The main part of my job as an MP is to represent groups and individuals in the Yeovil constituency in Westminster; to speak up with their hopes and concerns and to get them the best deal I can with the Government. Of those one of the groups that we should listen to and support most are our excellent local teachers.
Meeting pupils from Somerset schools, whether at the school or at some politics related visit, is one of my favourite parts of being an MP. It becomes a bit of a cliché to talk about being impressed with the next generation, and all of the enthusiasm is well deserved, but what I like is the honesty. In the question and answer sessions I take part in, and in the letters I receive there is a straightforward questioning attitude which is both direct and refreshing.
Policy making in education can be difficult because there can be absolutely no room for experimentation. Every child deserves a good education that offers not only exam grades but building of skills and confidence. Keeping the status quo can fail children too though, as was famously the case with what Alistair Campbell described in 2001 as ‘the bog-standard comprehensive.’ The journey since then has been a positive one involving political parties from across the spectrum. Some Academies and Free Schools have been hugely successful including in areas where the previous provision was not coping. Academies receive their funding directly from the Government and being outside of Local Authority control can bring certain freedoms and a genuine sense of empowerment. Started under the Labour Government, they were originally designed to change the way failing schools were managed and bring in new expertise. Uptake of Academy status has accelerated since then especially in secondary schools.
Across the county standards are rising by any measure, including many more schools with excellent Ofsted ratings. Of course, this is down to the teachers themselves and where struggling schools have turned themselves around it is because the process has allowed them to innovate, shift focus and get on with what they do best.
The Government recently announced plans to make all state primary and secondary schools academies by 2020. My concern is that this may be an example of taking an area of success and running too far with it. Some of the honesty I mentioned earlier needs to come into play here. If a school is doing perfectly well under Local Authority control, will it really help to change that system for ideological reasons? My sense is not, but I am keen to hear from local teachers with their feelings on the issue. I will continue to campaign in Westminster for better funding for rural schools but want to hear from those doing the job before I can support this dramatic rollout of academisation. The old saying of not fixing what isn’t broken may be apt here. If you are a local teacher and have views on academies, be they positive or negative, please do get in touch by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.