Schools: Online Teaching

Debate between Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Baroness Berridge
Thursday 11th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, within the figure of 1.3 million that I outlined, there will, of course, be some children of asylum-seeking parents who are eligible for free school meals. It is an allocation per pupil, so if there are siblings who claim free school meals, that can be two laptops or tablets per household. Teachers should recognise that, if there are the type of barriers the noble Baroness refers to, they have discretion in those circumstances to classify the child as vulnerable and bring them into school.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, on the issue of mobile data charges for children studying from home, the Minister very helpfully wrote to me after a previous Question, explaining that the Government’s cap, agreed with mobile phone companies, applies only in England and not in the devolved nations. Did that happen because the UK Government did not negotiate for the whole of the UK, or did the Scottish Government and others turn down the opportunity to set a cap on mobile data charges for the children they are responsible for?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, all I can do is outline the very obvious point to the former First Minister of Scotland that education is, of course, a devolved matter—but, of course, we will assist the devolved Administrations to get the kind of deals we have got from many of the mobile phone providers. Noble Lords have been concerned about these issues and I am holding a specific briefing at 3 pm today that any noble Lords are welcome to join for more details on these provisions.

Schools: Exam-year Pupils

Debate between Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Baroness Berridge
Tuesday 2nd February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, the JCVI has asked government to look at occupational roles in the next phase of the rollout. We are working across government to make the case for the teaching and education workforce generally; advice will be produced and then it will be for Ministers to decide on the next phase of vaccination.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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Both the UK and Scottish Governments failed to prepare last spring for the end of the first long period of lockdown and the need immediately to catch up with flexible solutions inside the school environment. Will the Government be better prepared now for the post-Easter period? I recognise that there are uncertainties between February and Easter but, for after Easter, can the sorts of solutions mentioned by other noble Lords today, including flexible school days and school weeks, the opportunity for more tutors to be inside schools helping with catch-up, and so on, be planned for in April rather than scraped at afterwards?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, some of the solutions that have been outlined by noble Lords, such as extending the school day, are possible for schools now. Many schools use certain tools that the department has made available so that they can deploy their workforce most efficiently and extend the school day—but of course there are also contractual implications if we were to require more from a teaching workforce that is flat out. Yes, we are planning, which is why we are focusing on summer schools at the moment because we can deliver that. The national tutoring programme has shown its flexibility as well, in that most of the providers could move online straightaway. We are looking at the more structural solutions as well as more immediate catch-up solutions.

Covid-19: Educational Settings

Debate between Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Baroness Berridge
Thursday 7th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, it is an ingenious suggestion and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving me advance notice of it. However, it is one of those things that is easier said than done. It is very difficult to expect schools to operate, even in small groups, over multiple sites. There are issues with health and safety, et cetera, and the logistics of running provision. You are not just running remote provision but running a school over a number of geographical sites. Although it is not the same as face-to-face teaching, it is easier at that age for them to engage online.

The evidence is that the level of the disease in the early years population group is the lowest of all the age groups. Therefore, the decision for early years provision to stay open was made on that basis. For the reasons that I have outlined, and because we are at the other end of the age spectrum for that age group, one cannot deliver that kind of education remotely at all. In terms of numbers, the decision was made to limit primary schools provision to small clusters of vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. Referring back, FE colleges in particular have made a good job of moving their provision online. Therefore, online provision for that age group is the best option at the moment, and follows public health advice.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, this is just heartbreaking. The situation could have been foreseen and there have been many opportunities since last summer to put in place preparations to help avoid this national catastrophe for so many children and young people. Extra facilities for online learning could even have been used, giving young people a chance to get out of the home and into organised spaces with adult contact outside the family. There certainly could have been greater provision of equipment and recruitment of extra staff and volunteers since this debate started at the beginning of June.

However, I shall focus on two questions. First, in relation to work with telecoms companies to get data access for families who do not currently have it and, therefore, cannot take part in online learning at home, are the Government working with the devolved Governments to make sure that data access is available across the whole United Kingdom? Secondly, when will the Government guarantee to bring back external assessment? It is that, not internal continuous assessment, which is an equaliser across social divides and gives young people a chance to have a certificate matched not to their background or the school that they came from but directly to their abilities and schooling outcomes.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, there have been significant preparations and schools are in a different place than they were when we had to impose the initial shutdown in March. I have outlined in detail the provision of technology et cetera. During the autumn term, when schools needed extra staff in order to keep provision, we implemented a specific Covid staff support fund to enable schools to stay open.

As regards external assessment, we agree. Exams were cancelled as a last resort because we recognise that external assessment is the fairest way for students. I have previously outlined to your Lordships’ House that the consultation will, I hope, include groups such as disadvantaged students. It is one of the bases for proposals for changing to actual grades for university because predicted grades are often lower than students’ achievement. Noble Lords will remember that we all become a number when entering for GCSEs and A-levels. They do not know where you come from, who your parents are or what school you went to. That is important, particularly, for instance, for BAME students. Becoming anonymous when taking an examination is important. Assessment should be based solely on one’s work after taking an examination, which is an incredibly important factor that we must not lose sight of.

As regards the devolved Administrations, I assume that the deal is UK-wide. If it is anything other than that, I will clarify. However, we are grateful to the mobile phone providers, which have stepped up in relation to this matter.

Covid-19: Educational Gaps

Debate between Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Baroness Berridge
Thursday 4th June 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer and for her personal commitment to this issue, but she will be aware that the vast majority of vulnerable children across all four nations of the UK have missed out on the home-schooling operation and the availability of school-based learning over these recent weeks. There is therefore a need for a national action plan in all four nations to ensure that these vulnerable children are not left behind. Will the Minister commit the Government to bring about the same level of effort as we have seen in the health service and in supporting businesses and jobs during the lockdown period, to make sure that these children recover their learning and deal with the trauma—and, potentially, abuse—that many of them will have suffered during the lockdown period?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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My Lords, since schools closed to most pupils, teachers and support staff have been working hard to keep schools open for vulnerable children. However, as the noble Lord makes clear, only 15% of vulnerable children were taking up this offer. Yes, we are keenly looking at all the options to ensure that particularly disadvantaged children are given an opportunity to catch up on their learning; those in year 10 who are disadvantaged will have access to a laptop or device as part of the £100 million package that I outlined earlier.