Over the course of the Autumn term, Medway students have been repeatedly failed by the Conservative administration at both a local and national level.
According to the Office of National Statistics, school attendance in Medway by the end of the autumn term sat at 53%. Whilst almost half of our young people missing school is a shocking figure, it is more than predictable. Every secondary school and over a third of primary schools in our community have experienced positive Covid cases within the student and teacher populations, forcing large groups to self-isolate.
The result has meant that despite the best efforts of our brilliant schools, the ability to deliver teaching in a consistent and effective way for all pupils simply has been almost impossible.
This situation has been escalating for weeks, with the Medway Labour and Co-operative Group first urging for a ‘circuit break’ in our schools back in November, advocating for a move to home learning for the majority of pupils in order to reduce community transmission and ensure consistent learning for students.
Children and Young People Spokesperson Cllr Clive Johnson wrote twice to the South East Regional Commissioner and the Conservative Portfolio Holders on Medway Council to urge reconsideration. Since then, cases have continued to rise, and significantly more pupils have been forced to isolate.
Only last week the Government announced examination arrangements for Summer 2021, a move that was criticised by teaching unions as too little too late. The plans unveiled by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed examinations would not be cancelled, and students would be given advanced notice of topics which would be covered. Unfortunately given the late stage in the academic year, this announcement serves only to intensify disparities in learning across the country. Schools across the country have faced varying levels of disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with areas like Medway dealing with significant staff and teacher isolation absences.
Finally lack of clarity surrounding school testing sets only to exacerbate student and parent anxieties around education. Whilst there is a national move towards lateral flow testing in all secondary schools and colleges, testing in Medway secondaries has thus far been far more sporadic with little consistent information on the roll-out of testing.
Cllr Clive Johnson, Medway Labour and Co-operative Group’s Spokesperson for Children and Young People said that, ‘The continuing refusal to take action on the part of the Conservative local council and national government is damaging the education and welfare of our young people.
‘It is simply not good enough to suggest that this is an unpredictable situation any more – Medway has had some of the highest infection rates in the country for weeks, and this low level of attendance is undeniably damaging to the education of our young people.
‘This is only set to be exacerbated by examination arrangements which do not take into account disparities in the impact of Covid across areas, particularly given the late date in the academic year they were announced.
‘Yet again, the Conservative approach both locally and nationally appears to be one of inaction and disregard for the growing inequality caused by the pandemic.’
Cllr Vince Maple, Leader of the Medway Labour and Co-operative Group added, ‘The picture across the board is a lack of Conservative competency. Locally, the Medway Conservatives have continued to show a disconnect with our community, shown by Council Leader Alan Jarrett insisting that Medway had not lost control of the virus – despite our area having some of the highest infection rates in the country.
‘This refusal to accept that action needs to be taken is damaging to our community. This week, there was no mention of Covid on the agenda of either the Cabinet or Full Council meetings – despite my request to the Council. Ignoring the most pressing issue we have faced as a community is not leadership.’