Archive for Education

Tom says Government must ‘find the money for North East schools’ after new free school announcement

Today the Government announced that it would be opening 131 new free schools. Two of these schools will be built in the North East, compared to 27 new schools opening in the South East of England.

One new primary school, Discovery Special Academy, will be opening in Middlesbrough. There are no new schools set to be built in Redcar and Cleveland.

This announcement comes after a National Audit Office report found that existing schools will need to make £3 billion of savings before 2020 and the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee warned that education funding was facing the biggest squeeze in decades.

Tom, who has been campaigning for the Government to provide additional funding to North East schools facing cuts, said the announcements showed the Government were getting its priorities wrong.

Tom said:

I’ve been contacted by head teachers and teachers saying that local schools are facing budget cuts and parents are getting in touch to say that they are worried that lower funding levels will impact their children’s education. This Tory Government are saying North East schools need to find £119 million of savings in the next three years.

Meanwhile they have found the money to open a whole raft of new schools – only two of which will be in the North East. My constituents will rightly be wondering why the Department has been focusing on building more new schools, rather than making sure the schools which already exist are able to give their pupils the best education.

More school places are welcome but I think we have to prioritise those schools who we know as struggling and are already teaching students.

The Government pledged more than £300 million to build new grammar schools in their budget but can’t seem to find the money needed to plug the funding gap for North East schools.

Tom Blenkinsop meets with local head teacher to discuss school funding cuts

Tom Blenkinsop today met with Tony Gavin, head teacher of Laurence Jackson School in Guisborough, to discuss the funding challenges facing Teesside’s schools.

This follows news that, due to the new school funding formula, increasing school costs and changes in pupil numbers, schools in the North East are set to lose approximately £119 million in funding by 2020. A survey of head teachers also found that 72% of school leaders believe that their budgets will be unsustainable by 2019.

Tom said:

It was good to meet with Tony today, who highlighted not only the £650,000 blackhole Laurence Jackson School could be facing by 2019, but the wider issues facing Teesside schools.

I have previously met with local National Union of Teachers representatives on this issue. With the help of the NUT and National Association of Head Teachers I have tabled an Early Day Motion in parliament asking the Government to think again, and am proud this has received the support of 14 of my colleagues from the North East.

I have repeatedly applied to hold debates on this issue in Parliament but have been unsuccessful so far. I will keep trying and attempt new approaches to get the Government to answer for what they are doing to our schools.

In their manifesto the Tories promised to protect school spending. It’s clear that, again, they’re breaking their promises and letting down the children of Teesside.

The 2015 Conservative manifesto pledged to ‘continue to protect school funding’ and stated repeatedly that the ‘amount of money following your child into school will be protected’.

In December an independent National Audit Office report into the ‘financial sustainability of schools’ found that UK schools will have to find £3 billion in efficiency savings by 2020 if current spending levels continue.

Tom urges local primary schools to take part in free trees scheme

Local Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, is today (16th December 2015) urging primary schools in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland to take part in a free tree scheme for schools.

The scheme, organised by the Woodland Trust, offers eligible schools extra help with planting to encourage them to make their school grounds and local communities greener.

Children can look forward to planting a copse or hedge, which can provide a wild harvest, or a burst of year round colour. Defra is now supporting The Woodland Trust to offer an additional 45,000 British native trees to 7000 state funded primary schools in England.

As well as free tree packs, for eligible schools,  there’s help with finding somewhere else to plant if there isn’t room in school grounds; protection to help the trees grow; and on-line curriculum-linked resources to support teachers’  lesson plans.

Tom said:
“This great opportunity will help schools improve their local environment and enable children to learn about nature. Trees bring enormous benefits to our surroundings and I have written to local head teachers highlighting the scheme and to encourage as many primary schools as possible to try and get involved.”

