DURING the past year children have experienced unprecedented disruption to their learning. Frequently isolated at home, missing out on extracurricular activities and vital social interaction with friends.

Consequently, over recent weeks education has been one of my major focuses in Parliament, raising the challenges schools, parents, pupils, and staff in Durham are facing such as outdated facilities and the increasingly burdensome cost of school transport.

Nevertheless, the reality of schools across Durham closing their doors this week due to rising infection levels has acted as a harsh reminder that neither the pandemic nor the disruption it inflicts is yet behind us. Hours of lost learning continue to accumulate, with the most disadvantaged children being the most likely to suffer the long-term consequences in attainment, restricting their potential.

Sadly, the Government does not appear serious about the scale of this challenge, nor has it committed the investment into our classrooms that experts say is desperately needed to avert long term damage to children’s learning and life chances. The Tories’ recently announced recovery plan promises only a tenth of the funding recommended by the Government’s own appointed educational recovery adviser, Sir Kevan Collins. This miserly package equates to less than £1 per day children were out of school, and essential catch-up tutoring will only reach one per cent of children. That the announcement of this strategy prompted the resignation of the Government’s own advisor speaks volumes, it is an insult.

We cannot overstate the seriousness of this challenge we now face. It is impossible to act too quickly or too boldly; we must ensure that the pandemic doesn’t create a lost generation. We need an educational recovery strategy that reaches every child in every school, and I am glad that Labour have proposed a comprehensive Education Recovery Plan that puts children at the heart of our recovery, would provide small group tutoring to all who need it; extend free school meals and provide quality mental health support in every school.

The pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges schools face. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, since 2010 the Conservatives have inflicted the largest cut in education spending for 40 years. Nowhere is this more visible than in the City of Durham , where several planned rebuilds such as Framwellgate School were cancelled. A decade on, far too many pupils remain in out-of-date, creaking classrooms, deprived of the modern educational facilities they deserve.

Additionally, parents with children at schools across Durham regularly contact me dismayed at the rising cost of school transport, with schools’ budgets cut to the bone, heads are being forced to choose between hiring teachers or subsidising travel for struggling families. I have secured a meeting with the Minister of State for Schools on this topic and would encourage parents to contact me to provide their experience.

It is irrefutable that investment in education yields the greatest return for our society. Yet the Government is turning a blind eye to the scale of the challenge. I will continue to raise the issues facing Durham’s schools, parents, pupils, and staff at Westminster, and look forward to working alongside others, including headteachers, to ensure local children’s life chances are not the forgotten victim of the pandemic.

  • Mary Foy is the Labour MP for the City of Durham