Ipswich MP Tom Hunt expresses concern vulnerable children are skipping school
PUBLISHED: 07:30 23 April 2020 | UPDATED: 09:35 24 April 2020
Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has urged the government to consider making it compulsory for vulnerable children to attend school during the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking in virtual parliament, Mr Hunt challenged children’s minister Vicky Ford after the number of children who have been attending school has plummeted since the lockdown began.
Official figures have revealed only a small percentage of vulnerable children in England are attending schools which have been kept open for them during the lockdown.
Mr Hunt said it seemed at the moment that it is largely in the hands of the parents whether or not their child goes to school.
He said: “Frankly, it could be the case that sometimes these parents are part of the reason why the child is vulnerable.”
Schools nationwide have been closed for the majority of students, apart from the children of key workers and vulnerable youngsters, since the lockdown began on March 23.
Data from the Department for Education has revealed that of the children in school on Friday last week, 24,000 were classed as vulnerable.
This was down from 61,000 on March 23.
The low figures have prompted concern among education unions and charities that vulnerable children are not getting the support they need through emergency school places.
Mr Hunt added: “It greatly concerns me that the number of vulnerable children who were expected to go is so far below what was anticipated.
“It does seem as though the government needs to take stock of this and potentially consider making it a requirement that all vulnerable children should be at school.”
In response, Ms Ford said vulnerable children may be being safeguarded in other ways, even though the school numbers remain low.
She added: “There is a really important government message about stay home, protect the NHS, save lives. People are very concerned that they don’t want to get coronavirus and I can absolutely understand that. “We make it very clear that children who have a social worker are expected to attend school.
“And if they are not, their schools are working with their social workers to make sure we have eyes on them, that they get visits - whether or not that’s a physical visit, a doorstep visit, a house visit, or a digital visit - depending on the risk to that child.”
However, Labour education spokesman for Suffolk, Jack Abbott, has warned against introducing guidelines instructing all vulnerable children to attend school.
He said: “I am sure that the intervention of Ipswich’s MP was well-intentioned, but I would be really wary about rushing to make attendance compulsory.
“The term ‘vulnerable’ is vague and encompasses children with very different needs. It includes those on education, health and care plans and many parents are following the government’s strong instructions by keeping their children at home due to underlying health conditions.
“This is a complex issue and I share the huge concerns about the increased risks of domestic abuse, but a blanket directive is not the way forward and could lead to unintended consequences.
“Instead, the government should bolster the resources of schools and social services so they are able to effectively target, monitor and, if necessary, intervene in the situations of at-risk children.
“It is proper funding and support that will help keep children safe, not indiscriminate policy.”
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