The Tories keep saying they're worried about 'disadvantaged children' – but this is what they really mean

Moya Lothian-McLean@moya_lm
Friday 22 May 2020 08:00
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When Boris Johnson announced plans to reopen primary schools in England on the 1 June, serious concerns were raised.

Teachers' unions warned they would not force their members to work in unsafe environments and 150 councils across the UK, including the likes of Manchester, Liverpool and Stockport, will not be advising schools to open their doors.

Schools in Wales and Scotland remain closed.

Naturally, the government’s desire to press on ahead with the unpopular plan has raised questions as to what pressing motivation could outweigh opposition from the general public.

It has been suggested the driving factor is a need to get the economy moving again, and remove the burden of childcare from thousands of parents so they can return to work.

But this narrative isn’t exactly one that paints the government in a favourable light.

So Tory MPs have been insisting that the plan for schools to reopen is actually for the benefit of “disadvantaged children”.

First, education secretary Gavin Williamson said during Saturday’s briefing that the return to school was vital for children from “difficult or unhappy homes” for whom “school is the happiest moment in the week and the safest place for them to be”.

His comments received short thrift at the time from viewers who weren’t convinced that those children were actually at the top of Williamson’s priority list.

His parliamentary record was compared unfavourably to his comments.

Williamson wasn’t the only Tory to pick up the line about reopening schools for the sake of children. MP Lucy Allan – who was recently forced to delete a doctored video of Keir Starmer that she tweeted – also chimed in, saying “reopening schools is about best interests of children”.

Allan then stuck the boot into Labour MPs who publicly opposed the plan, accusing them of not being “minded” to “prioritise the interests of children”.

Her words were also met with backlash.

People brought receipts.

And yesterday, MP Chris Philp appeared on BBC Question Time, where he was asked about the plan for schools to reopen.

“It is really important when safe to get children back into school,” Philp said.

I’m worried there are children who are missing out on education, children particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds who are at risk of falling behind in their studies so as soon as we safely can, i think it is important to get children back into the classroom.

Philp’s comments met with the same reception as those of his colleagues: raised eyebrows.

The dots just didn’t connect for many

Of course, these disadvantaged children the Tories keep bringing up do very much exist and do run the risk of falling behind if not given proper support. But given that the decade of austerity introduced and championed by the Tory party made two parent families with children worse off by an average of £2,080, people are sceptical of this sudden U-turn in concern for kids from difficult backgrounds.

Ditto the fact that funding for 80 per cent of UK schools in 2020 is lower than it was in 2015, even after government pledges to pour more money into education.

Advice for ministers: walk the walk or the talk is worth nothing.

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