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'Getting priorities right is important,' writes Grantham councillor

Column by Lee Steptoe, Labour member for Grantham Earlesfield on South Kesteven District Council.

As we wait for schools to reopen to all students, there’s been much talk about kids from poorer backgrounds still waiting for the Government’s promised laptops (and some arriving without cameras and mics, so useless for live lessons), but research from the National Education Union (NEU), featured by the Daily Mirror, has highlighted other worrying issues.

Many at primary school from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t even have paper and have used loo rolls, or pens or crayons.

Councillor Lee Steptoe, Labour (24894592)
Councillor Lee Steptoe, Labour (24894592)

In its extensive survey of teachers, the National Education Union found that 81 percent are reporting parents asking for help buying pens, paper and books; 48 per cent had personally bought their students basic equipment; 95 per cent are teaching some kids with few or no learning resources at home.

Estimates also indicate that there could be up to 1.7 million that still have no access to a laptop at home.

Along with thousands of acts of individual generosity from teachers, the NEU has donated a million pounds towards basic equipment. This will be targeted at schools with the highest proportion of children claiming free school meals.

Locally I applaud GRACE for delivering laptops to schools.

I know from personal experience that many older students rely on their phones to complete work set online.

Their home circumstances mean that they must sit outside supermarkets and fast food restaurants to access the free wi-fi.

Over four million kids are now in relative poverty and, as I’ve said in this column before, must never be punished for the failings of governments or the minority of feckless parents.

It is low pay that scars society, compounded many times over by the pandemic, that are forcing desperate choices.

Struggling parents will always rightly prioritise food over stationary, but some find this hard, too.

Marcus Rashford continues to do a superb job in shaming the Government into providing food vouchers during school holidays: hungry kids are not capable of learning anything.

My full SKDC ward grant of £1,000 will go to local charity Inspire+ this month and I congratulate them on their deserved success in the Journal Business Awards.

CEO Vincent Brittain’s team has done a great job of feeding hungry kids on the Earlesfield estate, whilst keeping them active in school holidays.

In last week’s Journal our Tory MP used his column to prioritise more statues (local Tories are obsessed with them).

I will leave readers to judge on their sense of priorities in these devastating times.

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