Beccy Speight, Chief Executive of The Woodland Trust said:
“It’s vitally important children get the chance to plant a tree. We know from our research it’s a memory they’ll treasure for years to come, and often starts their relationship off with the natural world and all the benefits that brings.

“This scheme offers schools which have found it hard in the past, a new way to plant trees, and bring an oasis of green into their community.”

Schools can apply for a free tree pack by visiting the Woodland Trust website, or search ‘School tree packs’ on-line.

The closing date for applications is January 8th 2016.

Declining apprenticeship figures branded “shameful” by local Labour Party

Tom Blenkinsop (Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland), Anna Turley (Labour candidate for Redcar) and Louise Baldock (Labour candidate for Stockton South) have today (7th January 2015) branded new figures revealing almost 1,300 fewer young people starting apprenticeships as “shameful”.

Across Teesside constituencies (Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Redcar, Stockton North and Stockton South) Secondary School Apprenticeships (SSA) starts were 8040 in 2012-13. This has now dramatically fallen by 1290 to 6750 in 2013-14.

Responding to these figures Tom Blenkinsop said:
“Despite claims by the Coalition Government we are seeing the numbers of apprenticeships falling These new figures show a worrying drop in apprenticeship starts for young people across Teesside. To grow the number of high-skilled, better-paid jobs we need more apprenticeship opportunities – particularly for our young people. It is shameful that under this Government the opportunity for a brighter future for our young people is fading away.”

Anna Turley added:
“Across Redcar we have seen a massive decrease of over 20% in young people starting apprenticeships. Lib Dem and Tory ministers should be embarrassed by their clear failure to provide opportunities for our young people, who will make up the next generation of workers.

“One of the first acts of a Labour Government would be a drive to transform technical and vocational education ensuring all apprenticeships are at Level 3 or above – the equivalent of A-levels – and aimed at young people. We particularly need to rebuild careers advice services, which have been decimate by this Government.

“When high-skilled, better paid jobs are available it is only right that local young people are in a position, with the appropriate skills, to be able to apply for them. Under this Government, this is shamefully not the case.”

Louise Baldock said:
“Despite the Conservatives trying to persuade us that things are improving hugely across Teesside, local people are not fools. We know how tough it is for our young people to find a job or get a start. 250 fewer apprenticeships in Stockton South means 250 youngsters with lost opportunities.

“Condemning young people to the scrap heap is very wrong. Helping put this right is one of my top priorities.”

Tom urges Coalition to “come clean” over student fee hike

Following a series of reports of a rumoured forthcoming hike in tuition fees Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop has today (24th March 2014) urged the Coalition government to “come clean” with future students and reveal if they have any plans to increase tuition fees beyond £9000.

Tom said:
“Less than three years after this Government decided to treble tuition fees a crisis has developed in student finances. They trebled tuition fees and cut funding for universities and students, but new evidence shows their system could end up costing the taxpayer more than the one it replaced.

“It is hardly surprising that trebling fees has created huge new debts and combined with the ongoing cost-of-living crisis means that many students would not be able to pay back their loans. Ministers have got their sums badly wrong and left a black hole in the student finance budget running into billions of pounds.

“Now it would seem that – to try and fill this black hole – a hike in fees is on the horizon. Surely this can only lead to more debt for more students. Urgent action needs to be taken and Ministers need to come clean on exactly how much their broken system will end up costing and to provide assurances to universities, students and taxpayers.”

Tom launches school uniform costs survey

Local Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, has recently written to local schools in the Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland Boroughs to ascertain their school uniform policies and the impact this has on the cost of living.

Questions asked to schools included:

  • What estimate has your school made of the total cost of school uniform?
  • What support is available to low income families to support their purchasing school uniform?

Tom said:

“The start of a new school term is both an exciting and daunting prospect for both parents and children, it is understandable that, for many, buying a new school uniform is just something that has to be done. Unfortunately, these ‘extra’ costs can quickly add up and become a further burden to many families who are already struggling with the cost of living on a week-to-week basis.

