MP COLUMN: It is imperative that schools reopen in September

Last Wednesday, the Chancellor unveiled a Plan for Jobs in order to support the UK’s economic recovery, whilst continuing to prioritise the health of individuals. 

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of thousands of jobs in Kent, as well as right across the country, have been supported through a range of Government-backed schemes. For context on the sheer scale of the challenge, almost 10,400 people have been furloughed across the Sevenoaks constituency. Linked to this, 3,700 claims have been made for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, at a total value of £12,400,000. This support has been critical for so many but given the progress we have made with the virus, it is right that we now try to restart the economy again.

To achieve this, it will be crucial that children are able to go back to school.

The last four months have been some of the most challenging in our history. Teachers have been effectively running three schools all at once: face-to-face classes, online education and additional support for disadvantaged and vulnerable children. Parents and families have become teachers, while equally juggling their own careers. Children have sacrificed their social interactions with their friends and had to adjust to a new routine.

Sadly, we know that fewer than 30% of children in the UK have been able to engage properly with online education despite all this work. Some families only have one laptop between them, some children are trying to do homework on their smartphones, and many more struggle to engage with online learning for their own reasons.

Therefore, it is imperative that schools reopen in September both to allow parents to go back to work and for children to continue learning.

Nothing can replace being in the classroom, and we must make sure all pupils can return so they can be given the opportunity to thrive and fulfil their potential. There are many concerns about safety – of course I understand that. But the evidence both from the UK and internationally shows that children returning to school is safe for them and for teachers.

There will be many challenges to close the education gap that has emerged during the pandemic. Last month, the Education Secretary rightly announced a £1 billion COVID catch up package to help tackle the impact of lost teaching time and there are also wonderful programmes being run locally across Kent. The Invicta Summer Academy will be delivering over 200 online and interactive English and Maths lessons from 27th July -28th August 2020, spanning from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 4. This is a remarkable programme, and if you know a child who could benefit, or are a teacher who wishes to volunteer, I urge you to visit www.invictaacademy.com/ to find out more. Lost teaching time cannot be rectified overnight, and there is no silver bullet, but initiatives like this will certainly help.

By pulling together we have been able to control the spread of the virus and save lives.

Now we must look to our schools to help parents return to work and young minds to learn.

In rebuilding our economy and restarting education we are protecting the lives of the generations to come.