Archive for Education

Tom backs the “No Free Lunch?” campaign to support Teesside’s Further Education learners

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop has given his support to the Association of College’s (AoC) “No Free Lunch?” campaign.  The campaign, which is backed by the National Union of Students, the University and College Union and UNISON, seeks to secure ‘free school meals’ for disadvantaged 16-18 learners in sixth form and general Further Education colleges.

Tom said:

“I am delighted to be able to support the ‘No Free Lunch?’ campaign, alongside my fellow Labour MP Nic Dakin, who will be introducing a Ten Minute Rule Bill on 6 November in Parliament to extend Free School Meals to 16-18 learners in sixth form and general Further Education colleges.

I know how much students at colleges like Prior Pursglove, Redcar & Cleveland and Middlesbrough are struggling financially, especially now that the Tories and Lib Dems have abolished Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which the previous government introduced to support disadvantaged 16-18 learners.

It is simply unfair that 16, 17 and 18 year olds in Further Education now find themselves having real problems just paying unavoidable costs associated with their study, like transport and meals, especially when we are aiming for 100% participation in education and training for 16-18 year olds.

Whilst I welcome the fact that MPs from across the political spectrum are starting to get behind this campaign, I would have hoped that my Tory and Liberal Democrat colleagues would have considered the consequences – like students being unable to afford their lunches – prior to voting to scrap EMA.”

Tom added:

“I believe that the Government has a duty to support 16-18 learners.  I will therefore be urging Tory and Lib Dem Education Ministers in Parliament to extend free school meals beyond school sixth forms to 16-18 learners in sixth form and FE colleges.

However, it is important that any potential extension of the free school meal scheme would not have an adverse effect on local businesses like those in Guisborough that depend on student trade.  As such, if the scheme were to be expanded, I would be asking the Government to either give students cash or vouchers, so that they can continue to give trade to small businesses, as opposed to just college canteens run by multi-national companies like Sodexo and Carillion.  I will also urge the Government to consider what steps they can take to support disadvantaged Apprentices with meals and transport, since many are only paid £2.65 per hour.”

“Gove-levels” risk return to the 80s – Tom Blenkinsop MP

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, commenting on Coalition Government’s plans to abolish GCSEs today (17th September 2012) said:

“Whilst many questions still remain unanswered over the shambolic marking of GCSE exams this year, these proposals by the Tory Education Minister seriously risk sending our education system back to the 1980s – incapable of dealing with the needs of 21st Century Britain. I feel it raises legitimate concerns over a two-tier system tipped heavily in favour of those children with a better memory able to perform well in a one-off 3 hour exam – whilst those who learn in different ways will be regarded as failures.

“The GCSE system of modules and coursework, firstly, allows children to learn from their mistakes and improve. Secondly, it allows teachers to track progress of students throughout the years and to make sure they are on course to get the best possible grade they can. The modular system is also useful for employers as it will give them a better idea of performance over a longer period.

“If, as the Government claims, multiple exam boards are driving standards down then perhaps a single exam board would be the best way forward. However, this must be based on evidence that shows this link and then policy should be developed accordingly.

“At the moment, the Government are failing to answer these questions, instead resorting to leaking policy details at a time when children are just starting, or going back to, secondary school. Although they won’t be directly affected by the proposals they will indeed feel that in a few years’ time all their hard work will be for nothing.

“We need an evidence based education system suitable for the times we live in – not an outdated model that promoted inequality that even Thatcher saw fit to get rid of.”

David Cameron’s ‘two-faced’ stance on schools sports

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, said today (August 12th 2012) that David Cameron’s announcement that he wanted to see ‘school sports made compulsory’ was two-faced in that it would both only apply to local authority schools and that it was short of detail.

Tom said:
“This is a statement more designed to piggy back on the Olympic success of Team GB rather than make any real change. To say, as he did, that local authority school children would be required “to take part in competitive team sports, like football, netball and hockey, and will include team outdoor and adventurous activity” means that ‘free schools’ and new academy schools would be exempted. Given that he and his Education Secretary Michael Gove are putting intense pressure on schools – like local primaries in Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland – to convert into academies, this new policy is nothing more than a populist sound bite.

