Medway Labour and Co-operative Group welcomed the national move to online learning last week as part of new lockdown restrictions, noting the Government’s delayed response after months of dither and delay, characteristic of the Conservative mismanagement of the pandemic.

Medway Labour Group first called for schools to move to online learning in November with appropriate provision for the children of key workers and for vulnerable children, when it became clear that school sites were strong vectors for community transmission. The health and welfare of both students and school staff were also key issues, leading to high absence rates of pupils and teachers because of alarmingly high infection rates and the need to self-isolate. The government’s confusion and catastrophic delay in taking action, undoubtedly increased the spread of community transmission and added considerably to the pressures on schools, school leaders and struggling families.

In December, Medway Labour and Co-operative Group raised concerns about the plans for 2021 examinations, announced too late in the academic term and with no account for the disparities in disruption of student’s learning experiences across the country. Given that Medway saw some of the highest infection rates across the country towards the end of last year, our students suffered considerable disruption to learning due the need for periods of self-isolation amongst pupil and teacher populations. Yet again, the Government’s chaotic messages and unacceptable delay in taking decisive action and replacing summer exams with moderated teacher assessment has simply added to the stress on our young people who have already suffered so much over the past year.

Finally the Government took the decision not to cancel BTEC examinations due to take place this month, in favour of passing the decision to schools and colleges. This signals further confusion for students and institutions alike, in the absence of coherent policy.

Medway Labour and Co-operative Group Deputy Spokesperson for Children and Young People, Cllr Clive Johnson said that, ‘Time and time again this Government is treating our students and teachers with contempt. Decisions are made unnecessarily late in the day causing avoidable stress on pupils and teachers, and unfortunately this prolonged inaction followed by rushed, unclear policy announcements is simply reflective of the inadequate Government response to the pandemic.

‘We called for schools sites to be closed in favour of online learning almost two months ago – and since then community transmission rates have continued to rise.

‘This chaotic situation was not only avoidable, but we owe more to our young people and teachers.’

Medway Labour and Co-operative Group Leader Cllr Vince Maple added, ‘As we established two months ago, online learning is the right course of action in order to reduce community transmission of the virus, and ensure students across the country have a fair learning experience this year.

‘I welcome the Government finally doing the right thing, however it is essential that all pupils have access to good quality remote learning. 1.22 million children in the UK are still without access to the devices they desperately need to access their education – the Government must act now to address the digital divide within the UK.’

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