When Keir Starmer became leader of the Labour Party, he said he wanted the UK to be the best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in. If we want to make that a reality, we have to take a joined-up approach to issues children face both inside and outside the school gates.
During the last year, I have been in awe of the passion, hard work and determination of all our teachers and school staff. Despite being repeatedly let down by the Government, they have continued to do great work in trying circumstances. As we move out of lockdown, schools and their staff must be given better support than they have so far.
If we are serious about making this country the best possible place to go to school, we need to invest in our teachers. That means investing in teacher training and ongoing professional development. It means improving retention by reducing stress and improving working conditions. It means hiring more great teachers, finally ending the scandal of supersized classrooms.
We must also recognise that much of the damage done to children by ten years of Conservative governments, and exacerbated by COVID-19, goes beyond the school gates. Even before the pandemic, child poverty was rising in the UK, as was the attainment gap between the most advantaged and most disadvantaged children. These problems have been exacerbated by a year of lockdowns, with many children unable to access home learning and falling even further behind their peers.
This year the Labour Party launched our Bright Futures Taskforce to ensure every child can recover from the impacts of the pandemic and every child is able to reach their potential.
We have called for catch-up breakfast clubs to ensure that children can make up for lost time with their friends and their teachers. This will also ensure every child can start the school day with a healthy meal.
It is also important to take a place-based approach to our education system. A one size fits all approach cannot succeed when schools been affected in different ways, at different times and to different degrees during this pandemic. Similarly, the long-term needs of schools are often tied to the needs to the local community.
We saw what a difference the London Challenge made in our capital city. It turned London’s schools from a byword for educational failure into a national success story. We need an ambitious and targeted place-based agenda for other parts of the country that – yes – is about education and skills, but is also about employment, housing, transport, public service reform and infrastructure investment.
In the next few months and years, the key test will be whether, when the crisis passes and life returns to normal, we are doing things better than we did before. Labour is committed to putting children at the heart of our recovery, investing in their futures, teachers and communities to rebuild better, not return to business as usual.
Wes Streeting MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Child Poverty, penned this blog for our education and early years newspaper ‘Your Voice’ while he was Shadow Minister for Schools. Wes is a member of Community’s Parliamentary group and the MP for Ilford North.