“If he really wants to make a difference in school sports, he should look at what was achieved by the last Labour Government who, without fanfare put in place a policy, which he has now dropped, a requirement that pupils take two hours of sport a week. According to the Department for Education, the share of five-year-olds meeting that target rose from 25 to 92 per cent between 2003-04 and 2009-10.  This shows the real two faced nature of this latest announcement.”

‘Gove is harming the Olympic legacy before it has even begun’

Tom Blenkinsop MP, today (7th August) criticised the Tory Education Secretary, Michael Gove, as it was revealed that since the formation of the Coalition he has disposed of more than 20 school playing fields and sales continue.

This comes despite a pledge to protect pitches from development and even in the coalition agreement ministers stated they would “seek to protect school playing fields”.

Tom said:
“This is devastating news for youngsters who have been inspired to get active in sports by Team GB and Gove is seriously harming the prospects of future athletes if he continues on this path. These actions combined with Gove’s previous decision to slash the funding for School Sports Partnerships to £65m a year for sport – which will not be ringfenced from 2013 – raises serious questions about this Governments commitment to building a positive Olympic legacy.

“It’s well documented that sustained investment is bringing glory for Team GB and this is particularly evident in the cycling team, a legacy from the velodrome in Manchester which directly influenced Gold medallist Jason Kennedy when he visited with his school aged just 11. If children want to take part in sports only to find that the facilities aren’t available to replicate their heroes then the Government is failing.”

News that Michael Gove will allow academy schools to use untrained teachers ‘sends a shiver down my spine’

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (July 30th 2012) said the news that Education Secretary Michael Gove has allowed ‘Academy’ schools to recruit untrained people to act up in direct teaching roles in the classroom ‘sends a shiver down my spine’ and raises “fresh doubts as to whether local school heads and governors should carry on considering turning themselves into ‘Academies’ and break away from their local education authority.”

Tom said:
“This is frightening news.  Properly trained teachers understand that you can’t just stand at the front and bark orders, that you need to engage children in “active” learning where they are doing things that assist with their learning. A well-trained teacher knows how to assess their pupils lesson by lesson, and how to both build on a child’s strengths and tackle their weaknesses.

“Such skills can’t be instantly learned. More importantly, proper training allows others to asses you on how good you really are in the classroom – not just how good you think you are.

“My belief is that Gove sees this as the first step in ‘de-professionalising’ education, to take on what he sees as an ‘educational establishment’ and ultimately to privatise our schools entirely, creating a setting where companies can move into the sector and offer education at “cut price”. This is the classroom equivalent of using G4S for security instead of the police and must be resisted.

“I do know that many local primary schools in Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland are now under pressure from Gove’s Department for Education to turn into academies.  This news must make them think again and opt to stay with their local authority – an authority committed to proper standards in the classroom.”

Exam papers blunder lets down hard work of Highcliffe pupils

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, has today (24th July 2012) said he is pursuing the matter of missing exam papers from Highcliffe Primary School with the Department for Education.

Last week the school received a letter from the Standard’s and Testing Agency (STA), an executive agency of the Department for Education, explaining that they had been unable to locate the exam papers of thirteen pupils who had sat a new higher level maths exam.

Tom said:
“When children at Highcliffe have put in a lot of extra work to prepare themselves for the new exams, it is completely unacceptable for the STA to undermine their hard work by failing to keep tabs on the exam papers they are tasked with managing. It casts serious doubt over the competence of the STA as the body responsible for statutory school assessments.

“It also raises questions about the decision to disband the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) in March this year. Given that the STA has assumed the QCDA’s functions, I have submitted a Freedom of Information request to determine whether the government considered scaling down the QCDA instead of replacing it with an inexperienced body.

It is important that schools can have full confidence in the examination system and this latest blunder brings that into question.”

‘Gove should stop trying to run Middlesbrough’s schools over teachers, heads and parents’

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, has today (28th June 2012) said that Education Secretary Michael Gove should “stop trying to run Middlesbrough’s schools from behind his office in London, and let local heads, councils, teachers and parents decide the school structures that suit our children”.

He said this after Press reports of unattributable briefings that Gove has singled out Middlesbrough council “because they have been less co-operative with ministers in tackling under-performance in their schools than others who may have a worse record in national curriculum tests.  Their schools will be expected to embrace new sponsors and, most likely, new heads in an effort to turn their performance around.  If they still do not co-operate, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has the power to sack the governing body and impose his own interim executive board to run the school before it becomes an academy”.

