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.
Clearly the past few days have been regrettable and I’m well aware of the stress and anxiety this has caused a number of my young constituents who have worked very hard for their A levels (many of whom my office has been supporting over the past few days). Any approach to awarding exam grades at a time when exams have been cancelled comes with its own shortcomings and this will be the case with this new approach also.
However, in light of the events over the past few days I think this was the correct decision. Ofqual were responsible for developing the algorithm for awarding grades and to say that I’ve been concerned about some of the patterns that have been emerging would be an understatement and many of the stories I’ve heard have been worrying. It’s positive news that GCSE students have this certainty ahead of receiving their grades this week and that hopefully the kind of upset and anxiety we’ve seen this week can be avoided.
Wherever exam results are handed out it won’t always be good news for everyone and there will always be some that will be disappointed however at the very least the whole system needs to be underpinned by a sense of fairness. I do have concerns about grade inflation and clearly teachers predicting grades isn’t the same as students actually sitting and passing exams but in the absence of exams and the shortcomings of Ofqual’s algorithm there appears to be no alternative. I have been communicating my concerns to Ministers over the past couple of days following discussions with constituents and I’m glad this announcement has been made.
As someone who struggled and continues to struggle with dyspraxia and dyslexia, I’ve said before I’m passionate about using my position in Parliament and on the Education Committee to raise awareness of the need to support young people with SEND.
It was therefore a privilege to be asked to become an Associate Governor of the Sir Bobby Robson School in Ipswich and have the opportunity to be involved in this issue at the level where that support must be delivered. When the Sir Bobby Robson School opens in September it will offer specialist places for youngsters with complex social, emotional and mental health needs.
The school will be based on Lindbergh Road and it couldn’t be more important that we get it right. If the young people are given the support they need then there is no reason why they can’t go on to live a good and fulfilling life and make a major contribution. We should be ambitious for everyone at the school. However, as we’ve often found in the past it is often those with SEND who, when they don’t get the support they need, can go down the wrong route.
Adam Dabin, the Headteacher, and the team at the Sir Bobby Robson School are making plans to adopt an almost therapeutic approach to welcoming vulnerable students to school in September, with a focus on their well-being during the Covid-19 outbreak. They all would have been out of school for many months so the transition back to the classroom, a social environment and the routine will be very important. I’ve already asked the Education Secretary to support this approach in Parliament and I’m looking forward to working with the School over the coming months to overcome the challenges of opening for the first time during Covid-19.
Getting young people with special educational needs and other disabilities the support they need is something that is very close to my heart as someone who struggled with dyslexia and dyspraxia at school. And in Parliament today I raised the Sir Bobby Robson School in Ipswich which will open its doors for the first time in September to youngsters with social, emotional and mental health needs.
I’ve had the privilege of being asked to become an Associate Governor at the School and I know that the excellent team at the School are working incredibly hard to welcome pupils in the best way possible given the particular disruption caused to vulnerable youngsters by Covid-19. They plan to take an almost therapeutic approach to helping them integrate back into school life with a clear focus on pupil well-being.
I called on the Secretary of State to provide the Sir Bobby Robson School and other special schools with the support and any external expertise they need to do this and ensure vulnerable young people have the brightest possible future.
I’ll continue to raise this issue on the Education Committee as well and I hope the Secretary of State will look closely at what exceptional support can be provided to get vulnerable young people’s education back on track with a particular focus on their well-being.
This is not an easy time for young people who are just getting on the employment ladder and today I raised the situation of local apprentices on the Education Committee. 350 of Suffolk New College’s 450 apprentices are currently on furlough and there is significant concern that many of them may not have an apprenticeship to go back to. We must look at what we can do to ensure that apprentices can complete their qualifications and don’t fall behind.
There are also many fewer businesses offering apprenticeships next year which will significantly reduce the funding colleges like Suffolk New College receive for the teaching element of apprenticeships they provide. Even before Covid-19 there was a general recognition that more investment was needed in apprenticeships and technical education, but due to the virus further education colleges are now facing a particularly acute impact on their finances.
In response to me on the Committee today, the Chief Executive of the Association of the Association of Colleges, David Hughes, underlined how about £2bn of colleges’ income is at risk for the next academic year out of a total £7bn.
This comes at a time when our further education colleges couldn’t be more important for getting young people well-trained and into our economy. And I will do everything I can to support all our colleges and further education providers in Ipswich. I will support more funding for them to meet these unprecedented challenges wherever possible.
Another school visit today. I went to Copleston High School to see their new building (opened in April) and see the plans they’ve put in place to welcome back pupils in year 10 and year 12. Pleased to learn more about how they’ve been supporting all pupils remotely with a special focus on mental health. As many of you will know they’ve also been providing a community food self to support the local community. The team have done a very good job over the past couple of months in very difficult circumstances.
Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, has welcomed the Government’s decision to reverse course on its earlier plans not to extend the Free School Meal Voucher Scheme over the summer holidays. The Government announced today that a new £120 million Covid summer food fund would be set up to ensure 1.3 million children in the most hard-pressed families receive a food voucher worth £15 a week over the 6 week summer break.
The Government’s change of course follows a number of efforts made by Hunt and other parliamentary colleagues behind the scenes to stress the importance of these vouchers to families facing hardship during Covid-19 and to urge the Government to extend them over the summer holidays. Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford also made a high profile intervention in support of the extension of the Scheme yesterday.
On 5 June, Hunt penned a letter to the Minister for Children and Families, Vicky Ford MP, detailing his support for the extension of the scheme and highlighting its importance to many families in Ipswich undergoing severe financial pressure and struggling to make ends meet. Hunt’s letter also came in the wake of a study finding that one in four children in Ipswich are living in relative poverty.
Hunt’s correspondence on the 5 June followed an earlier letter which Hunt co-signed as a Member of the Education Committee on 13 May which urged the Minister for Children to look early on into what can be done to extend the free school meal voucher scheme over the Summer holiday.
Today before the Government’s new plans were announced, Hunt was ready to vote against the Government in a motion calling for money to be available to disadvantaged children over the summer holiday.
Following the Government’s announcement today, Tom said:
“I am pleased the Government has listened to the concerns raised and has decided to extend free school meal vouchers over the summer as part of a new fund. This is an issue I have been intimately involved in as a member of the Education Committee and I know that for many families in Ipswich these vouchers are an essential source of support during Covid-19.
“In my letter to the Minister for Children almost two weeks ago, I raised the fact that there are 3 million children at risk of holiday hunger in the UK and that many of them will be children in Ipswich. This is a scenario which must be avoided and I was ready to vote against the Government today on this issue. But I am glad the Government has listened and will now provide a £90 food voucher for the most disadvantaged children over summer.
“The Covid-19 outbreak has been an exceptional time and it’s important we are ready to implement exceptional measures to ensure that no child is left behind. We will be dealing with the impact of Covid-19 on children’s education for many more months and years to come and it would only have compounded these issues if we didn’t do everything it takes to ensure children come through the summer holidays well-nourished.”