Ipswich MP Tom Hunt praises school for giving ‘lifeline’ to the disadvantaged
Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has praised Copleston High School for giving a “lifeline” to students throughout the Covid-19 crisis - particularly those disadvantaged by the pandemic.
Schools like Copleston were forced to close to everyone except the children of key workers in March, in a bid to limit the spread of the virus.
Secondary schools have been able to welcome back some Year 10 and Year 12 pupils this month, but the majority of learning has had to take place at home.
Mr Hunt - a member of the House of Commons education select committee, who visited Copleston’s brand new multi-million building on Friday - said the “stakes are very, very high for young people” at the moment, because of the potential impact the crisis could have on their education.
Copleston principal Andy Green has already warned that “students are going to really suffer and miss out” unless there is really high-quality online teaching.
Yet many have also raised fears of a “digital divide”, with Copleston itself loaning laptops and internet data dongles to families who may not have their own computers or wi-fi to access online materials.
Mr Hunt, who battled dyspraxia and dyslexia as a child, said he was particularly concerned about children with special educational needs, saying: “I know when I was younger, I formed attachments to particular teachers and learning support assistants.
“For a lot of children, losing that face to face support is something I’d be concerned about.”
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However, alongside a strong programme of online learning including screencasts and Microsoft Teams sessions, Copleston has tried to maintain relationships with those receiving special educational needs support - by making home visits where it has been possible.
Acutely aware of the emotional pressures of lockdown and increased sense of isolation, wellbeing coordinator Kelley Osman has led a thorough mental health support programme which has included regular advice given to families.
While he remains concerned about young people across the UK in general following the coronavirus crisis, Mr Hunt said Copleston should be “extremely proud” of its work to help people from all backgrounds.
He praised its “distinctive and authentic” online learning and “razor-like focus on mental health”, adding: “I can’t think of a school which has taken it more seriously than Copleston.”
Mr Hunt, who was elected to parliament in the 2019 general election, said the steps Copleston had taken would mitigate any potential effects - but said: “If those steps aren’t taken, there’s a real danger some of those from disadvantaged backgrounds could really fall back.
“This really couldn’t matter more. It’s about young people and their life chances.”
He also praised the “community shelf” Copleston has set up with the Raedwald Trust to deliver food boxes to families of children facing hardship as a result of the crisis, saying it was a “fantastic initiative which has done huge good, brought people together and provided a lifeline to many”.
Mr Green said Copleston had worked hard to make sure all students are supported, regardless of their background - but said: “We’re learning all the time,” and striving to improve.
Suffolk schools have taken different approaches to online learning, with some setting rigid programmes and others simply encouraging parents to do their best to educate their children.
Mr Green believes schools like Copleston will need to continue to develop a “blended learning approach” in future, where they can switch quickly from classroom to online learning should another lockdown be needed because of further coronavirus outbreaks.
“If schools don’t do this well, it will be the most disadvantaged students who fall further behind,” he warned.
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