Tom said:
“This is sheer meddling based on dubious figures which do not compare like with like.  Middlesbrough, like many Northern industrial towns face huge problems of poverty, bad health and joblessness – all factors that affect home life and from this, a child’s progress in the class room.

“To combat such things you need more than a change of name over a school door, the finding of some private sector partner to be dragooned into putting cash into a school, or the sacking of popular heads.  It requires investment, government recognition of need and help for local education authorities to improve performance.  The reality is that, from Gove’s perspective, this has more to do with him pushing his own political line and putting this above the hopes and expectations of parents.  This anonymous attack on sound schools here in Middlesbrough just demonstrates that this is not about running a quality education service but more to do with victimising people who don’t agree with his own agenda.”

Tom drops in to ‘Friday @ Freebrough’

Local MP, Tom Blenkinsop, last week (11th May 2012) visited young constituents at their weekly youth club at Freebrough Academy to talk with them about issues and any concerns they may have – and a quick game of pool!

‘Friday@Freebrough’ was set up in August 2011 and is led by Michelle Bowmaker and Sue Hinds with support from a variety of other agencies including the local Police and Fire Brigade. Students can take part in a range of activities including; sports, arts and crafts, music and ICT.

Tom said:
“I was very pleased to be invited to the youth club and to be given the chance to talk with young people about issues they may be facing. It is important to come to these evenings as it gives young people the opportunity to talk with their Member of Parliament in an environment that they feel comfortable in.

“This type of evening is much needed for the local community and I praise the hard work Michelle and Sue are putting in. The kids clearly enjoy socialising on a Friday evening and I’m told the club attracts around 100 young people each week – and the evening just keeps going from strength to strength with what it can offer.”

“I hope the young people enjoyed having me here and I look forward to coming back in the near future. However, I don’t think I left too many impressed with my pool skills so I’m not in any rush to take any of them on again.”

Tom supports ‘Rights, Responsibilities and Respect Week’ at local primary school

Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, last week (27th April 2012) showed his support for ‘Rights, Responsibilities and Respect Week’ at Handale Primary School in Loftus when he was the guest at their special assembly to mark the end of events.

Handale Primary School has had visitors throughout the week and year groups have each had specific themes to focus on, such as anti-bullying in Year 5; respect in Year 6; and friendship in nursery. The end of the week was marked with the formation of a rainbow signifying the coming together of all the themes.

Tom said:
“I was very pleased when the school invited me to take part in their ‘Rights, Responsibilities and Respect Week’ and I’ve had the opportunity to speak with some of the children who have been taking part in the different events.

“It is good to see a local school organising a week that provides encouragement and support for the children as they develop. The different themes provides a better understanding of what it means to have rights and responsibilities that can help form better relationships with their classmates, teachers and parents.

“I would encourage all local primary schools to get involved in organising a week like Handale Primary School have done.”

Mrs Helen Blakeley, Head teacher at Handale Primary School, added:
“I’m glad Tom was able to come along and see just what our school was doing to help children develop their understanding of rights, respect and responsibility. School performs a crucial role in the development of a child, but just as vital is what the parent or carer does. I echo Tom’s calls for other schools to get involved, but I would also add that parents take the opportunity to talk with their children about the scheme.”

Tom calls on Government to publish school buildings review

Local MP, Tom Blenkinsop, has today (27th April 2012) called on the Tory-led government to stop holding back the publication of post-occupancy data on schools examining the link between school buildings and academic achievement.

The existence of the research has come to light after Building.co.uk revealed findings from a major post-occupancy review by former delivery body Partnerships for Schools (PfS) into the performance of school buildings, which also had not been published.

Tom said:
“It’s about time the Government come clean with these findings. Transparency is a key pledge of this government and suppressing these findings not only fly’s in the face of that, but also risks the education of our young people.

“It is no secret that I have been a vocal critic of the decision to cut back Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme – particularly when schools in my constituency such as Lawrence Jackson School and Kilton Thorpe Special School urgently need new buildings.

“The information that has been revealed so far is damning for the government. It backs up what everyone outside of the government has been saying – that poor quality buildings have a drastic impact on the standards of education children receive. The government must reveal the information immediately.”