Monday 22nd February Up early to travel to Westminster. It is going to be a very busy week in the Department for Education. The Prime Minster is going to publish his roadmap for the reopening of society, we know that getting children back to school is the priority and have worked hard over the recess week to prepare all the guidance for schools.
Like the rest of the country I am glued to screen when the PM makes his statement in the House of Commons, a clear description of what needs to happen at each stage of the unlock starting with all children returning to school in a fortnight. He clearly explains the strategy to test secondary students and all schools staff in order to keep Covid out of the classrooms and then explains the strategy for the weeks ahead. Our guidance is published, and the response is so positive, hope returns as we plan the road to normal. I have many meetings in the Department on further details for vulnerable children and school meals as well as meeting the Head of the Refugee Council to discuss support for refugee children.
Tuesday 23rd February Start the day chairing the Family Justice Board, this brings together the lead judges of the family courts and all those involved in supporting children and young people affected by court decisions. The courts have been sitting much longer hours than normal in order to catch up with some of the backlog, but it is difficult to make challenging decisions when courts are sitting virtually. We discuss ways to improve, especially to make sure that children who need to be adopted do not have to wait longer for decisions.
A helpful meeting on our review of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, a catch up with the Health Minister on work on the new autism strategy and an inspiring meeting with an organisation that supports young people who have grown up in care into careers. I work late into the night reviewing the work on a “start for life” strategy which is being led by my colleague Andrea Leadsom MP.
Wednesday 24th February Today we have announced a new package of support for schools, children and young people to help with the recovery. This will include extra funding directly to schools which they can use for wellbeing as well as education as well as more funding for one on one tutoring and support for summer schools. I head (virtually) to the BBC to answer questions about the plans, over 40% of schools have signed up to our project to help reception aged children who have fallen behind with early language and communication skills.
The Clacton MP, Giles Watling and I meet the Rail Minister, to discuss plans for Beaulieu Station. This will not only help Chelmsford but will also build capacity and resilience all along the line due to the new passing loop. The Minister is extremely positive, the project is firmly on track.
Online, I head off to Berlin to meet their Children’s Minister. We discuss ways in which we support children with special educational needs and disabilities. She is most impressed that we are reopening schools to all students, I explain that this is possible partly because of our very successful vaccination program. Germany is well behind the UK with vaccine rollout.
Thursday 25th February Off to North Tyneside to find out about a wonderful project that has been supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children in care. These children and young people can be especially vulnerable, and the project has made a huge difference. I’m impressed and wonder how we can roll this out more widely. Then into the House of Commons to sit on the green benches for a statement by the Education Secretary on schools reopening, catch-up and how exams will be graded this year.
Online in Birmingham I hear from frontline social workers about their experiences during Covid, they are such an awesome group of people, totally committed to helping families and children. In Northamptonshire I meet the Chief Executive of the two new local authorities that are supporting our new children’s trust. Children’s services in this area have been struggling for many years, but the early signs from the trust are good. I say farewell to Anne Longfield the Children’s Commissioner as it is her last day in the role after six years. We discuss plans for the future, it is very late when I get back from London.
Friday 26th February A Chelmsford day starts with a round table for MPs with the Vaccines Minister, the good news is that over 30,000 people in Chelmsford have already had their first jab. The Minister explains plans to help areas that are falling behind to catch up. Then a very helpful briefing about the plans for the new Chelmsford North East Bypass. This project has been on hold for many years but is now motoring ahead and the planning application is due to be submitted soon. It will make a big difference especially around Springfield and Chelmer Village.
I meet the splendid team from St Johns Ambulance who have been training vaccinators, running vaccine clinic and driving ambulances during the pandemic – all as volunteers. I am particularly impressed by the cadets programme they run for young people interested in careers in health. I am looking forward to seeing them in real life soon.
A busy constituency surgery is followed by a very detailed meeting with the developers Bellway about fire safety in the Marconi Development. Residents are desperate to get cladding removed from the buildings and to improve the safety as quickly as possible, and I want to help them. Bellway tell me they are working with an independent fire safety consultant on detailed plans. I ask them to speed this up and for us to meet again in a month. The property owners of part of the development have also had a detailed independent report, and plan to start remedial works soon. They agree to share their report. A cladding expert will visit the site next week. It feels like some progress is being made, but I want to keep pressing the developers to make sure that it is done as quickly as possible.