benefit of our communities. As it happens two Sussex MPs are Ministers in the Department for Education which is the agency that this report is directed towards. Gillian Keegan represents Chichester and Nick Gibb represents Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and their constituents can hopefully get a particular benefit from raising concerns with them. Given that they are based in West Sussex, people in the County could also contact them. Peter Kyle who is the Hove MP is the Shadow Minister for Schools so he could benefit from responses from Brighton and Hove. There is also an All Party Parliamentary Group for Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) which involves Sally-Ann Hart, the MP for Hastings and Rye as their Vice Chair. The report focuses on SEND as part of the wider theme so presumably Sally-Ann will be keen to receive comments from people who are concerned about these challenges, particularly from East Sussex.
At the same time that the report was published last week, the Local Government Association (LGA) which includes a Children and Young People Board responded to it a day earlier. Councillor Anntoinette Bramble who is chair of their board stated “Councils and schools want to work with the Government on education recovery and to ensure that no child is left behind. We share concerns about the needs of disadvantaged children who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.” I could not find a list of the Board members so there may not be any Sussex Councillors involved, however we can assume that the three upper tier Sussex Councils that are responsible for education will also be aware of this issue. The educational Councillor in East Sussex is Bob Standley and in West Sussex, Jacquie Russell and Nigel Jupp are both involved in this theme. In Brighton and Hove Hannah Clare is the Chair of the Children, Young People & Skills Committee. It was certainly clear that the LGA was very concerned about the same issues that came out from the Parliament Committee. The opening statement in the Parliamentary report begins with these words
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to our school system. Despite being involved in a 2016 cross-government exercise on dealing with an influenza pandemic, the Department for Education (the Department) had no plan for handling disruption of this kind and was unprepared for dealing with the challenges the pandemic presented in early 2020. Consequently, it struggled to react to events in a timely and effective way. The Department set no standards for in-school or remote learning during the rest of the 2019/20 school year and, as a result, children had very unequal experiences. The Department has still not properly assessed its early response in order to learn lessons for the future. The disruption to schooling had particularly damaging effects on children who were already facing adversity.
It seems very clear that all of our Sussex based MPs and Councillors need to read the report and then set out to all of us how they will call on the Government to bring improvements to our educational settings as a matter of great priority. It is very encouraging that this report has been published in time for the half term break as an opportunity for us to read it.