Covid remains the key focus for us all. At the time of writing whilst our level of new infections is very low compared to other regions in the country, it is the highest in West Sussex and is rising. This is concerning and as we know, an increase in cases leads to increased hospital admissions and, sadly, an increased number of deaths.
One of the fundamental aspects of the Government’s response is to do all we can to keep schools open and our young people learning. I know it has been a difficult time for teaching staff and students who have, over the past 6 months, had to adapt to new ways of learning. I am very proud of our schools and students, for their resilience and initiative.
Many of our schools did an excellent job in providing online and remote learning but Covid-19 has still caused massive disruption to learning and the impact has differentially effected students. To reflect this, schools are benefitting from a £1 billion ‘catch-up’ package for the 2020/21 academic year. This includes a ‘Catch-Up Premium’ worth £650m to support schools to make up for lost teaching time for all pupils, and a new £350m tutoring fund for disadvantaged pupils.
I spoke last week by zoom to Tanbridge House students, where the staff kicked off the programme by providing a focussed three extra days tuition where that’s required, before term resumed.
Assistance is not just for the cohort of exam students, primary schools are also making use of the “catch-up” fund. Kingslea for example are offering their students an extra 30 minutes of teaching, three times a week, with their class teachers from November to June under the banner “Stay Late, We’ll Educate”.
There will, despite the best efforts taken by our schools to reopen safely, be instances where school bubbles are asked to stay at home. However I have been very impressed by the one school where this has happened, to date, inside my constituency: due the precautions taken only one “bubble” (Reception) has had to be suspended, the classroom has already been deep cleaned and staff have already switched to providing on line learning while pupils self isolate.
We all know that the consequences of Covid are deep and far reaching. The apparent attractions of inviting curtains cohorts of people to isolate (there would be millions) while other carry on as usual I fear do not recognise the reality of how interconnected we are as a society – as the Chief Medical Officer has made clear the only way to prevent increases in cases and risk consequent impacts on the NHS is by us all taking precautions.
In doing so effectively we are allowing critical elements of society to keep on functioning – one such is our schools. Covid is placing a huge added burden on staff and pupils but it is absolute critical that we continue to invest in and support the next generation.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Quin was delighted to visit recently Pear Tree Farm, Billingshurst. Their popular outside nursery “Natural Nurture” is up and running with “Wellies to Work” also soon to resume. The team have developed an app to support wellbeing and mental health which they are hoping to launch imminently.