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Thank you to our local schools, let down by government

January 11, 2021 2:05 PM
By David Banks

St Peters schoolWe are a year into the pandemic and it is really important to pay tribute to the staff in our schools here in the south of Buckinghamshire. Those with whom I have had contact are immensely brave, because they know that schools have not been as safe as the Prime Minister claims. I am very proud of the school community with which I am associated. In my professional life, I have never seen such dedication, or good humour in the face of exhaustion, with so many going so far above and beyond expectation for our children. I find their ability to pack away their own anxiety very moving. The staff rarely show any signs of the massive stress they are under. They cannot stay home safe from the virus.

The BBC keep referring to school closures but there are no closures. Since the pandemic began schools have been open to key worker and vulnerable children both in term time and in the holiday. They have also been providing online teaching to those at home. You all heard the Prime Minister promise laptop provision, and you might have assumed that this would lead to a significant delivery on that promise but it did not. In my community, the schools received 2 laptops and they were allocated to particular children, leaving the rest without. It was a pathetic response when we really needed help. This led to a plea to the community for lap tops, and schools were doing the same right across the county and beyond. We were fortunate to have an incredibly benevolent community trying to cobble together as many laptops as we could through the first, second and third lock downs. So many families are reliant on one machine or a smart phone in their house, and the last thing we want to see is the gap grow between those who have and those who do not.

Huge numbers of families struggle to have good internet access, or to afford the data downloads as the schools laudably upgrade their on line learning. Research shows the psychological impact on children who know, living in relatively affluent areas, that they are different, that they are poor. It can be a greater challenge for those children to close the gap with their classmates than it is for underprivileged children in poorer communities. It was the community who helped, and continue to help, not the empty sound bites of the Prime Minister. Even our own MP Joy Morrisey has not supported the upgrading of fibre optic cable in Farnham Royal where so many suffer terrible on line connections for working from home, including many of the children trying to be in touch with their teachers.

The SEND provision in the County was already straining before the pandemic and schools feeling that central support could be greatly improved, looking enviously across the border at the services in Berkshire. Even the form filling is easier in Berkshire. The extreme shortage of speech therapists and education psychologists was bad before last March and a year on it is far worse now. The specialist teachers have gone on, bravely teaching in proximity to children because that's the way children with special needs need support. It is hard, impossible even, to get these children to distance and SENCo's did fall ill to the virus. Few of the special need children thrive on the remote means of teaching available in this lockdown. There is grave concern for these children across the county, despite the efforts of the SENDCo's who are doing all they can to help them progress.

Last week we had Gavin Williamson ask parents to complain to Ofsted if their school was not providing the education they expect in this third lockdown. This conveys this Government's attitude to hard working teachers. It shows the lack of empathy or understanding to the poor response from Boris Johnson's team which has let our schools down. Parents seemed to agree with me. Ofsted has been inundated with praise for the school and had to take its contact details offline for a time.

I marvel at the county's education professionals, who have been extraordinary this year. If only the Government had been extraordinary too.