Children in a playground
Children in a playground

Cllr Ed Davie is the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People and a councillor in Thornton ward. 

Lambeth’s education workers, including teachers, and families with school-aged children have responded brilliantly to this crisis. Children and their carers have had to take responsibility for learning at home whilst teachers and other school staff have adapted how they support their pupils.

The council and communities have stepped up by providing additional support to families through the Hub, children’s centres, social workers and fundraising efforts to buy lap-tops and other materials.

As a parent myself, struggling to work and home educate two children, who miss their friends and teachers, I desperately want them to go back to school. But this cannot be done in a way that puts them, their classmates, other family members and the school staff in danger.

It has become apparent from the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday that the government had unilaterally taken the decision to reopen primary schools on June 1 without any consensus on how to do this safely.

Subsequently, the Department for Education’s (DfE) own Chief Scientific Adviser, Osama Rahman, told MPs that the decision to reopen schools was not taken by the DfE and that he had not made an assessment of how effectively the new government guidance on schools can be implemented.

Not only had the DfE not been properly involved but nor were parents, teachers and their representatives in councils and unions.

Having had conversations with parents, teachers and the latter’s main union, the NEU, I have decided that Lambeth Council should be on the side of families and school staff by only supporting the reopening schools if various tests have been met.

The government needs to work with families, schools and their council and union representatives to develop a workable plan rather than set an arbitrary date that is impossible to meet safely. Having contacted other parents, as well as teachers and their unions, we are clear that the council will stand up for the interests of families and school staff.

Lambeth Labour have submitted a Motion to the next meeting of the Full Council calling for a number of measures to ensure safety and support children in the current circumstances and beyond. This motion will call on government to:

  • Work with the trade union representatives of teachers and education workers to ensure that schools can return safely, including the need to meet the tests set out by the trade unions including the National Education Union that include clear scientific evidence, the need for a full rollout of the “test, trace and isolate” policy, enhanced school cleaning and quantifiable agreed standards on PPE and social distancing.
  • A nationally funded recovery strategy that truly ‘levels up’ our most disadvantaged children in line with the Child Poverty Action Group’s proposals for extended schools, universal free school meals, higher child benefit and reform of universal credit, among other measures.
  • Recognition that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic children often face additional barriers to fulfilling their potential. Assessments replacing exams must account for and correct bias and further research and investment into schemes like Raising the Game needs to take place.

Families, schools and other experts must be properly consulted to ensure schools reopen safely. Government should be reaching out and looking to build consensus with the safety of children, parents, carers, and staff being put first.

Cllr Ed Davie

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