School staff will stand up for vulnerable children, even if the government won’t

Wednesday 21st October 2020 will prove to be a turning point for our country. And as each day passes since this Conservative Government failed to provide free school meals during school holidays, the thousands of individuals, businesses and community groups that have come together to support our most vulnerable children have shown the true character of our country. Whilst Tory MP’s continue to twist and contort their excuses, we shouldn’t forget the role that our schools have already played to support the children that most need our help. Without fuss or complaint, thousands of school staff, both teaching and non-teaching, have gone above and beyond to limit the impact of the crisis on the children that we are fortunate to serve.

When the crisis turned the world upside down, schools transformed into community centres in order to offer the support that their families needed. Advice on applying for universal credit for families thrown into unemployment by the ripples of lockdown. Food parcels ordered, packaged and delivered to families who needed them. School budgets squeezed to provide laptops and learning materials to children who needed to study. Free school meal vouchers ordered despite a website that crashed at the slightest demand.

When September brought an insistence that schools opened in spite of fears of a second wave, schools answered the call. They rolled up their sleeves and got to work, writing contingency plan after contingency plan, to create an environment that was safe for children to learn and staff to work. All of this done in the face of ever changing, and often contradictory, government advice.

And now we are back, the necessary health and safety measures have made things different for a generation of children who have had the best times of their lives disrupted in ways we couldn’t have imagined. But the warmth, love and kindness of teachers and teaching assistants has ensured that our children have been able to take the changes in their stride. So in spite of year group bubbles and face coverings at social times, learning has continued, friendships have blossomed and the precious joys of childhood have started to return.

Which brings us to this week, and the refusal.of the government to provide for the 3.4 million children living in poverty. Although it was good to see the issue having the national prominence it deserved, you shouldn’t think that schools were waiting for the government to step in. Schools have been raising money for the families hit hardest throughout this crisis. Staff at my school raised over £5000 through a virtual marathon but ours is in no way an isolated example. And this week, whilst MP’s have discussed and prevaricated, schools have been getting ready.

Up and down the country, school leaders and staff have taken it upon themselves to take up the fight on behalf of our children. Relationships built with local shops in order to have delivered what they can spare. An army of volunteers mobilised to pack and deliver. Conversations had with families too embarrassed to ask for support. And the result? Thousands of shopping bags delivered to the children who need it most; a lifeline for families trying to struggle through the crisis. And though the Prime Minister has promised to come up with a solution, we won’t hold our breath. We know that these children can’t live on promises of jam tomorrow. We will continue to do whatever it takes, without judgement or complaint, to support the children who need it most. Not because we want to but because the last decade of Tory austerity and negligence means that we have to.

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