Last week I spoke in a backbench debate on education on the Government’s plan for assessments. I welcomed the reopening of schools on the 8th March.
In terms of SEND students, many have struggled with online learning. As I know from my own experience, many people with dyslexia and dyspraxia value examinations because they do not learn in the same way as their peers. Being unconventional learners, they have the opportunity to surprise people in exams because they can consolidate their knowledge in their own way. I believe that when teachers are deciding whether their pupils should do tests or not, the pupils should feed into that decision as they may want their attainment to be reflected by in-class assessment. I would like to see more clarity from the Government on whether schools will make these decisions for all their pupils collectively or whether different methods can be used for pupils with different needs.
I also noted that in terms of the impacts school closures, the most disadvantaged have been the hardest hit. This especially applies to pupils from the Roma community in Ipswich who do not have English as their first language. Lots of schools in Ipswich were making tremendous progress with these pupils before the pandemic but unfortunately rates of participation in online learning has been lower amongst this group than the average and as a result there are concerns that progress has gone backwards. Therefore, when we talk about ensuring pupils catch up, an element of that is providing resources to schools to help these kids get back to where they were.
I also expressed my excitement about the FE white paper and my desire to see Suffolk included in the Trailblazer Schemes for the new skills improvement plans. I have spoken to so many businesses recently who tell me about the jobs they have coming down the pipeline who want to be able to capitalise on a local skills base.
On the Education Select Committee last week, I wanted to tackle the issue of the unequal schools funding formula which puts pupils in more deprived areas of our town at a disadvantage compared to their peers in other areas of the country.
There is serious funding inequality when it comes to schools in more deprived pockets within largely prosperous counties. The money these pupils receive per head, as is the case within Ipswich, can be multiple times lower than their counterparts from less prosperous counties and this needs to change.
My calls for further explanation of this was joined by David Simmons MP who cited the fact that a child with pupil premium (the extra grant given by the Government per student from the most-disadvantaged backgrounds) in Shropshire, gets less money than a child without the pupil premium in Birmingham. This is almost certainly the case for a child in Ipswich as compared to Birmingham as well. It is completely unacceptable that a child from a low-income background in Ipswich should receive any less funding than a child from a low-income background in any other part of the country. And they certainly should not be receiving less funding per head than more well-off pupils in other parts of the country.
Another issue is the funding of SEND in Suffolk. Funding for special school places in Suffolk are also unacceptably lower than neighbouring areas. In Norfolk, a specialist placement for a child with autism is funded at £27,000 per year, but in Suffolk that number is £19,500. I believe that this disparity must be addressed. I wrote the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson about this funding disparity in January and I will be writing to him to push all of the points raised on this issue at the Education Committee.
It is very clear to me that when it comes to funding our schools, there needs to a formula in place that is sensitive to the specific needs of each child.
I asked the Education Secretary a question yesterday about the quality of remote education. I appreciate that not all online classes will be “live” but I do believe that a good proportion should be.
As always I was keen to ensure that those with special educational needs get the support they need. Pupils with EHCP (Education and Health Care Plans) are eligible to come into school at the moment but many who have special educational needs but don’t have an EHCP plan are not.
A number of teachers and parents have made clear to me how important it is for these pupils to have a certain level of online classes that are live, particularly those with speech and language difficulties. Pupils with special education needs often process information very differently and therefore having a live lesson does provide them with the opportunity to question and make it clear if they’re struggling with a given topic. Ultimately though I do understand why a mixture of live and pre-prepared is likely to be the most common outcome at most schools.
I can also see mental health benefits to a proportion of the classes being live. Tackling loneliness and providing a certain level of human engagement (though remote) with their teachers and classmates.
As you will see I also pay thanks at the start of my question to all teachers in Ipswich who I appreciate are operating in very difficult circumstances. The majority are balancing continuing to teach some classes in person at their school with the children of key workers and vulnerable children with the online classes that they are also having to lead.
I can understand fully why it may be the case that not all online learning providing by schools is live but I am keen that a good proportion is.
None of this is a substitute however for real time lessons which is why I’m keen for all schools to reopen again as soon as it’s safe for them to do so. Ideally after the February half term.
Yesterday I asked the Children’s Minister about the £220 million expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food programme through Easter, Summer and Christmas in 2021. Ipswich was one of the pilots of the programme, and I saw it in action when I visited Inspire Suffolk with the Children’s Minister in the summer. One of the key ways the activities were able to benefit the children was the participation of different local organisations and young people from Ipswich in delivering the pilot. And It’s important that when this programme comes back and is rolled out across the country, that schools, childcare providers, voluntary organisations can all play a role, as the Minister also underlined.
The programme provides meals for children during the school holidays as well as keeping them engaged in activities and exercise. And it’s important it’s rolled out with as much involvement from the community as possible to make the most of it. I’ll be keeping a very close eye on the expansion of the programme next year and I’ll do everything I can locally to help make sure the community is completely aware of how they can get involved.
Special educational needs is one of things I’m most passionate about. Since my election I became a member of the Education Select Committee in Parliament and locally I have become an Associate Governor of the Sir Bobby Robson school on Lindbergh Road which started up this September and provides tailored support for those with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.
The Sir Bobby Robson school has made a positive start and will hopefully turn the lives around of many of the young adults who have started there this September. However its a sad reality that not everyone who could benefit from a place at a special school such as the Sir Bobby Robson school is able to get a place. This academic year in Ipswich we are seeing two new special schools but we need more. We also need to ensure that those with special educational needs who are within a mainstream school get the support they need, I did but many don’t this is a great unfairness that I’m determined to be part of addressing.
Used a question in the Commons today to ask about the Government’s Kickstart Scheme and how we can make sure as many young people as possible in Ipswich benefit from the job placements it will create. I called on the Government to do this by also prioritising the excellent work being done by local charities like Inspire Suffolk to help young people improve their skills and wellbeing at this crucial point in their lives. This was something I saw first-hand when I visited the charity in Lindbergh Road last month.
It was also encouraging to hear more details about the roll out of the Kickstart Scheme in Ipswich, including the work that’s underway with local employers to get young people onto the Scheme. And that a local youth hub and new apprenticeship positions are being looked into. I’ll be following up on the progress with this over the coming weeks. Covid-19 has increased the challenges but I’ll keep doing everything I can to make sure young people in our town have every opportunity to succeed.
Supporting young people has to be one of our main focuses now Parliament has returned. And today I asked the Education Secretary to continue funding for charities like Inspire Suffolk which works with disadvantaged children in Ipswich and complements the work done by local schools. This is even more important when charities have faced significant difficulties fundraising themselves during Covid-19.
Last week I brought the Childrens Minister to Lindbergh Road to see Inspire Suffolk’s excellent work to run summer activities for children over the summer. Their School Holiday Programme has been backed by Government funding and this type of funding for charities must continue as we face the next challenges like the return to school and addressing the disadvantage gap that’s opened up when schools have been closed.
Charities play an invaluable role in supporting young people across our town and it’s vital that local young people can keep benefiting from the work they do. I’m glad the Education Secretary recognises this and has committed to work with me and local charities to see how Government support can be delivered going forwards. I’ll be working closely with Inspire Suffolk and others on this over the coming weeks.
Dropped by Northgate this morning to meet the Head and see all the preparations they’ve put in place for next Thursday when all pupils return. Many challenges to overcome but I’m optimistic for them next week. A very sensible and reasoned approach to reopening and I’m confident they’ve made the right calls on the key issues.