Today Parliament will reopen after their half term break and many other people will return to work following a four days holiday because of the Queens Jubilee celebration. Inevitably some people were very busy over the last few days and many had a wide range of community events so it may start slowly at work this week. Many of the young people across the Nation will also be returning to Schools and older students will be returning to Colleges or Universities and so the teachers and lecturers will be working hard this week to restart their educational activities. It would be fantastic if we could persuade our MPs to focus on the educational elements that needs to be dealt with. It was a response that emerged from the Government during the last few days of the half term two weeks ago. The Government responded to a strong call from the Education Committee and sadly they did not offer a suitable response. The Education Committee involves one Sussex MP which is Caroline Ansell from Eastbourne. Sadly, up until last September two of our other Sussex MPs were members of the Department of Education so at that stage it would be easier for us to call for them to respond directly. Now we can only try to persuade our other Sussex MPs to endorse the call from Caroline and the Chair of her Committee Robert Halfon.
On the day after the Government responded to the Committee request, Robert Halfon and his colleagues published a reaction under the headline of “Government must act on ‘ghost children’ missing from education system”. My own view is that the phrase of ghost children is not very helpful for families whose children are not yet willing or able to return to schools, but the need for some assistance for those families is clearly very significant. Robert wrote initially “After a lengthy campaign led by the Education Committee, I welcome the changes made by the Government” but after stating the elements he appreciates he then goes on to say “However, the elephant in the room remains. According to the Children’s Commissioner, over 124,000 “ghost children” have still not returned to school” and he then says
“We cannot risk these children becoming an ‘Oliver Twist’ generation, slipping through the cracks and lost to the system forever. The Department have made some very welcome interventions but it must ensure that targeted support is provided to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children to ensure that every child has equitable access to climb the ladder of opportunity and develop to reach their full potential.”
The response from the Committee also includes the text of “The Government response to Committee’s Catch-Up Report falls short on tackling persistent absence.” It was very helpful for an online agency called Children & Young People Now to publish this information as sometimes the text that emerges from Parliamentary groups does not get very far into our nation and given that only people in Eastbourne here in Sussex have an MP who was participating on this issue, it is not always easy for the rest of us to observe the comments.
As it happens another Sussex MP submitted a question to a different Department last week, which has some other vital elements for people at schools. Caroline Lucas asked
“To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if he will make it his policy to extend Healthy Start and free school meals to everyone who receives Universal Credit and if he will make a statement.”
Sadly, the Junior Minister who responded simply said
“The eligibility criteria for the Healthy Start scheme is kept under review. There are no current plans to extend the eligibility criteria for the scheme to all those who receives Universal Credit. Decisions on the provision of free school meals are a matter for the Department for Education.”
So perhaps the MPs here in Sussex that are not members of the Government could be persuaded by their constituents to respond to these themes that have been raised by other Sussex MPs. It is also valuable for members of the House of Lords to raise these themes. One of them spoke before the break with
“This approach was echoed by Robert Halfon, who noted that a register is not going to bring back the 124,000 ghost children who have not returned to school post the pandemic. Instead, Mr Halfon has suggested using catch-up funding to recruit more truancy staff to specifically engage with parents of non-attending pupils. I definitely prefer this human-centred, not data-centred, approach”
So given that response and indeed the call from both of our Sussex Caroline MPs, would our other local MPs be willing to speak up this week to endorse the calls that have been made by their neighbours?