The last year has been very difficult for everybody, but for some more than most. One group that faces particular challenges is our children and young people. Whilst thankfully they have been far less likely to get ill as a result of the virus, the impact of the pandemic on their educations and development is going to cast a very long shadow.
Our teachers, lecturers and support staff have all done an absolutely brilliant job of ensuring that pupils are still learning through this tumultuous time – whether that’s in-person or virtually – and they deserve a great deal of praise. However, we know that despite everyone’s best efforts, it hasn’t been possible to provide the same level of education throughout the whole of this period.
What’s more, there is now a lot of evidence that – as with so many other things in this pandemic – it is the poorest children who have missed out most. There are many reasons for this – including access to the right technology to participate in virtual learning – but what is clear is that it has caused the attainment gap between the richest and poorest to grow even wider.
The disruption in the education of an entire generation is a huge concern and needs to be addressed urgently. There are many ways this might be done, but I think that in one aspect Stockport is leading the way. The Stockport Family Model, developed by the Council (and recognised with a prestigious national award for innovation for Cllr Colin Foster) brings together health, social care and education, working in the community to improve the lives of children and families. It’s this kind of innovative thinking and collaborative working that we will need to solve the long-term problems that the pandemic is likely to cause for children and young people.
Education isn’t all about children and schools though. The pandemic has also hinted at some of the changes that we might start to see in the world of work; both in how we work and the kind of jobs that are available. This is why the skills agenda is so important. As a Community Ambassador for Stockport College, this is something I am very passionate about. We need to make sure that everybody has access to the training needed to develop skills, regardless of their age or stage in their career development. This will be crucial as we emerge into the post-pandemic world.