COVID-19 - message from the President, 19 June

In this week's address to members, Russell highlights our recent work on schools, including a widely-covered open letter to the Prime Minister and support for Marcus Rashford's free school meals campaign.

This week has been all about schools. On Tuesday we sent our UK members an open letter to read and sign (with no obligation of course). More than 1500 of you did so in just a 24-hour period, which is quite extraordinary.

The media and campaigns team released the text of the letter on Wednesday and it’s fair to say that it’s had quite an impact. Our call to government for a clear plan on the schools issue set the agenda for the day, making the front page of the Times and leading BBC Newsnight, along with all the nationals. We are not headline chasers at the College, but we do try to work with the media when we have something to say and contribute. In this case, it was a response to widespread feeling among you, our members, that there is now an urgent need to see a clear plan for the return of children to full-time education. We recognise that governments in Scotland and Wales have published plans and this is a very positive first step. It sounds like Northern Ireland is also now making very good progress. We’ll continue to put pressure on the UK government to move quickly on this important issue.

I was very proud of how many members signed the letter, gave engaging interviews to journalists, and spoke up on their networks. Most importantly, the story was impossible for decision makers to miss.

Clearly this is a space that we don’t step into without a great deal of consideration. We have a duty of course to reflect the views of our members – and I’ve been hearing those views load and clear over recent weeks. It’s also worth saying that our remit is reflected in our name. We are a College of Paediatrics and Child Health rather than of Paediatricians. This gives us space to speak out on behalf of those we treat and protect, and I was very proud of how many members signed the letter, gave engaging interviews to journalists, and spoke up on their networks. Most importantly, the story was impossible for decision makers to miss. I hope that it helps focus minds on the need for a clear plan as soon as possible. I appreciate that not all of you will share this view, and we really encourage all feedback. You can let us know your thoughts at public.affairs@rcpch.ac.uk.

On a related issue, we were pleased to back the incredible campaign on school meals by Marcus Rashford this week. More than 4 million children in the UK live in poverty, and a third of that group rely on free school meals. Good nutrition and, at the very least access to food, is surely the least we can do as a society. I was very pleased that the government changed course and all credit to Marcus Rashford for making that happen.

Finally, the College is working hard to ensure education and professional development courses are safe to attend and the quality of the teaching and learning remains unaffected. Unfortunately, that means we’ve had to cancel face to face courses between September 2020 and (at least) January 2021. We’re making plans for most of our courses to take place virtually – we’ll have more on that very soon.

That’s all for now.

Russell


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