AS THE education gulf between Oldham students and their peers in other parts of the country widens education leaders and students consider the borough’s Covid recovery and how to bridge the attainment divide.

At a discussion between education leaders and Oldham students on Thursday, it became immediately apparent how anxious the borough’s young people are when it comes to exams, further education and employment.

Speaking after the event, Hamra Hanif-Ali,chair of Oldham youth council and who is currently studying for her A-levels, said: “There’s an uncertainty about everything.

“We finished GCSEs, and no one helped us after that, everyone was in lockdown and I had no emails saying I should carry on with my learning and finish the books, that’s something I did myself.”

She added: “We were talking in the consultation about apprenticeships, work experience and jobs and how that’s going to be affected.

“Young people don’t know if they’re going to have the right grades to get into university, or if they have enough experience, and are questioning whether they even want to go to university anymore.”

With online learning becoming central to studying with schools closed to the majority of pupils, the government has came under fire over the lack of devices that were initially distributed to disadvantaged pupils across Oldham.

Department for Education data shows 3,409 laptops and tablets had been sent by the Government to Oldham Council or its maintained schools as of February 7 – 685 more than by January 17.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We continue to provide laptops and tablets at huge speed and scale for those children who need them the most.”

They added: “This is helping ensure children can continue to receive the best possible education while at home.”

Richard Lynch, Oldham Director of Education, Skills and Early Years, said: “The point I would make, which is particularly important for Oldham, is that it isn’t just the availability of a device.

“A family might have means of getting online but they might not have enough devices within the family, and their housing situation might be such that there isn’t sufficient availability of quiet study space.”

Huge disparities in the amount of classroom time pupils have received in Oldham compared to other areas in England are also threatening education outcomes.

The borough has been in successive lockdowns since March.

Mr Lynch said: “A point that we’ve been trying to get over to all our colleagues at the Department for Education is what has been described by one head teacher here as the ‘Oldham versus Cornwall dilemma’.”

Recent figures have also revealed that one-in three children in Oldham live in poverty – more than anywhere else in the UK.

Oldham council, which provided school meal vouchers to children eligible for free school meals over the February half term, is unsure whether the scheme will be available in the Easter holidays.

Councillor Shaid Mustaq said: “Unfortunately it takes football stars to get the government to set up free school meals which shouldn’t be the case.

“In Oldham, we talk about improving education outcomes and employment, but these things are not confined to the four walls of a classroom or a workshop, a young person is taught in that space but if they are coming into that space hungry or not having slept properly or with other issues such as health and housing then that’s going to impact their education.”

The Prime Minister is currently planning to reopen schools on March 8 and is expected to lay out a full road map for recovery today.