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.”
Disappointed to hear reports that the Government won’t be extending the free school meal voucher scheme over the summer holidays and I’ve written to the Minister for Children to raise my concerns.
These vouchers have been a real lifeline for families facing great hardship as schools have been closed during the Covid-19 pandemic. A decision to end this scheme too soon will hit Ipswich’s most vulnerable children the hardest and no child must go hungry because of Covid-19.
Hopefully the Government will reconsider this decision over the coming days and of course I’ll be raising this issue on the Education Committee and elsewhere to try to persuade the Government to change course.
Written a piece today for the Daily Telegraph about the concerns I have about the positions adopted by a number of teaching unions to the phased reopening of schools. I don’t deny that there are still questions to be answered and I do absolutely understand the concerns many parents have however the very antagonistic and inflexible positions adopted by a number of teaching unions do in my view risk the life chances of many vulnerable children and many from the most deprived backgrounds (understandably these unions are attracting growing cross Party criticism). Please have a read. I have outlined many of the facts that have presented to us on the Education Select Committee relating to the impact the school closures have had.
Today (15/05/20), Tom Hunt, Member of Parliament for Ipswich met online with a number of Primary School Heads from Ipswich and Suffolk to discuss the challenges they are facing in the run up to the phased return of some pupils to school from the beginning of June. The Heads set out a number of concerns they have including around the provision of personal protective equipment, the need for clear guidance and the impact of potential new systems on children’s mental health and wellbeing.
Hunt set out his support for a phased and safe return of more children to school from June. But he acknowledged that nobody knew better than Headteachers what will work for their own school on the ground. Hunt emphasised the importance that Headteachers have flexibility when it comes to opening up classrooms to more children and warned against any attempt to impose a top-down approach. This includes Heads being able to set up rota systems where they deem it appropriate. Hunt promised to stand by local teachers and to raise the concerns they have in his ongoing work on the Education Committee. He also committed to supporting them to have a high degree of discretion and flexibility as the phased reopening takes place.
In the meeting, Hunt drew on the large amount of time he has spent on the Education Committee exploring what impact of school closures on children, particularly the most disadvantaged. This includes children who have SEND, who don’t have suitable access to online learning resources, or who may be vulnerable to abuse at home. It is becoming clearer that vulnerable children and those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are most at risk of falling behind during this pandemic. Hunt is keen to see that these children return to school as soon as it is safe to do so.
Following the meeting, Tom said:
“It was important to meet today with a number of Headteachers of schools in Ipswich and Suffolk to hear their latest views on the planned phased return of some primary school pupils from the 1st of June.
“This crisis has interrupted the education of all children and particularly some of the most vulnerable and deprived children in our community who may not have access to things like online lessons or who may even be suffering abuse. There are also concerns for children in key year groups like reception and Year 1 and their readiness and well-being as they prepare to move through the school system.
“This is why the phased reopening of schools to more children from 1 June has my support but I’m also aware that each school is different and each headteacher has their own concerns. And it was good to go into the detail of this during today’s meeting. It’s clear that our local Headteachers must have a degree of autonomy in how children are brought back and there must not be a one-size-fits-all approach across the board. Nobody knows better than them what is needed in their own school and it was encouraging to see the amount of thought each Headteacher I met with has given this subject for each of their schools.
“I will do everything I can as the local MP to support Ipswich’s headteachers in using their discretion and knowledge of their own school to guide this phased return to school. And I will always be ready to make the case to the Government if they need additional support to make sure the phased return to school is as safe and as effective as possible.
“As well as headteachers, I am also listening to the concerns of teachers at all levels and parents in my constituency. I am also supportive of their discretion and I welcome the Government’s announcement that parents will not be penalised for keeping their children at home even if they’re eligible to attend. This phased return to school will work best if all involved are allowed to work together as partners.”
My view is that no school should be awarded a Good our Oustanding rating unless they provide adequate support for those with Special Educational Needs. Today as part of the Education Select Committee I quizzed the Chief Inspector of Ofsted (the body that scrutinise and assess our schools). I asked a number of questions but perhaps the most important was the one I asked about the extent that they place importance on SEND provision in schools. I have to say I was slightly concerned to find out that under the new Ofsted framework a school can still be awarded a Good or Outstanding classification whilst also having significant deficiencies regarding SEND provision.
Personally I think unless a school can at least meet expectations when it comes to supporting those with special educational needs then they shouldn’t be getting a Good or Outstanding rating. There is much that is good about the new Ofsted framework but its very important that all schools are strongly incentivised to provide first class SEND provision and are properly held to account if they don’t. A number of teachers in Ipswich and parents have raised concerns with me about the way the previous Ofsted framework worked in this respect and the current one needs to be more than just a slight improvement. I will be writing a follow up letter to the Chief Inspector seeking a range of assurances.
Yesterday I had the pleasure to be the guest on the BBC Radio Suffolk Lesley Dolphin show. During my interview I discussed a range of topics including my first week in Parliament, opportunities for people with special educational needs, closures to the Orwell Bridge and long term fixes to our rail network. You can listen to the full interview below.