Lockdown: Children should not suffer educationally


The Frenchman writer and statesman, Victor Hugo once said:

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”

Those who work with diverse communities like councillors, campaigners and advocates know that education can be a formidable power in raising the educational achievement of families from low income backgrounds, especially those living on estates prevalent with drugs, gang culture and violence. Providing opportunities for families with children at risk of falling through the education system through mentoring, financial support and additional educational programmes, means that we raise their own expectations and aspirations for a better future.

In 1997, Tower Hamlets was ranked last amongst 149 local authorities for educational achievement, with only 26 percent of students attaining five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C, significantly lower than the national average of 43 percent at the time. Our neighbouring boroughs have not fared well in the past either. In 2002, Hackney’s Key Stage 2 results were the worst in the country, and less than a third of students achieved five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C. Similarly, Newham used to be among the lower performing quarter of boroughs.

Over two decades later, these boroughs have seen the steady increase of achievement of children from Black and Ethnic Minority Communities. Furthermore, by 2013, among pupils entitled to free school meals (FSM), all ethnic minority groups were outperforming white working class pupils in terms of attainment at age 16, based on the percentage attaining five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English and mathematics.

Hackney and Tower Hamlets have a large number of Black and Ethnic Minority children living in economically deprived households, so the gains in student achievement have been impressive, although this has not occurred equally in each borough. Tower Hamlets reached the national average in 2004, whereas Hackney did not reach it until 2011. Nevertheless, since that time, educational achievement in both boroughs has increased steadily, with that in Tower Hamlets remaining above Hackney and the UK in general.

In 2013, a study conducted by three academics from the University of London’s Institute of Education reached the conclusion that Tower Hamlets has created some of the best modern urban schools in the world.

Key to this success was the absolute belief and commitment that every child – if given the appropriate support – could overcome social, economic, and cultural barriers to excel in their learning.

However, under the COVID-19 lockdown, I was not surprised when mothers of Black and Ethnic Minority communities contacted me about the difficulties of home schooling their children in cramped conditions. This means that many children – who are already at risk of falling behind educationally – may subsequently be at even greater risk of failing to meet targets once the lockdown measures have been lifted. The government needs to prepare a strategy to ensure that these disadvantaged children do not fall even further behind in their education and are given the support they need to fulfil their potential.

I have also made my submission in response to the Parliamentary Committee call for evidence of the impact on protected groups. With the significant achievements that have been made this century, it would be a tragedy now for a generation of talented children to be unable to fulfil their potential in the aftermath of COVID

Cllr Rabina Khan