Remote Education and Free School Meals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:24 pm on 18th January 2021.

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Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 9:24 pm, 18th January 2021

First, I pay tribute to teachers, as well as those at my local authority, Calderdale Council, working alongside them to support children, their wellbeing and their education at home and in the classroom. Schools throughout this difficult period have been beacons of resilience and innovation, and I am in awe of the personal contribution that teachers have made to this national effort.

Teachers do a really good impression of superheroes, but they are human beings, and they cannot perform magic tricks, nor can they create more hours in the day. Asked to respond to testing announcements on the last day of term, heads were notified at 8 pm that schools would close to some children from the very next day. They will make happen what needs to happen, but I urge the Government simply to respect what is humanly possible when introducing changes and the timeframes in which they expect those changes to be delivered.

I have been delighted to see brilliant local teachers from Halifax, including Matt Perry, Gugsy Ahmed and Mungo Sheppard, on local and national news outlining the challenges they have been faced with and their constructive asks on behalf of the kids to whom they dedicate their lives. Their biggest challenge has been securing equipment for children who do not have it, as so many other Members have already said, to allow learning to continue remotely. Just one secondary school in Halifax, in a ward where a third of children aged nought to 15 live in income-deprived households, has been unable to secure the 171 further laptops it needs to equip just those children on pupil premium with a laptop or tablet from the Department for Education, and the picture is not dissimilar right across the borough.

I take this opportunity to thank the Community Foundation for Calderdale and Calderdale Council, which together have launched the “Laptops for Learning” campaign today, which follows the success of their much-needed “Never Hungry Again” campaign. They are stepping in to fundraise for laptops, in addition to ensuring that children are not going hungry throughout this period. What do towns do when they have not got a community foundation? Ours has supported Calderdale through so much, alongside a council that goes over and above to do whatever it needs to for our families and their children. This Government need to understand that they are failing children on both those fronts.

The final point that I will have time to make this evening is that a school today told me that because of the private finance initiative arrangements on its school building, which only opened in 2016, Interserve, which has the ongoing catering contract as part of that arrangement, has notified the school to expect a loss of earnings bill for between £30,000 and £50,000 due to the lack of children coming through its canteen to buy lunch. That is outrageous, and I anticipate this problem is about to creep up on schools across the country. In closing, I very much hope the Minister will join me in calling on those companies to rule out such grossly unfair bills for our schools.