Matt Hancock on the support being given to students as they return to school
Early last week, on my way to work in the morning, I saw something that is so much a part of our lives, but yet it was novel at the same time – the sight of children walking to school.
Some children were on their own, some were with their parents, but it struck me that it was something that I hadn’t seen for several months.
Children attending school is one of the fundamental elements of our society.
Children represent the future, and nothing is more important than them receiving both an education as well as socialisation in order to fulfil their aspirations and to reach their potential.
We know how much children have suffered during the time when they were not allowed to attend school during the past year due to the pandemic. Face to face learning, especially for younger pupils, is best carried out in person in a school setting, not at home in front of a screen.
The outstanding teachers in our local West Suffolk schools were magnificent, quickly pivoting to provide the best online curriculum that they could with very little advanced preparation or experience of this sort of thing. Parents also did a wonderful job, under very trying circumstances, perhaps doing online lessons with several children of differing ages and having differing needs – whilst many of these parents were simultaneously holding down a job and working from home.
With over half of all adults in Suffolk having received their first dose of the Covid vaccine and the fall in the number Covid infections and fatalities, sending children back to school in a safe way was the first step in our roadmap to recovery.
Teachers and other school staff have done a remarkable job in preparing for the safe reopening of our schools, getting up to speed on protocols and procedures and then implementing them. An important part of keeping children safe, and in turn, keeping their teachers and their families safe, was to set up systems to offer two lateral flow device tests for all secondary and college students, and secondary school and college staff per week, to test for Covid. We have also confirmed twice-weekly testing using lateral flow device tests for free to all adults in households with primary, secondary school and college aged children and young people, including childcare and support bubbles.
Around one in three people with coronavirus do not have symptoms, which means they could be spreading the virus without knowing. Rapid testing detects cases quickly – in under 30 minutes – meaning positive cases can isolate immediately, breaking chains of transmission. These tests are not only quick to produce a result – they are accurate too, with only one test in a thousand resulting in a false positive.
There have been some children who have coped well with the incredibly difficult circumstances they have found themselves in over the past year – the change in routine, not being able to get out and see friends and members of their extended families, to name a few. But for some young people, it has not been as easy and their mental health has suffered. To address this serious problem, the government is putting an extra £79 million into services to support children and young people’s mental health. Some of these services include talking therapies and other online services through support workers who link schools with local mental health services. This uplift in funding will increase the number of young people to have access to these vital services.
Having our children back in school is an incredibly important first step on our roadmap back to normality. There is nothing more normal than having children back in the classroom, being taught by teachers who can deliver face to face teaching as has been done for countless generations and for children to be with their friends. Now that we have taken this first step, I know we are all looking forward the next bit of the reopening of society and an eventual return to our pre-Covid way of life.
-- Matt Hancock is MP for West Suffolk and Health Secretary