As a new term begins, I understand that many pupils, parents and teachers are facing uncertainty about the situation for schools at this stage of the pandemic.
The teaching community has undertaken sterling work over the last nine months to keep schools operating for the children of key workers and the most vulnerable children, together with a combination of virtual and in person teaching, and sometimes both of those happening at the same time as different groups of pupils have been in and out of school.
I know, at a very personal level, the difference that a great education can make, particularly to children who are most disadvantaged. That’s why it is so important to continue learning for our young people, where it can be done so safely.
Our area has begun to see a notable reduction in the transmission of the virus, following the decision to place us under Tier 4 restrictions. I understand this has given cause for optimism that children in our area may not have to stay away from school, as they are in some areas of the country. Dover District as a whole now records under 500 cases per 100,000 people, demonstrating a significant improvement since the middle of December and a lower prevalence of the virus than in other areas of Kent. The most recent statistics for our area can be found here.
I understand and have acted on the concerns raised by teachers and parents regarding the return of schools, and I have been in contact with Government Ministers, local Councillors and my fellow East Kent MPs in order to raise my constituents’ concerns and gain a better understanding of the situation. I do not underestimate the administrative and organisational challenge that the latest phase of the pandemic brings to schools at this time.
Given the dynamic nature of the pandemic, we must remain prepared for all eventualities, including any future changes in the guidance on schools and more general tightening of restrictions. The Prime Minister has indicated that further steps may be required in the short term to manage the virus. I am closely monitoring the virus transmission activity locally and I will maintain a dialogue with Ministers to inform and assess the best possible position for our area.
In addition, I have been pressing for, and have secured, confirmation that the vaccine programme locally is expected to commence from 11 January 2021, on top of greater availability of community testing. The programmes will exert downward pressure on the virus transmission rate, which is expected to maintain the recent progress.
In the meantime, please do be assured that I have the health and welfare of all of our school community firmly in mind during this challenging period.