This has been a very heavy week of education business, starting on Monday with the 6-weekly question session in the chamber when MPs can raise issues with Ministers.
That was followed by a 3-hour debate on Monday evening on the government’s failure to get laptops to children who need them for home learning, or to ensure they can have nourishing meals when they’re out of school during the lockdown. We’d all seen the shameful photos of food parcels on social media last week, and Marcus Rashford had stepped in again to demand government action, following previous school meal scandals last summer and at October halfterm. It’s really remarkable how Gavin Williamson doesn’t just make the same mistake once, but repeats it two, three or even four times.
School food, specifically breakfast clubs, was also the subject of a very interesting roundtable organised by Kellogg’s on Wednesday. I’m very fortunate to have an excellent relationship with Kellogg’s, going back to when I was first elected to parliament and visited their factory in Stretford. Their work supporting school breakfast clubs has been exceptional, and it was very interesting, and unsurprising, to hear about the pressures the clubs are facing in the pandemic.
I’ve also been in a number of very useful meetings with teaching and support staff unions this week, both nationally, and with local members in Trafford. There are so many issues causing pressure in the education system right now: the need for more social distancing and safety measures, mass testing for students and staff, prioritising staff for the vaccine, funding for nurseries and childcare providers, the government’s consultation on what should replace exams this summer. It was very valuable to hear the views and experiences of those working on the frontline.
Thursday saw me back in the chamber, responding to a statement by the education secretary Gavin Williamson on his strategy for further and higher education. I’m very much in favour of more investment in our colleges, but let’s not forget that Conservative governments have spent the last 10 years stripping away their funding. It’s a bit rich to come along now and complain they’ve been the poor relations of the education system.
While all this was keeping me busy in London, I was making sure to receive regular reports from back home about the really alarming risk of flooding that we faced overnight on Wednesday into Thursday. Thankfully, we narrowly escaped the worst of it in Trafford, though other parts of Manchester suffered much more serious flooding. But it was a very worrying time for residents, and I want to thank the volunteers, emergency services, council staff and the Environment Agency who were on standby and working hard to keep everyone safe and informed about what was happening.
Next week, we will be debating the government’s Environment Bill in parliament, and given the terrible experiences in colleagues’ constituencies, I am sure there will be a lot of time given to discussing flood protection. Extreme weather events are becoming more common, and we need to be better prepared for them.