Town Hall hits out at government ‘failures’ in its Covid exit strategy for schools

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Citizen

The Town Hall has criticised government “failures” in a draft plan that sets out the way ahead for the borough’s schools following the pandemic.

Councillors on the children’s services scrutiny committee spent last year gathering evidence for the report.

They heard from students, parents, headteachers, members of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, and others.

A number of draft recommendations have now been released, covering mental health and wellbeing, learning and pedagogy, funding, communications, and development post-Covid.

Committee chair Cllr Vivien Cutler did not mince her words on government policy in an introduction to the document.

She said: “Over the three months of interviewing witnesses, two elements came to the fore – the corrosive impact of the virus on the disadvantaged and the near-universal experience of anxiety.

“The legacy of austerity and the failure of this government to predict the extent of the pandemic or to adequately fund councils and schools for the additional expenditure generated by it are a savage indictment of its so-called levelling-up policies.”

Recommendations on mental health include a call on the Town Hall to enhance specialist services to support people Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) or starting out in the job market in “uncertain times”.

It also wants the council to identify capital funding opportunities to upgrade children’s play areas, with a range of witnesses pointing to parks and playgrounds as having been essential to wellbeing during lockdown.

If concluded and agreed by the Town Hall’s administration, the review would see a redoubling of efforts to source additional devices for students to ensure all are prepared for “further interruptions to learning”.

It would also commit the council to push for more funding from government to provide Covid-secure learning environments, extension of mental health and wellbeing services for both parents/carers and children, and targeted support for vulnerable and disadvantaged communities and families.

The report goes on to state: “The number of U-turns by the government in relation to lockdown, examinations and provision of digital devices has undermined trust.”

It adds: “The experience of life in a pandemic over the past year has highlighted the urgent need for a fundamental reappraisal of the current education system.

“Islington Council and its schools should collaborate with academic institutions, local authorities and national organisations such as trade unions to develop alternative models for the future of our communities.”