November 2020: News from your local MP

October 26 2020

Schools under unnecessary strain in Bristol

As Covid cases rise again, I am working to understand how this is affecting schools in Bristol – and pressing the government to get a grip before we see another crisis for children’s education.
This work was triggered by a number of teachers, parents and carers from across the constituency who have contacted me to warn that delays in Covid testing and problems receiving results are affecting Bristol children’s education, leading to staff shortages and pupils needlessly isolating.
When staff feel unwell, difficulties getting tests, long travel times to testing centres and long waits for results mean staff members are forced to isolate from school, leading to unsustainable – and completely avoidable – staff shortages. This is putting huge pressure on teachers and staff who have worked so hard to make schools safe.
And it’s not just affecting the staff. In some Bristol schools, large numbers of students are having to isolate long periods while they wait for a classmate’s test results to come back. As the number of Covid-19 cases rise, I worry these situations will become increasingly common.
I’ve written to all schools and early years childcare providers in Bristol West to find out if they are affected. I will then take these cases up with colleagues in the Shadow Education team.
I am immensely grateful to everyone - school staff, parents, public health and others who have worked so hard to get schools open again. The national lockdown bought us some time to sort out Test and Trace – but the government wasted this time. As a result of this incompetence, our schools will probably be on the front line of another entirely predictable, and preventable, crisis.

New study on Covid transmission in schools
I am speaking to researchers at the University of Bristol, working on the COMMinS study of transmission in children and the symptoms they exhibit. This internationally important work involves 24 schools across the Bristol area. I am working to increase awareness of their findings as they emerge – which could prove key in slowing the spread of the virus as we go into a very difficult winter.

Exams next year
Many of you have also asked me to push the government for clarity on next year’s A Levels and GCSEs after the fiasco of this year’s algorithm chaos. I’ve written to the Secretary of State for Education to ask him to deal with this urgently and I’m pleased that there is now some progress in that Gavin Williamson  has said exams will be pushed back to the end of summer term to give students more time to catch up on the curriculum missed during the lockdown.

Decolonising the curriculum in medicine
Many people suggested ‘decolonising’ the curriculum as an important response to Black Lives Matter. But what does that mean?
In an inspiring discussion with several students and staff at the University of Bristol’s School of Medicine, I was fascinated to see scientific teaching engaging with this problem. For them it means demanding anti-racist practises in every aspect of the course and teaching that reflects the diversity of the country, for example being taught to understand signs of illness on darker skin.