Those of you with children will probably have seen a lot more of them over the past year or so. Whether you’ve been home-schooling or just stuck inside as a family every weekend and holiday, it’s been a fairly intense few months. Living on top of one another 24/7, full of pent-up energy, it’s natural that we start to get on each other’s nerves more than usual. However irritated we may get though, I think it’s really important to keep in mind just how difficult this period has been for our children and young people.
Exams have been cancelled, many university students have been charged thousands of pounds to be locked up in expensive flats with no face-to-face tuition and, despite everyone’s best efforts, a lot of learning has been missed out on. It’s hard to understate the significance of this last point – it means that more young people will have left school without learning vital skills and that the gap between the richest and poorest students – already far too wide – will grow even more.
I’d like to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to all the fantastic teachers, lecturers, school and college leaders, and support staff across Tameside for all the work that they have put in to keep young Tamesiders learning. In addition to all of those pupils who have been learning from home, every school in the borough has remained open during this national lockdown to all children eligible for a place. Meanwhile to combat the scourge of holiday hunger, supermarket vouchers have been provided to families eligible for benefits-related free school meals.
I’d also like to thank Cllr Leanne Feeley and her team at the Council, who have been working closely with schools throughout the crisis, including on planning a safe and sensible reopening of schools. This sort of long-term strategic thinking will be absolutely essential in addressing the many issues that will emerge from this long period of disruption in education.
I know that both the Council and our schools and colleges are putting children right at the centre of their thinking, and I hope that this is supported by the Government. Too often in this crisis, we have seen the Government rush and blunder, and our children cannot afford more of the same. Instead, I’d like to see them produce a strategy – in collaboration with schools – for exactly how reopening will work.
But we also need to look beyond reopening. Unfortunately, this crisis has seen some children left behind and we urgently need a long-term plan for how we support them to catch up.