Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been accused of putting UK children’s basic right to an education at risk last week, as the nation keenly awaits a new plan for schools to reopen.
Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, warned that there was a “very dangerous” threat to the historic right to guaranteed education, in light of news that not all schools may reopen before the end of the summer term.
She went on to explain that next year’s academic year could be seriously affected and that reduced access to education was starting to become “the default” for some schools. She added that the right to an education is one of the UN’s basic rights of the child.
“It has taken 200 years of campaigning to get children out of the workplace and into the classroom,” she told the Observer. “We seemed for the first time to be prepared to let that start to go into reverse. And I think that is a very, very dangerous place to be.”
She also added: “We heard from the Prime Minister in April that education was one of the top three priorities for easing lockdown, but it seems to have been given up on quite easily.”
Government under pressure to enable students to catch up
The prime minister has been under increasing pressure to unveil a new education plan similar in scale to the construction of the Nightinghale hospitals and the furlough scheme for workers.
According to a recent Opinium poll from the Observer, approval of the government’s handling of the coronavirus has reached a new low of four points, reaching an overall approval rate of -18 for its handling of the pandemic.
Robert Halfon, the Tory chair of the education select committee, has written to the prime minister asking for a ‘catch-up premium’ and a summer tutoring programme, costing £560m per subject, for every student receiving free school meals.
In his letter, he warned that the “life chances of thousands of children” were at risk without action. He also said,”We could create a national education army of volunteers,” and that he supported a big expansion of televised teaching.
Last week, The Observer revealed that the majority of headteachers had yet to receive a single laptop promised by the education secretary Gavin Williamson, for disadvantaged year 10 students. Labour MPs are presenting a bill that will call for 1.3 million poorer children to be given internet access and a laptop to help tackle the attainment gap.
Children’s education predicted to be disrupted next year
”[The PM] appreciates the consequences of months out of school, and this package will be focused on providing extended support for children.”No. 10 Spokesperson
Ministers recently showed their frustrations at being forced to abandon their plans to reopen primary schools before the summer. More children, included secondary students, have returned to school this week, but only if their school was able to accommodate them.
A source from No. 10 said last week: “The PM is acutely aware that school closures will have a disproportionate impact on all children, and particularly the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. He appreciates the consequences of months out of school, and this package will be focused on providing extended support for children.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said a full return in September was impossible unless the maximum class sizes were increased.
“It’s hard to see that from September you can have business as usual, whatever the stated ambition,” he said.
Meanwhile Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASWT teachers’ union said: “The education of children has been seriously disrupted and will continue to be disrupted next year, so the idea that they can catch up in six weeks is not logical.”