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From the Chamber: Vulnerable children during covid

Cllr Prue Bray
Cllr Prue Bray

By Cllr Prue Bray

As an opposition councillor on Wokingham Borough Council there are plenty of things I could find to criticise the council for.  But the response by Children’s Services staff to the pandemic is not one of them.

Despite all the constraints of successive lockdowns, the staff have managed to maintain services, to keep up their visits to vulnerable children, and to provide extra support to families and schools. 

What is the current situation with regard to vulnerable children and education?

In the first lockdown about 2% of pupils were physically in schools.  The figure now is about 12%. This includes just under half of children who would qualify as vulnerable, because they have an Education Health and Care Plan (42% in school) or a social worker (47% in school). 

This may sound low, but all vulnerable children are being monitored to check on their situation. It can be more appropriate for them to be at home, depending on their health, their family’s health, what their siblings or other children in their foster family are doing, whether they have the right facilities at home and so on.

Records

We know that some key worker children are attending school, but the council can’t give a percentage because they don’t keep records of who key workers are.

We also know that some children are attending school because of inadequate facilities at home, but this information is hard to collate because it depends on individual decisions by individual schools. 

Work is still going on to source laptops and ensure internet access. 

If anyone reading this can help provide equipment, please get in touch with Children’s Services or your local school.

About 19% of children eligible for Free School Meals are attending school. Either vouchers or hampers are being provided for all eligible children, so all of them get a meal whether they are physically in school or not. 

The quality and quantity of the food in the hampers has been checked by the council to make sure it is of an acceptable standard. 

Having failed to provide anything in October half-term, the council has now confirmed that it will offer meals to all eligible children during all the school holidays in 2021. 

This is something I have personally campaigned on, having tried twice to get the council to debate the issue. Both times the Conservatives voted to end the meeting instead.  That was frustrating, but at least children will now get fed and that’s the main thing.

The staff in schools and the staff at the council are doing a magnificent job – as are the parents who are home-schooling their children

And the Conservative politicians who are in charge at the Council?  They have at least not got in the way.

Cllr Prue Bray  is the Lib Dem spokesperson for children’s services and councillor for
Winnersh Ward at Wokingham Borough Council

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