I recently wrote to Edward Timpson, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, regarding special education needs provision. I have now received a reply which I thought may be of interest to constituents and it is enclosed below.
Archive for the ‘Education’ Category
I recently attended a model United Nations conference, where students from five schools in Aylesbury and Buckingham performed the role of delegates and international press reporters.
I heard pupils debating the role of the UN, and how you strike the right balance between the need for international human rights to be respected, but also for the independence and sovereignty of the individual countries, and at what point international intervention is justified. These are the sorts of issues that I and my colleagues in government and in governments across the world are having to grapple with and it’s really great to see young people getting involved with those issues and debating them seriously.
The event was run by Buckinghamshire County Council, and more information can be found on their web-site here.
Aylesbury Grammar School ‘s Cabaret Evening, held at the Waterside Theatre, was a musical knockout. Not only were the technical standards of the singing and instrumental playing amazingly high, but the students were so obviously loving the chance to be onstage and hold a pretty big (500 or so) audience. Simon Cowell eat your heart out!
Work started last week on the new Children’s Centre and Nursery development at Aylesbury College.
The College was recently awarded a £225,000 grant by the Skills Funding Agency, as part of the Government’s plan to invest in Colleges across the country. This grant will go towards the replacement Nursery. The Children’s Centre and Pre-School Area is being funded by Buckinghamshire County Council.
The development will significantly improve the facilities available in a new, state-of-the-art building (see the artist’s impression below). Construction work is due to be completed by the end of March next year, with the Children’s Centre opening in April. The Nursery will open shortly afterwards.
Although the Government is currently working hard to reduce the national deficit, this development at Aylesbury College shows that investment projects in further education are still going ahead. The Government fully understands that colleges in Britain must be adequately equipped for learning, and has pledged to invest £50 million into new further education facilities across the country.
On 8th September I received a letter from John Hayes MP, Minister for Further Education, Skills, and Lifelong Learning, outlining the Government’s plans regarding spending on further education. The letter helps to clarify the Government’s policy on the issue, and can be viewed below.
Last week was very much RAF week. On the Monday morning I began the working week with a visit to Halton Primary School, just outside Wendover. About three quarters of the children who go to Halton are from RAF families. This causes a number of challenges for the school. For a start, fathers (and in these days mothers too) can be posted at very short notice, meaning frequent family moves. The headteacher told me that she had lost about 10 children in December 2009 as a result of postings. She knew that, given the law of averages, they would probably be replaced by a similar number of children from RAF families newly posted into Halton but the problem she faced was that the census date for schools, the date at which pupil numbers are used to calculate a school’s budget entitlement, fell in January while those school places were still vacant. The school therefore faced an immediate budget shortfall and would soon have to take on new pupils without the funding being available to support them.
Not surprisingly, service children often end up passing through a number of different state schools in a very short space of time. At Halton School, they can be taking in boys and girls who have perhaps attended three or four different primary schools in as many years. You can imagine the dislocation which those moves cause to a child’s education. Sometimes, a child might miss one part of the curriculum entirely because different schools teach it at a different point in a particular academic year.
For children with special educational needs, it is not always straightforward to ensure that an assessment and the resources to support particular forms of assistance are transferred from one education authority or one school to another. It’s hard enough to make this happen within England. When a child moves in to Bucks from Scotland, Northern Ireland or from an RAF station overseas, the problems can be worse. I am going to take this point up with education ministers.
But it wasn’t all bad news. The reason that the school invited me to visit them was to help celebrate their success in obtaining recognition of be special demands placed on them by the large number of service children at Halton. Bucks County Council has agreed to pay an additional sum of money per pupil to Halton School and to Walters Ash School ( which serves RAF High Wycombe). Musician, Paulton school has been able to secure funding from a number of different sources for a mobility officer to provide support to service children and ensure that information about their school records and their educational needs has been properly collated. Academic standards at Halton School are on the up and be staff and governors seemed enthusiastic and very determined to improve the school’s reputation further.
Two days later, I was in Walters Ash. Not to visit the school but to spend a couple of hours at RAF High Wycombe. I first called on Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Moran, commander-in-chief of Air Command. We chatted about the role of the RAF in our defence policy, Afghanistan and nuclear deterrence. Whichever political party forms the government after the next general election will need to undertake an urgent and thorough review not just of Britain’s defence but of our broader national security strategy. It seems to me to be essential that we do a great deal more to integrate our defence, diplomatic and development policies and so that once the government collectively has agreed on a particular policy, every minister knows what they are signed up to and what their department is expected to provide. We should never make foreign policy commitments about the deployment of British forces unless we are willing to ensure that the service men and women concerned are properly equipped and kitted out for that task.
