Today I spoke at the launch of the new “Speak for Change” report by the Oracy APPG on the importance of developing speaking skills in school which featured The Oaks Primary School in Chantry, Ipswich. Oracy is the development of speaking skills which allows students to express themselves fluently and confidently.
The report shows just how key Oracy is to pupil’s development in school but also for their social and emotional wellbeing. It’s been clear from the dislocation a lot of young students have felt this year, that the social aspect of improving these skills cannot be understated.
I found it particularly concerning as highlighted in the report that 66% of primary teachers and nearly half of secondary teachers have said that school closures during the pandemic had a negative effect on the spoken language development of pupils eligible for free school meals. In my role on the Education Committee this year we have spoken at length about how to best support students in making up lost learning and I believe that making Oracy a key focus is crucial to this.
Evidence in the report also shows that Oracy’s benefits extend well beyond school to improving young people’s chances of securing their preferred education and training pathway as they leave secondary school and boosting their employment prospects. It is my belief that, on top of other areas of the curriculum, we need to make sure that all our young people have access to a language-rich environment. Unfortunately, there are so many talented young people from more deprived backgrounds who do well in school but when they get to interview for jobs don’t perform to their full potential. Every child in this country should get the oral communication skills that will see them thrive.
I have always been a keen advocate for the benefits of speaking skills throughout education. When I was at university, I was the mentor for the charity Debate Mate and actually ran a debating class in all girls schools in an underprivileged part of Manchester. I coached them for 6 months and then entered them into the regional final and saw how their speaking skills and their confidence grew over that time. It was incredibly fulfilling to see this positive transformation.
I was also really thrilled that The Oaks Primary school in Ipswich was included in the report and wanted to thank co-headteacher, Jeremy Pentreath, for his contributions. I visited them very recently and they explained to me all the work they have been doing. They have done a fantastic job at effectively implementing their Oracy programme and it is clear they are seeing the results. Staff have noticed the positive impact it is having on teaching and learning, particularly in areas such as vocabulary, Pupil Premium underachievement, engagement, positive learning behaviours and retention of facts.
I am now a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Oracy and am keen to help further the cause going forward.
I voted in favour of an amendment (the Lord Bishop’s Amendment) to the Fire Safety Bill which sought to protect leaseholders from the remediation costs associated with all fire safety defects (not just cladding). As you may know I was an early signatory to the McPartland-Smith amendment which was very similar but was voted down by the House of Commons on the 22nd March. I was disappointed that that vote was unsuccessful and hoped that the Lords Amendment would pass today. Unfortunately, it did not.
This is the second time I’ve voted against the Government on this key issue and it’s not something I take lightly, but given that there had been no material change between the last vote and this one in a way that would see many of my constituents better protected, I felt that I had to once again vote this way.
I’ve always been clear that my priority is to represent my constituents and it’s possible that from time to time this will involve me voting a different way from my Party colleagues. Yes, when people voted for me, they voted for a Conservative MP, but I also believe that people hoped they were voting for someone who was prepared to make difficult decisions that put their constituents first.
Over the past year the Government have outlined a range of support for leaseholders (in the Billions) and many of my constituents who are leaseholders have received the support they need. However not all. When discussing this matter with Ipswich leaseholders I have been clear that I do not want any leaseholder to be left behind, and sadly at this stage, many still are.
This issue is not just about cladding. Many leaseholders live in properties where there are fire safety defects that need to be urgently addressed including wall insulation, fire doors, wooden balconies and fire brakes. Sometimes remediating these issues can cost thousands of pounds and it is resulting in leaseholders being unable to sell their properties as many mortgage lenders are refusing to lend, essentially making many of the properties valueless.
These leaseholders have bought their properties in good faith and are not to blame for these fire safety defects, and I fail to see why they should be forced to saddle the costs.
Ultimately the taxpayer shouldn’t have to bear the cost of this either. Those who should pay are those who are responsible. Whether it’s the builders or the management agents.
I have had many detailed discussions with the Housing Minister over this matter and he has made clear to me that the Building Safety Bill will be the place to resolve these issues. However, a key concern for me is there isn’t currently much detail regarding this, and I haven’t been given a clear timeline for when this new Bill will be in place and when the uncertainty and anxiety that many of my constituents face will be ended. Ultimately this is what led to me voting again the way I did today.
Since the moment I was elected I’ve done everything I can to support leaseholders in Ipswich and I will continue to do so.
I was glad to be invited to attend a meeting of the IP3 Good Neighbourhood Scheme (“IP3”) yesterday evening to say a few words and hear about the work that they have been doing to benefit the local community.
The group covers a big chunk of the Southeast of Town in Holywells, Gainsborough, Priory Heath, and some of Bixley and during what has been a really tough year they have stepped up to support the area. They have been handing out food parcels, collecting prescriptions, and talking to vulnerable people on the telephone. They have also done a lot of litter picking!
Last year when the pandemic first hit, I set up a “Talks with Tom” phone line to offer company to vulnerable elderly people who were shielding over the pandemic. I wrote to over 7,000 people over the age of 70 offering my support and I had lots of chats with my elderly constituents.
IP3 are also hoping to run some coffee mornings when restrictions are eased so that people can meet face to face again and socialise to take care of their mental health.
Last May I also shaved my head to raise money for AgeUK Suffolk as they had been struggling to stay afloat with a presence in our town. I managed to raise around £3,000 but unfortunately, they folded just after the money was raised which was a big shame. At the time I was very concerned that there would be a deficit for the services that they provided in Ipswich but local community organisations really stepped up to fill in where there was need and IP3 is a fantastic example of this.
I am really grateful to the huge group of volunteers they have assembled to help the most vulnerable and I think it is great that they are now seeking charitable status which will make fundraising much easier for them. I am very keen to support IP3 in getting this charitable status and in any way I can to help them to keep improving the local community.
I was privileged to be asked to speak at the Ipswich Christian Leaders Conference last Thursday.
Our Churches have played a crucial role over the past year. They have had to adapt and change in ways I can’t imagine any were expecting but they’ve been successful in doing so.
Not only have they provided invaluable spiritual and mental support to huge numbers across Town through initiatives such as the BASIC community pop-up shops they have also providing a great deal of practical support to those most in need.
It was incredibly uplifting to hear their vision for the future and their passion and hope for the Town. I look forward to working closely with them all in future.
Despite calling for one for the last 2 years it’s a shame that the local Labour Party refuse to introduce a proper local residency requirement for council housing. Local people get slight preference, that’s it as it stands.
What we need is a firm policy. Local Conservatives are proposing a new system that would mean you would have to live in Ipswich for at least 6 years before you’re eligible. They’ve studied other local authorities who have done this. No reason why we can’t do it here in Ipswich.
There is a long waiting list in the thousands for council properties. Let’s properly back local residents for all properties.