Remote Education and Free School Meals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:31 pm on 18th January 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw 9:31 pm, 18th January 2021

One thing we have learned with this virus is that sometimes drastic steps have to be taken at very short notice. I know from personal experience that nothing can be a substitute for in-person teaching, but I also know that we have a profession committed to doing its best to make sure it can offer as near an experience to that as possible. Schools of course have never been closed. Our schools have stayed open throughout to support the children of critical workers and our must vulnerable pupils. Our teachers are doing an incredible job, sometimes having to balance both virtual and physical teaching simultaneously. I also want to say thank you to all the other staff working at schools, who are sometimes forgotten.

That is why I am delighted that this Government have helped to provide extra support for remote learning—be it laptops or routers going out to those in need, the work we have done with mobile phone companies on data allowances or the excellent resources on Oak National Academy. We have provided a £400 million package to support children and their families, including the £170 million covid winter grant scheme to help with food and bills. To spread this money too thinly would be a mistake, and it is absolutely right that we use that to target those most in need.

We have also increased spending on school meals to £15 per child. It is a shame, then, that some have misrepresented free school lunches as meals for the entire day or, indeed, for the entire family; they are not. However, the support is there for those who genuinely need help. We have been clear in our guidance throughout about what we expect to be in food parcels. When school contractors do not provide that, it is right that they are pulled up and challenged.

Opposition days should be a chance to have a healthy debate, not an exercise in generating fake news and misrepresenting parliamentary votes by the likes of The London Economic or TheyWorkForYou. We have seen some disgraceful abuse of colleagues, particularly female colleagues, and attacks on their offices. Last week, somebody even threatened to cut the brakes on my car because they did not like my last speech in an Opposition day debate. Unfortunately, Opposition day debates are fast becoming to effective scrutiny and democratic engagement what “Mrs Brown’s Boys” is to quality television and comedy.