Mercury Column - September 2020

It is an exciting time returning to school after the summer holidays. Even more so if you are heading to a new school. All these years afterwards I still remember that peculiar mix of excitement and nerves. So, spare a thought for all the children heading back to schools across Great Yarmouth. They return to school after an extended period of absence because of our coronavirus response and will be adjusting to a very different school day. Students will face staggered break times, increased hygiene and handwashing, and teaching in bubble groups.

I know that school staff across the constituency have been working tirelessly over the summer months to ensure all pupils can safely return as they open their doors this week. I have visited schools to see their preparations and I am hugely impressed with how carefully they have followed all the available public health guidance.

We have a duty to get children back into school to learn and be with their friends once again. Nothing will have a greater effect on their life chances than returning to school. The Chief Medical Officer has warned, the risk of contracting Covid-19 in school is very small and it is far more damaging for a child’s development, their health and wellbeing to be away from school for any longer. Teachers agree that prolonged absence from school will have a disproportionate impact on those children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We cannot risk a widening in the attainment gap.

That is why I am delighted the government is pumping an extra £1 billion into the school system as part of a Covid catch-up plan to help make up for lost teaching time. This funding will help headteachers provide extra support to children who have fallen behind, allowing them to decide how to spend the funding where it will make the biggest difference. It also includes funding for extra high-quality tuition for the most disadvantaged children, which will help narrow the education attainment gap. There is also money to help boost early language skills for the youngest children impacted by the pandemic.

Good luck to every pupil returning to school and a big thank you to all staff who are working so hard in our schools in the most challenging circumstances.