Before the election period is over, I would like to say a few words about teaching and schools in Norwich South.
I’m a mum to three wonderful children, 15, 14 and almost 12. I love my children from the bottom of my heart and would give my life for their wellbeing if I had to, just like any other parent. I grew up in a society that valued education and having come from a less than privileged background, I’ve always felt that a good education is the key to a successful life.
Which is why I am passionate about education. Not just providing the best we can for our children, but making sure that our kids take and make use of the opportunities they are given. That they spend their time at school well, that they are well looked after and taught and that the nuclear unit of education is a joint effort between the child, teachers and parents. All working together, pulling in the same direction, creating that special environment for our future generations.
As my kids were growing up, I got sucked into the classroom, first as a parent helper, then a voluntary teaching assistant and then teaching assistant proper. I cannot describe how man-hour hungry a school environment is, and how impossible it sometimes felt just to tread water, yet alone make any progress with planning or sessions for the children. I had the unique opportunity of working with some incredible teachers and just like healthcare, teaching is a vocation, not just a job.
In my time, I have seen some amazing teaching practices and if I’m honest, some absolutely appalling ones - to the point where I’ve had to step in as a parent and remove my child from the school environment to catch up with glossed over work which my child “wasn’t ready for” despite it being a key building block for the next stage of education.
Therefore, I will always support assessment of children throughout their education. Relevant assessment that will give parents, children and teachers a good idea of how everyone is doing in the process, to make sure that no child gets left behind and we can reduce the number of illiterate children leaving primary school and entering secondary education.
I am a firm believer in choice for education. As parents we know what is best for our children and, even in a family of several kids, no two are the same; to get the best out of our kids it’s important to meet their needs. We already have an outstanding range of academies, free and faith schools in the constituency and will work with all of them to ensure they are getting the funding they need and are making the best use of this funding for the benefit of the children in their care.
As somebody with a disability, I’m also determined that our schools become even more inclusive of children with special educational needs. We already do much better than most countries in this respect and my ambition is to translate this inclusivity in schools into the workplace where there is still much work to be done. Funding will play a large part in this project of mine and I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that SEN is better funded moving forward.
Another aspect of training which I’m keen to develop in Norfolk are apprenticeships - especially technical skills apprenticeships, which will cover the current gap in technical skills training in the constituency - and HE apprenticeships, where young people can train, get through a university degree and be paid at the same time. These apprenticeships are very well developed in Germany and I feel that this model should be applied more readily to the UK to help young people who are anxious about the burden of tuition fees when going to university.
Finally to tuition fees. Whilst the Conservative party have no plans to abolish tuition fees as Labour are promising to do, I feel it important to make the following points. Firstly, tuition fees do not necessarily mean £9K a year, there are less expensive universities out there and the loan can be less. Secondly, making tuition fees free for all mean that there will be a significant proportion of young people whose parents could afford the tuition fees, but will no longer have to pay them - which will add to the burden of taxation for the entire country. Which I don’t think is fair. Thirdly, I’ve seen no evidence that universities subscribe to the abolition of tuition fees in favour of being tied to a government budget. At present, if a university wishes to expand the number of students on a course and it has a business case to do so, it will. If it wishes to build a new halls of residence, it can. But if it’s tied into a government budget, all these freedoms are curtailed and I honestly don’t see how this system would work well in the future. I also believe that paying for tuition fees allows students to hold the university to account for the quality of the course and delivery, which would be reduced if we returned to the old system. It is also important to remember that we now have more people in higher education than ever before - not just young people leaving school, but mature students, coming back into the system to top up their qualifications which will in turn lead to better jobs and - hopefully - life satisfaction.