Some days, as an MP you get to do something wonderful. This month I met Charlie Bevin, who has had three operations to remove a brain tumour. After surgery he initially couldn’t eat, walk or talk. He is now doing amazingly well. Charlie’s parents had got in touch to ask if there was a way to recognise the immense support they have received from Mrs Brown and her team at Buckton Vale school. I was delighted to present the school with a certificate of achievement. Charlie is an incredible young man, supported through this awful time by dedicated public servants. Thank you to Charlie’s Mum and Dad for being so community spirited even after all they have been through.
I have really enjoyed being able to visit schools again- it was one of the aspects of this job I missed dearly during lockdowns. This month I was excited to be invited to the coding club at St Raphael’s. It was great to see how primary schools are now teaching essential skills for a digital age. I had a go at the ‘Dance Party’ app and didn’t do too badly, with some superlative help from the pupils. They were extremely kind to award me a school certificate, now on display at home alongside my children’s!
It was also good to visit Ashton Sixth Form college this month to catch up not just about the college, which is thriving, but also about Longdendale and Rayner Stephens High Schools which are part of the same trust. I’ve been working with the college to lobby the Government on changes to BTECs, and to understand how the new T-Level qualifications will work. I’m confident in the leadership teams we now have in place at Longdendale and Rayner Stephens, and the behaviour policies that have been introduced. I also heard about specific work being done at Rayner Stephens around literacy, which was encouraging.
I also recently enjoyed wonderful visits to Arundale and Pinfold schools, with a warm welcome from some fantastic students. I never cease to be surprised by how engaged children are in the world around them. The calibre of debate on a typical school visit is frequently more inspiring than in the House of Commons.
One thing that lots of teachers are telling me currently is that the investment in better ventilation that is necessary to curb Covid-19 has just not been forthcoming. The Government should not leave school staff to choose between a cold and draughty school or one where staff and students are at risk.
Another thing that strikes me when visiting schools is just how important extra-curriculum activities are to our children’s character development. From playing sports to visiting our brilliant places local like Portland Basin Museum to enjoying the outdoors through forest schools initiatives, a lot of important learning can take place outside of the classroom. All kids missed out on so much during the pandemic, but the truth is, access to this sort of enrichment was already declining.
Since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, children’s participation in competitive sport has fallen by 13%, in music by 36%, and in drama by a sad 47%. My own daughter is currently rehearsing for a school production of Matilda and you can see it boosting her confidence, work ethic and ambition. I want that for every child. Unfortunately, kids from the poorest backgrounds are three times more likely not to access extra-curricular activities.
That’s why Labour is campaigning for Ten By Ten. By the age of 10 we want every single child to have the chance to play in a sports team, learn an instrument, swim, debate, ride a bike, go camping, visit a museum, go to the seaside, use a library, and take part in performing arts. A rounded childhood is so important, it is never a wasted investment. Since I first stood to represent Stalybridge & Hyde, I have made education a personal priority. A hope the Government will join me in recognising our amazing young people really are our best asset.