I am pleased to be able to make a contribution to this debate on current educational issues. I should like to begin by praising teachers in my constituency and across the whole of the borough of Bexley, who have continued to work hard and professionally during this pandemic. Teaching today is more challenging than ever before, and certainly more so than when I was a teacher and lecturer in the past. We also need to praise the support staff in our schools.
The past year has been very difficult for everyone, and the Government have had to adapt their approach to the changing situation. The Government have been correct in their approach of making the education and welfare of our young people a top priority. Children need to learn and to socialise and to be in school when it is safe to be so. Parents, too, must be praised for rising to the challenges of combining work, home life and helping their children with virtual and remote school learning. There are real concerns about school closures, including mental health issues and the inadequate free school meal boxes. However, I want to concentrate on the issue of learning and studying at home during the pandemic.
Despite the totally unprecedented situation we have all faced since the start of the pandemic, the Government have worked tirelessly to ensure that every child has access to the world-class education they deserve, including by strengthening the minimum standards for remote learning and introducing binding requirements for schools to deliver high-quality remote education. Schools are now expected to provide between three and five hours of teaching a day, depending on a child’s age. Remote education provision is much better than it was a year ago, and we praise the Government for the money, the laptops and all the things they have done to make sure that schools can carry on with remote learning for our children.
A lack of internet connectivity is another significant barrier. As part of the continued efforts to support disadvantaged children through the get help with technology programme, the Government have partnered with the UK’s leading mobile phone operators to provide free data to those students without internet access, as well as delivering 54,000 4G routers to schools and colleges.
While the Government have strived to keep schools open, it is regrettable but necessary that they recently had to close them because of the pandemic. I have some concerns, as we all do, about remote learning, including the lack of physical and social interaction, the possibilities of experiencing technical difficulties and the effects of increased screen time. Education is very important for improving social mobility. It helps shape our young people’s futures and gives them opportunity. A good education provides the knowledge and skills required to succeed. I am a big supporter of social mobility for disadvantaged young people; it is absolutely essential.