Remote Education and Free School Meals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:46 pm on 18th January 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 8:46 pm, 18th January 2021

May I just say that I do not want to turn this into a typical debate where we blame the Government for everything? We have a covid crisis that has shaken everyone’s lives. We have much higher unemployment than usual and many families are struggling, but the fact is that we know that the Government have shown less than the surest touch in many of the educational challenges that we have had over this last year.

However, to put that to one side, may I make a plea tonight to trust parents? I listen to a lot of parents. I happen to have three daughters, a son and 12 grandchildren, so it is easy to do that, but I also do it rigorously in my constituency all the time. The fact is that parents would prefer to have cash rather than any other kind of package of food. We all know that that leads to a divided society, with some kids thinking that they are lesser than their equals.

Trust parents on home schooling. Home schooling can be very good and it can be very patchy indeed. My experience and knowledge is that using technology is difficult if someone is a teacher. I am a pioneer tutor in the Open University. We thought we could do it all with computers, television screens and all that, but we could not. Teachers have to be trained to use the technology. University teachers have to be trained for something they never anticipated—teaching online. It is a highly difficult skill to learn.

I am sorry that the Government took so long to get in touch with the Open University and enable it to use all its resources, knowledge and experience to help teachers and lecturers up and down the country. That being said, let us also trust teachers themselves. I have seen the best example of teachers who phone every five-year-old in the class every week. That is wonderful—their experience, showing every way of reaching out to children. I believe that that is what we must encourage—every school learning to learn again—because we will have this situation for much longer. So well done, parents; you have gone through a hell of a lot. Well done, teachers. And well done, colleges of further education, which are so often neglected. It is not just about computers—it is about people.