In response to Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson’s announcement of the Government’s £1 billion ‘catch-up fund’ for school pupils in England, Mayor Dan Jarvis said:
“Millions of children across the UK have now been away from their classrooms for more than three months. Whilst non-essential shops and zoos begin to re-open, most of our children remain at home. For all children, time away from the classroom has a damaging impact on their learning and development. For children from our most deprived communities, the impact can be especially profound.
“Our over-riding consideration must be for the safety of our children and effectively fighting this pandemic. But within that constraint, the government must put every bit as much energy into getting children back to school as it is doing to restart the economy. And it must act with as much urgency to soften the consequences of disruption to them as to our businesses.
I welcome the commitment to all pupils returning to the classroom in September, but action is needed now to prevent the attainment gap between our most privileged children and our poorest children widening even further. Without prompt action from the Government, a generation of children may never reach their full potential.
“This week the Government made a welcome U-turn on summer holiday food vouchers for the poorest children following pressure from footballer Marcus Rashford. Millions of children in the country will now be fed over the school holidays, including more than 41,000 children who receive free school meals in South Yorkshire.
“The Government must now ensure schools receive the funding and resources they need not just to feed but to educate those children most in need. Schools need clarity on when they will receive funding to enable them to develop and deliver catch up plans for children. And if part of the plan is to provide ongoing online lessons and tutoring, we must ensure that all children are able to access them with adequate equipment and internet provision.
“As we begin to recover from the largest public health crisis we have seen in generations, action must be taken to avoid a crisis in education. In the longer term, the Government needs a strategy to continue to support children who have fallen behind. The impact of time away from the classroom will be felt by children for many months to come and schools must be fully equipped to support their pupils.
“As part of my Economic Recovery Plan for South Yorkshire I will be focusing on what help we can provide schools and other educational establishments to support learners. And during this crisis I’ve been working to close the ‘digital divide’, to improve access to remote learning for students in South Yorkshire. I ask the government to do their part so this generation do not pay a lasting price for the disruption this pandemic has caused.”