With vaccines giving us a light at the end of the tunnel, our focus now is turning to the post-pandemic recovery. This is particularly important for those schoolchildren who – despite the best efforts of teachers and school staff in difficult circumstances – have endured an incredibly disrupted year.
I was heartened by the Government’s apparent recognition of this when they appointed an Education Recovery Commissioner and asked him to come up with a plan to ensure school children could catch up on what they missed out on. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the past week or so, Boris Johnson is not willing to put his money where his mouth is as far as our children are concerned. The Government ignored the Commissioner’s evidence based plan, awarding just a tenth of the necessary funding and then forcing his resignation because their behaviour, in his words, “betrays an undervaluation of the importance of education”.
Ensuring an adequate catch-up programme is vital, not least because we know that there were challenges in our education system even before Covid. I recently met with Schools Minister Nick Gibb and the Regional Schools Commissioner to discuss how the Government are holding schools in south Bristol to account for the educational outcomes they deliver for our children.
I’m concerned that the evolution of the multi-academy trust system does not serve the families of south Bristol as well as it could. There are six secondary schools in Bristol South, covered by six multi-academy trusts (MAT); in all, the nearly 40 state-funded schools in Bristol South are run by 12 different organisations. In some cases, vertical support through the MAT seems to be working well, but while headteachers are accountable upwards within the MAT, south Bristol families live in local communities. Parents expect each child to be supported and educated well in their community through early years, primary, secondary, post-16 and higher education, but children are experiencing too many different organisations as part of that journey. Crucially, there is no accountability across south Bristol for the outcome of that journey, which is the destination of those young people—their chance in life.
In my six years as MP for Bristol South, I have realised that the lack of ownership and accountability for destination, success and outcomes is a major problem that no number of well-meaning piecemeal initiatives will solve. The pandemic and the loss of learning must be the catalyst for taking this seriously. We must use this opportunity to make things better for our children.