Teachers and school teams are doing a phenomenal job, and I know that digital poverty is a real worry for them, as well as for families across Tooting. Early on in the pandemic, Labour called for a set of measures that would see a mass roll-out of devices and internet access to students currently struggling to learn online, alongside steps such as ‘zero-rating’ of educational websites to ensure data charges are not putting barriers on access to education during lockdown.
The digital divide risks failing a generation. I am so pleased to have been able to help close this gap.
Throughout the ongoing pandemic I have been inundated with emails from parents, school staff, students, and residents alike who have taken the time to outline their views on school closures. Some are concerned about safety, with many teachers and students facing the very real and grave possibility of bringing the virus home to vulnerable family members. Some are concerned about the impact a further lockdown could have on children's wellbeing and their education. And some are concerned about the challenges school closures will cause for working families.
As I am sure you will agree, the current situation is incredibly serious. This virus is spreading exponentially across the country, many people are in hospital, and too many people are tragically losing their loved ones.
We know how difficult another lockdown will be, but I believe that national measures are necessary.
As the Shadow Minister for Mental Health and a working mother, it is safe to say the impact of extended school closures on children’s well-being and working families cannot be overstated. This is why Labour called on Government to do everything possible to avoid it.
Boris Johnson must immediately set out clear plans for every child to return safely to school as soon as possible - and be honest with parents about the timetable for this.
It is also critical that young people’s education is safeguarded throughout this period of remote learning, and every student must have access to the devices they need to learn. Schools and families can request free mobile data increases for students without broadband or who cannot afford extra data for devices. More information on this scheme can be found here: get-help-with-tech.education.gov.uk/about-increasing-mobile-data.
It is vital the Government prevent disadvantaged families being priced out of education.
As many families will agree, working parents face huge challenges in balancing work, childcare, and supporting their child’s education. They must have the support they need to do this. Nobody should have to choose between their job and supporting their children, so the Government - and employers - must clearly promote the use of the job retention scheme for those unable to work due to family commitments.
Please rest assured that myself and Labour Party colleagues will continue to hold the Government to account on these issues as we all navigate the ongoing pandemic.