As we all know, Covid-19 has had a significant disruptive impact on children and schools, and teachers, pupils and parents have worked incredibly hard to adapt to highly challenging circumstances – for which I am very grateful.
With lessons going online - and being more reliant on computers and the internet - there is a risk that disadvantaged children could be left behind. This is why the Government has pledged to do all it can to protect our children’s education at this unprecedented time and ensure that they have the tools they need to get ahead in life. As part of this pledge, more than 1 million devices have now been delivered to schools and local authorities across England – including 1,310 in Swindon. This represents a £400million investment that will support schools and young people for years to come.
In addition, schools are receiving top-ups to their original allocations, with those with the highest proportion of disadvantaged pupils being prioritised first. Moreover, the 1.3 million devices that the Government is providing sits alongside a package of extensive support for the most disadvantaged children. This includes partnering with leading mobile network operators to provide free data to disadvantaged families, alongside a further £300 million being invested in tutoring programmes which build on the existing £1billion Covid Catch Up Fund.
To further strengthen remote education provision, the Government has provided more than 54,000 4G routers to schools and colleges across England, ensuring that no child is prohibited from receiving a quality education due to a lack of internet access.
Since my last article, we also saw the vaccine rollout reach the Government’s ambitious target of vaccinating 15 million people by the 15th February. This target was set at the beginning of the rollout and, on Sunday, I was pleased to hear the announcement that this target had been met (with two days to spare). This is an incredible feat, made possible by so many amazing people – scientists, trial volunteers, clinicians, healthcare staff, and, of course, all our wonderful vaccine centre volunteers. I will never tire of reading e-mails from grateful residents who have received their jab and then pass on their thanks to the team running the programme in Swindon. There may still be a while to go, but the vaccine really does provide hope.
I know for many of us lockdown has provided us with an even greater appreciation of the outdoors. As we look ahead to Spring, my office will be running a local competition to find some of the best outdoor wildlife photos taken by local residents.
It can be photos taken from windows, in the garden or your local park. It can be a photo of a view, a photo of the first shoots of Spring or a photo of your dog enjoying their walk! The choice is up to you, just remember to keep it local.
Whether you prefer using a smartphone, tablet or digital camera, we look forward to seeing your entries. Entries can be submitted by emailing a JPEG file to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The winner of the competition will have their entry printed and presented to them on their own canvass. The winning photograph will also be proudly displayed in my offices in both Swindon and the Houses of Parliament. Best of luck to everyone taking part!