Thank you to everyone who has contacted me to share their concerns about school closures.
The situation has moved on very quickly in recent days and you will be aware that schools across London are now closed until at least 18th January.
Whilst I welcome the Government’s u-turn on this, ministers have handled the situation very badly. I was dismayed to see that Lewisham was absent from the initial list of closures when most of our neighbouring boroughs were included. We have sadly seen a large increase in COVID-19 cases in the area in recent weeks and it made no sense that we should be excluded.
I have received many emails since the initial announcement last Thursday and am very aware that the delay caused a huge amount of stress and concern for school staff, parents, carers and pupils. This was wholly unacceptable and unnecessary.
As soon as the list was published, I joined MPs from other excluded London boroughs in writing to Gavin Williamson (Secretary of State for Education) to seek an explanation. You can read our letter here: https://www.vickyfoxcroft.org.uk/policy-response/2020/12/31/school-closures-letter-to-gavin-williamson/
I was also in close contact with Lewisham Council, who urgently contacted the Secretary of State themselves and in conjunction with other concerned local authorities. These representations included questions about how the Government intends to ensure that children in areas where schools close are not discriminated against in a way that affects their life chances and how decisions about reopening schools will be made.
It is vital that my Labour colleagues and I now work with the Government to ensure that children’s education stays on track. We know that many do not have access to the technology required for effective home learning and that very few of the laptops promised during the initial lockdown have ever made their way to schools. We also know that many pupils live in less than ideal circumstances and that wider issues such as inadequate housing, poverty and domestic violence can have a hugely adverse impact on both their ability to learn and their safety.
Working parents will also need support over the coming weeks. Our Shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday, asking him to urgently update guidance to make it clear that employees can be furloughed for childcare reasons, to ensure absolute clarity around which children can continue to attend school and to create a strategy to help parents who have lost their jobs re-enter the work force. You can read her letter in full here: https://twitter.com/AnnelieseDodds/status/1346037860470808576
More widely, my Labour colleagues and I are calling for the Prime Minister to introduce further national restrictions. The vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel, but we need an urgent national effort to get the virus under control once again and to protect our NHS. That is the best way to secure our economy, protect jobs and health in the long run.