Remote Education and Free School Meals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:39 pm on 18th January 2021.

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Photo of Feryal Clark Feryal Clark Labour, Enfield North 8:39 pm, 18th January 2021

The challenges currently facing teachers, school support staff and childcare providers are daunting. Our teachers and education professionals in Enfield North have worked tirelessly, and for that I wish to thank each and every one of them. However, they have been trying to deliver world-class learning with one hand tied behind their backs. The lack of support from the Government has piled pressure on to families, who are struggling to juggle childcare, education provision and their jobs.

Labour’s motion calls for action now to alleviate the pressure on families by guaranteeing that children receive the full value of free school meals support, including in school holidays, and for a date to be set by which every pupil will have the equipment needed to learn remotely. We are not asking for the earth. We simply call on the Government to act swiftly and with compassion. It has been nearly a year since the pandemic began, yet we still see a Government chasing their own tail; a Government whose indecisiveness and lack of compassion have undermined public confidence in their capacity to act in the public interest.

The pictures we have seen of supposed free school meals being opened by families have incensed a nation. They not only demonstrate how the Government’s own rules are providing inadequate food to children but raise serious questions about how taxpayers’ money is being misspent by the Chancellor. It should concern us all that contracts continued to be agreed that happily swap £15 of Government funding for £7-worth of food. In Enfield North, almost 5,000 pupils are eligible for free school meals. Each one of those children has talent, skills and knowledge waiting to be unleashed, but they are being held back by a flailing Government that have had nearly a year to correct their own errors.

Families are also living with the consequences of under-resourced schools. The Government pledged to provide 1.3 million laptops, yet 600,000—the equivalent of more than 600 secondary schools full of children—have not been delivered. Sadly, things are no different in my constituency, where hundreds of children are still without a laptop. Kingsmead School still requires 100 laptops. Enfield County School for Girls requires 212. Lee Valley Academy still needs in excess of 120. I could go on. Each missing device represents a child being held back. Each empty plate represents a family deciding whether to put the heating on or to buy food. What remains constant under this Government is that families are being left behind due to incompetence and dithering.