“From speaking to parents in my constituency, it is clear that many are deeply worried by recent increases in the cost of uniforms. Only recently, Santander conducted research that showed parents this year faced a 27% price hike for uniforms and kits – the average price being £224 compared with £177 in 2012.

“If this trend continues then I can foresee a situation where parents’ choice of school could be constrained by the cost of uniform extreme expense. This would be an unsatisfactory state of affairs, for both the future of our children and for the education system.

“Something must be done to curb this cost such as increasing the choice of suppliers the uniforms and kits are available from, or encouraging the use of uniform recycling schemes. This would help to ease the pressure uniform costs place on the purse strings of many local families. I am looking forward to reporting back on this important yet under discussed issue in the near future.”

Tom welcomes pledge to boost technical and vocational training

Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, has today (5th June 2013) welcomed Labour’s pledge to boost the status of technical and vocational training in England by accrediting a string of “national centres of excellence” in key sectors such as engineering and IT.

The aim would be to raise the quality and profile of the country’s premier further education colleges to that of the leading universities and to focus on the needs of the economy, by tackling the skills gap and educational needs.

Tom said:
“We urgently need action to get our young people into work. In my constituency over 1,000 18-24 year olds are unemployed and a quarter of them have been for at least 12 months. Investment in skills has been slashed, subjects such as engineering undermined, work experience opportunities cut and independent careers advice ended.

“This is a key issue for Teesside. I am constantly told by chemical industry managers that the skilled process workforce is now very mature and there is a desperate need for better vocational training for process industry skills – an area which is rapidly developing – so that the local skill strengths are maintained for coming decades. Addressing this skills shortfall, on both the supply and demand sides, is critical to rebalancing our economy and ensuring our young people have the best opportunities available to obtain not just work – but a career. Colleges, employers and vocational training play a vital role in this, and it can be helped immensely by the kind of initiative that labour is proposing.

“David Cameron and Michael Gove have spent the last three years undermining technical education – damaging the quality of apprenticeships, downgrading the engineering diploma and narrowing the curriculum so skills are side-lined.

“To effectively rebalance our economy, we need a skills system which meets the needs of our economy and leaves no one behind. Driving up the standard of technical and vocational qualifications through ‘centres of excellence’ is one way we can achieve this.”

Tom welcomes progress on local schools rebuild

Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, today (13th May 2013) welcomed the news that Department for Education will within the next twelve months begin the process to ensure new schools for Laurence Jackson School and Handale Primary School.

The news comes following a meeting at the end of April between Tom, Tony Gavin (head teacher for Laurence Jackson School) and the Minister for Schools, David Laws. At the meeting they raised their concerns over the delays to the rebuild of Laurence Jackson School under the Government’s ‘Priority School Building Programme’ (PSBP).

Laurence Jackson School in Guisborough and Handale Primary School in Loftus will within the next twelve months be open to bids for the construction and maintenance of the new schools.

Laurence Jackson was previously scheduled to be rebuilt under the Labour government’s ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme but this was scrapped in 2010 by the Coalition leaving schools in desperate need of repair with an uncertain over future. Laurence Jackson was then placed on ‘Priority School Building Programme’ but like a number of North East schools they have yet to receive funding from the programme.

Tom said:
“This looks like good news and I’m sure it will come as a relief to both staff and pupils at the schools. There were reports that the rebuild of Laurence Jackson School wouldn’t be going ahead until 2016 – at the time this wasn’t refuted by Education Minister Michael Gove – and this was extremely disappointing for everyone involved. Under Labour’s BSF scheme the rebuild would be well underway by now. The staff, students and parents have waited long enough and the delay was, quite frankly, unacceptable.

“There are significant costs in keeping open the existing buildings, which currently have allocated resources to remain open until September 2015. That puts a huge burden on the schools finances and is completely intolerable.

