“I believe that we need a “zero covid” strategy, as countries such as New Zealand have successfully done.”Apsana Begum MP
Apsana Begum MP looks at issues surrounding education and mental health during the pandemic.
The recent bizarre scenes at University of Manchester halls of residence should provide a wake-up call for those in charge.
Students literally woke up to see fencing being erected outside of their window – not only to restrict movement between buildings but to actually block entry and exit points to the campus. It was only after some fencing was torn down, and many students angrily protested, that the University removed the fencing. And let’s not forget that these students are paying for the privilege of being fenced into their homes.
The incident at Manchester only raises further questions as to the treatment of students at universities during the covid-19 crisis. Not least there are many questions as to what regulations will be in place for the Christmas period. This is yet another factor to play on the minds of those students who have recently left home for the first time to attend university.
And of course, much of the confusion and uncertainty could have been avoided. Unions and students have been warning about the situation in higher education for some time – opposing the continuing with face-to-face teaching because of the serious risks.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, schools have also been a policy battleground and now we are entering another national lockdown without an adequate plan to make schools safe. This not only puts teachers and pupils in danger, it could undermine the whole purpose of the lockdown itself given the role schools play in terms of transmission.
It is just not possible to live safely with this virus and as such, I believe that we need a “zero covid” strategy, as countries such as New Zealand have successfully done.
However, this doesn’t mean that we ignore how difficult the restrictions have been for many and that there continues to be inadequate financial, technical and pastoral support.
During the first lockdown, children were often left unsupported without access to the computers required to learn remotely. Most often women were forced to take on additional childcare responsibilities at the same time that many were still expected to work. The exam results u-turn in August caused an unnecessary distress to students, as well as teaching staff – as the pandemic continues to affect students in disadvantaged or urban areas disproportionately.
It is also well documented that children with SEND & their families continue to be let down. Locally, I am very concerned at the plans to cut Support for Learning services for children with SEND by around a half. It is alarming what this means to those who will be losing their jobs and the children who will be losing support.
Put simply, support for children at school with SEND is faltering. It is trapped in a vicious downward spiral, as Conservative school cuts and increased demand have overburdened the system, leading to delay and indecision. This is an appalling way to be addressing the education of some of our most vulnerable children and young people and is causing untold misery and worry for thousands of families.
The role of the covid-19 crisis in affecting people’s mental health and wellbeing is clear. A report published earlier this year found that almost 1 in 5 adults (19.2%) were likely to be experiencing some form of depression.
We already know mental health problems affect an estimated 1 in 10 children and young people and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives.
The momentous nature of a world health pandemic is obviously something that is difficult endure in any circumstance and this is why the failings in terms of service provision and support continues to be disastrous.
To make thing even worse, the Government’s ongoing delays, lack of urgency and incompetence further fuels the increasingly pressurised atmosphere of uncertainty, fear and anxiety with potentially catastrophic consequences.
We need a different approach that puts people and their health, including their mental health, first.
- Apsana Begum is one of our regular columnists from the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs alongside Richard Burgon, John McDonnell, Kate Osborne and Jon Trickett.