I then went down the road for a meeting with group Captain Tony Radcliffe, station commander of RAF High Wycombe. I suspect that he has more very senior officers on his station then any other RAF local commander! We talked about the integration of civilian and contracted staff with uniformed personnel, about service housing and social and recreational facilities. It was good to hear that some of the rather dilapidated service quarters have been done up but disappointing to learn that the station’s antiquated gym still hasn’t been replaced. I remember this being raised with me as an issue by RAF personnel more than 10 years ago. Of course they problem is that when money is tight all three services, quite naturally and rightly, give priority to the people in the front line ahead of those back home.
Despite all the budgetary pressures, what impresses me every time I talk to the RAF (and I am sure that this applies in the other two services as well) is their can do attitude. Officers and other ranks are usually pretty straight with me over what’s going wrong but they then work on the basis that while they might want certain things to change they will also do their utmost to make the best of the circumstances in which they find themselves. It’s a pretty good principle by which to live.
First port of call this morning was to the Aylesbury Training Group centre in Smeaton Close. ATG has been operating in Aylesbury for more than 40 years. It is a not-for-profit organisation that runs training courses aimed primarily at young people. What has always impressed me about ATG is its restlessness for innovation. While still providing some fairly traditional engineering training courses, it has also branched out into cycle repair and maintenance, motorsport and information technology.
Today they invited me to help launch their new status as a Microsoft Academy. ATG had found that while it was able to turn out good students with IT qualifications, local employers kept on asking whether those students were certified by Microsoft to carry out work on that company’s software. Quite naturally, employers wanted to take on people who would be able to deal straight away with a standard software which they used in their firm. The trouble was, but government funded courses like NVQs cannot be tilted towards any one particular commercial brand and so those courses did not provide me Microsoft-specific qualifications for which Aylesbury companies were looking. So ATG got itself approved as a Microsoft IT Academy so that it could offer its students in the Microsoft qualification as well as they stand on one. Result: more young people in Aylesbury with the skills that employers want.
One thing that I see in my travels as a shadow foreign minister, is that the countries of Asia, the Middle East and Latin America aren’t planning to compete with us just that the low skill, low paid work. All of the emerging economies are pursuing strategies designed to increase the number of their young people who are trained and qualified to do high skill, high value work. If we are going to continue to attract jobs and investment to Britain, we have got to be on our competitive toes. We could do with many more enterprises like ATG.
David at Aylesbury College Question Time.
In the picture (from left to right) John Bercow MP, Ben Wilmshurst (Student), High Sheriff Allan Westry, Principal Pauline Odulinski, Police Officer Sergeant Steve Laws and David Lidington MP
On 9th February, David Lidington and John Bercow were on the panel of two ‘Question Time’ events at Aylesbury College on Friday. In the second annual event for students, Allan Westray, High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, Steve Laws from Thames Valley Police and Pauline Odulinski, Principal of Aylesbury College joined with Mr Bercow, MP for Buckingham and Speaker of the House of Commons and Mr Lidington, MP for Aylesbury, in answering a range of questions from over 50 pupils of local schools and students from the College.
In a lively hour and a half, the topics ranged from electoral reform to selective schools, including EU membership, HE fees and MPs salaries. There was widespread agreement on the panel on a number of issues, and a number of key points were acknowledged by the MPs for them to take away and consider.
The panel then attended a buffet lunch in Hardings restaurant, meeting members of the local business community, concluding with another question and answer session, being joined by Graham Grover, Chief Executive of the Buckinghamshire Economic and Learning Partnership.
The questions were equally challenging, although more focussed on the economy and the local needs for growth. Much was made of the prospective election and potential change of Government, with Mr Bercow fastidiously maintaining his impartiality.
At the end of the session, the MPs were unanimous in their praise for the College, not just for the days’ events, but for the continuous improvements it has made in the past decade to make it a community asset to be proud of.
David signing the 2010 Holocaust Memorial Book
To find out more visit the Holocaust Educational Trust’s website here.
On 27th November David attended an Aylesbury Skills Centre UK open evening.
David attended the event to commemorate the company’s 2009 HSBC Start-Up Stars Award and to help launch their new ‘Countdown to College’ initiative. The Aylesbury based company were also opening a new extension after a successful few months which should see them turnover £500,000 by the end of the financial year.
About Skills Centre UK:
Skill Centre UK provides high-quality vocational training for schools and other education providers working with 14-19 year olds. Their training is accredited to level 1 or 2 by City & Guilds and BTEC and can be delivered from one of their centres or in schools.
In January 2010 the skills centre launched its Adult Training package which aims to retrain or top up skills in the general workforce. Technical courses cover the following trades: plastering, plumbing, bricklaying, carpentry and decorating and are accredited to level 1 or 2 through City & Guilds. NVQ training is available if you already work in the industry and need to update your qualifications.
“Skills Centre UK is a welcome addition to Aylesbury and the constituency. It is important to make sure young people have the right skills to help them get ahead and those wishing to “top up” have the opportunity to do so”.
To find out more click here.