Remote Education and Free School Meals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:24 pm on 18th January 2021.

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Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Conservative, Kingswood 8:24 pm, 18th January 2021

I would like to focus my remarks specifically on remote and online learning.

I would like to express my incredible admiration for all teachers who have managed to turn around at such fast pace and such short notice a fantastic programme of online support. I am the father of a six-year-old girl, a four-year-old son, and, in addition, a 14-month-old baby screaming in the background. I have just managed to wrestle this laptop away from their learning today. The level of support in what I have seen has been wonderful. Regardless of my ability to have access to a laptop, a number of people who are both working parents struggle to provide these three hours. I hold my hand up and say that I struggle to do the home schooling to the best of what I would like to be my ability. After this pandemic has ceased, we will need a national education recovery plan to look at all children’s ability and see where they need to recover. That covers not just the disadvantaged but every single pupil who will have fallen behind on the track. I know that my children are not receiving the experience that they deserve with being present in school, but I would never think to suggest that the money that is being invested in schools should be returned for not providing that level of support, because what they are providing digitally is the best they can do in difficult circumstances. I am sure that that view is shared by millions of parents across the country.

Why, then, should it be any different for other learning arenas—in particular, our universities? Thousands of lecturers have gone above and beyond to provide additional online resourcing materials, and yet these lecturers, who are sometimes paid less than primary school teachers, are supposedly providing an inferior service. The other day, one Labour MP talked about degrees being conducted by Zoom as if that was some kind of substandard process. It is not. Universities have invested more money than ever before in online procedures in just the same way that schools have. It costs more to provide online resources at university. To suggest that there should be a reduction in the fees level would simply lead to increased redundancies in universities. We need our universities, just as we need our schools, to be there to help students to recover when this pandemic ends. It is right, therefore, to support all educational settings and to fight for the fact that we need them for the future and must not put any of them under particular under attack.