“My primary concern has always been the education of the pupils at the schools. Both are excellent schools and I feared the delays could cause irreparable damage. Whilst there is still some way to go before the schools are complete at least there does now appear to be an end in sight. Things could not carry on the way they have been.”

Tom calls on local schools to take part in My Money Week

Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, has called on local schools to take part in My Money Week (3 to 9 June), giving pupils the chance to learn more about money and personal finance.  Every primary and secondary school in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland is being given the chance to take part for free in My Money Week, which has returned for its fifth year thanks to a new partnership between national charity pfeg (Personal Finance Education Group) and Barclays.

My Money Week will improve young people’s financial skills, knowledge and confidence through special lessons, activities and debates in schools and other settings across the UK.  Teachers in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland can order a free Activity Pack, developed by pfeg, full of creative and engaging financial resources and ideas for how to deliver financial education to young people, from the age of four up to 19.  Young people in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland can also take part in the ‘A-Z of Money’, a national competition challenging them to learn more about money through creative writing.

Tom said:
“My Money Week is a good opportunity for local schools to highlight the importance of financial education. The ability to manage your own financial affairs is an important skill that will prove invaluable in the future.

“A study last year revealed that the lack of financial education cost taxpayers approximately £3.4bn per year. That is a huge price to pay for not preparing our young people for something that everybody has to deal with. Someone who is more financially savvy knows where and how to get financial help if they need it and they will be in a much better position to plan for their future, such as going to university or having their own family.”

Tracey Bleakley, chief executive of pfeg (Personal Finance Education Group), said:
“We are absolutely delighted to have the support of Tom Blenkinsop MP in promoting My Money Week this year, and I hope all schools in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland will seize the opportunity to take part through our free activity pack, advice and support.”

My Money Week 2013 will also raise awareness of Barclays’ flagship UK community programme, Barclays Money Skills, and provide opportunities for Barclays employees to share their financial expertise and skills with young people in teacher-led My Money Week activities in local schools.  In addition, this year will see extra resources targeted towards disadvantaged young people in both the school environment and the wider community.

Since the first My Money Week in 2009, more than three million young people have been helped to understand more about money and personal finance through focused activities in schools.  In 2012 around 500,000 young people took part in My Money Week activities, with 99% of teachers reporting an increase in skills and knowledge and 91% of teachers reporting a shift in students’ attitudes towards money.

Teachers in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland can pre-order their free My Money Week Activity Packs at www.pfeg.org/mymoneyweek

‘Parents’ concerns over academy food standards must be listened to’

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, Tom Blenkinsop, has today (5th November 2012) urged Education Minister, Michael Gove, to listen to parents after a survey revealed that 92% of parents wanted the same nutrition standards for academies and free schools as those in local authority schools.

The survey was carried out for the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) and the online dinner money company ParentPay.

Tom said:
“The outcome of this survey supports concerns I raised earlier this year when my parliamentary question revealed that there were no plans to require academies and free schools to comply with nutritional standards and requirements of school food regulations. That was over four months ago and at the time I believed it was almost a reckless oversight of the Government to not have nutrition standards in place for their new academies. It is such an important issue that has a dramatic impact on the health of our young people so I urge the Government to listen to what parents are asking of them.

“There’s no good reason children in academia shouldn’t have good nutrition like those in local authority schools and it is not as if this is a particularly niche campaign. We are constantly told about the importance of children leading healthy lives and the impact of obesity, not only on the individual, but on services such as the NHS. It is simply a sign of the Government’s ‘back of a fag packet’ approach to developing policy.

“Parents have a right to know whether new academies and free schools are providing a healthy environment for their children. If the Government are unwilling to provide standard regulations for all then I would hope academies and free schools would either take it upon themselves to impose nutritional standards or, at the very least, work with the local authorities to help meet minimum nutrition standards. Therefore, I will be writing to head teachers at academies in both boroughs of my constituency asking what standards are in place and, if not, whether they can work with the local authority to develop regulations.”