The former Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has called for a 10-year education plan, including the creation of a northern learning team, to be instigated to help combat a a “triple whammy” of disadvantage for thousands of children across the region and give pupils the “rightful” support to ensure they fulfil their full potential.
In an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post, as tens of thousands of school pupils break-up for the summer holidays across the region after more than a year of huge disruption to their learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Longfield has warned of the added urgency for the Government to provide a 'Nightingale moment' for the most vulnerable children.
Ms Longfield, who was born in Otley, said the education sector needed reassurances and financial backing for the start of the September term on par with the herculean efforts taken to build Nightingale hospitals for thousands of coronavirus patients in a matter of weeks, and the £35bn furlough scheme to save jobs.
Ms Longfield told The Yorkshire Post: “Children who have suffered so much during this period and given so much for others - they haven’t yet had that moment that others have had, that Nightingale moment.
“There is an added urgency not only about getting the schools back in September and being able to make them safe places that are working well but also about investing in their catch-up and a rebuild to a fairer system.”
Ms Longfield added that over the past 18 months many children across the region found themselves suffering from a “triple whammy” of disadvantage - due to having the highest levels of disadvantage in the first place, coupled with the highest infections and highest levels of disruption in education.
She said: “That’s a really devastating triple whammy for some children to have to experience.
“My fear is that these school children who will have had two school years disrupted in a way - which has been the biggest disruption since World War Two - and their confidence to expect schools to be normal will be yet again dashed.
“I really do think there is a job to be done to ensure that schools do have the resources they need from September onwards.
“That is an urgency that won’t wait for the Treasury to go through their normal cycle of decisions about funding.”
She added: “To burden a generation of children with a poorer life, even potentially a shorter life because we didn’t have the determination and commitment to help them recover to the scale needed would be just unbearable and a tragedy for children and their families.
“That is the situation we are looking at, at the moment and it’s not yet resolved.”
Ahead of the Levelling Up White Paper which is due to be published in September, Ms Longfield has called for a number of “urgent steps to be taken” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to help pupils across the North, including the creation of a northern education team.
Ms Longfield said: “They could do that overnight… a northern team with the brief to investigate quickly what it would take to level up the North in terms of educational skills and prospects for children.
“That team would need to report in to the Cabinet Office and Number 10 ahead of the White Paper to build that really crucial section of that report.”
She added it should be made compulsory for Ministers for the Department of Education to spend at least 50 per cent of their time based in Yorkshire offices in Sheffield and Darlington to aid with the levelling up process.
She said: “Whitehall is a very engaging bubble in terms of its proximity to power and I would like to see that change.
“I would like to see Ministers in all departments actually spending half their time in their northern offices.
“It would help Ministers actually see the realities of communities and work going on in the region and it would be a mindshift away from that central pull towards Number 10 and the Cabinet Office.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said:“We have committed to an ambitious, and long-term education recovery plan, including an investment to date of over £3bn and a significant expansion of our tutoring programme, to support children and young people to make up for education lost during the pandemic.”
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