Supporting our schools

The Government continues to trail the prospect of stricter measures, on a day that the Health Secretary has questioned the tier system. Meanwhile, case numbers continue to grow.

We need to get beyond the habit of last-minute announcements that keep those outside of Westminster guessing right up until the point the latest position is revealed, then rushing to work out what they mean. I recognise that it is difficult for Government, but current practice adds to uncertainty and risks undermining public trust and, therefore, efforts to tackle the spread of covid-19. We need inclusive and decisive national leadership.

With new daily cases at a record high in the UK, we understand concerns about safety including those of teaching unions about schools. We know schools are educational establishments but must also recognise that for teachers and staff they are places of work that, like all other places of work, must be safe.

Bristol’s schools have worked hard to implement covid-safe measures so that children can learn and our teachers can teach in a safe environment. Secondary schools remain closed to most pupils for at least another week, adding to the confusion and frustration for parents of primary school-age children. While it is right that vulnerable children and children of keyworkers continue to receive additional support, as during the first lockdown, we cannot afford to begin this year with more of the uncertainty which too often characterised the previous one. Working parents should not be finding out only on the morning of the first day of a new term that their child’s school is not opening as expected, and of course I back the TUC’s call for furlough for parents of children who cannot attend school.  

Our heads and teachers remain best placed to judge what’s best for their schools and have our continued support in making those decisions. Today, during calls with head teachers and teaching unions, I have reiterated that support and emphasised the need for us all to work together to support Bristol’s children and for clear communication with parents and carers. Government must join us in our efforts to engage with the union representatives of heads, teachers, and other school staff in making decisions for education settings, preparing for exams, back-to-school plans, planning for a post-covid educational recovery. 

Schools are unquestionably the best place for children to learn. With domestic violence and abuse sadly on the rise since March, school is also safer than home for increasing numbers of children. The pandemic has highlighted and deepened existing inequalities, including in education – which still remains the surest route out of poverty and toward opportunity. The impact of further school closures will immediately be felt by families and, for too many of Bristol’s children and young people, risks being felt not just this year but for many more into the future.

We need the city to come together to support teachers and children. Where schools are not able to be safe places for all children with full classrooms, we must ensure that online teaching is an option as is supported to be as effective as possible, as part of the solution for our children. We must ensure that support structures are in place for vulnerable children and communities with food and other invaluable support. We need Government to work with parents, teachers, unions, and councils to mitigate the worst consequences of the pandemic and invest in our plans for educational recovery.