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Below is a final quintet of excerpts from maiden speeches delivered during Wednesday’s debate on the Queen’s Speech.
Charlotte Leslie, who gained Bristol North West, described education as “the single most effective way of closing that gap between the haves and the have-nots”:
“Breaking down the terrible and invisible barriers that divide the haves from the have-nots will not be easy, but I am delighted that one thing on which the coalition rests is the pupil premium. Quite a long time ago, back in 2005, I was lucky enough to work with my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) and James O’Shaughnessy on the pupil premium, and little did we know then that it would be a raft for such a friendly and successful coalition. The financial incentive directed to those most in need is just the beginning of eradicating the educational inequality that exists in my community.”
Gavin Barwell, newly elected MP for Croydon Central, agreed that education was the key “if we want to lift people out of poverty and to increase social mobility in our country”. He warmly welcomed the Government’s proposal to allow parents, teachers, charities and local communities to set up new schools:
“Each year, thousands of parents are told that the inn is full. They are told that there are no places at any of the schools where they want to send their children and that they have either to send them to a school they did not choose or educate them at home. The policy that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has championed with such passion will provide another option to those parents, and the knowledge that a new school could open if enough local parents are dissatisfied will put pressure on low-performing schools across the country to raise their game.”
Christopher Pincher, who gained Tamworth at the election, explained why education is such an important issue in his constituency:
“We have suffered for many years as one of the poorest-funded local education authorities in the country. That sets children in Tamworth apart; they start at a disadvantage. We need to even up the opportunities for young people there, which is why I welcome my right hon. Friend’s invitation to head teachers to apply for academy status, and his proposal to lift the burden of bureaucracy off the backs of teachers and to give them more power. Only if we give head teachers more power and more money to spend on their schools as they see fit, and only if we give teachers the time and the space to teach, which is what they want to do, will we drive up educational standards and improve the morale of the teaching profession.”
Heather Wheeler, who is the first Conservative MP for Derbyshire South since Edwina Currie, also raised the importance of schools provision and apprenticeships in her constituency:
“I have already had a request for the Minister to visit to discuss the setting up of a new free school by parents who run Dame Catherine Harpur school in Ticknall. We also desperately need a new secondary school near Melbourne and that initiative will help with that too. I have held meetings with other colleagues who are in the House tonight who have also met with the unions at Rolls-Royce. We have been working on some innovative ideas for apprenticeships that I hope we will be able to take further. One glaring omission from the services that we have in South Derbyshire is a college. All our residents have to travel for full-time further education, and there is an opportunity for us to do better for my residents.”
Finally, there was Gordon Henderson, the new MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, who outlined his ambition to be a “true parliamentarian”, explaining that being elected an MP was fulfilling a lifelong dream, having grown up on a council estate, failed the eleven-plus and left school at 16.
He raised the case of a school in his constituency wanting to apply for academy status:
“Two years ago, one of the secondary schools in my constituency, Westlands school, received an outstanding Ofsted report. So good was the report that the head and his senior staff were seconded to help to improve standards in a number of other schools in Kent. More recently, Westlands decided to form a federation with a struggling local primary school so that it could help that school to drive up standards. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that that this is just the kind of initiative that we should welcome. But the staff and governors at Westlands are even more ambitious than that. To make their school even better, they are keen to become an academy. They have already made inquiries about obtaining academy status, but have been told that their bid would not succeed because they are in a federation with a school that was deemed to have been struggling. It seems that a key test for approving academy status is that the applicant school is “outstanding”.
“I have no problem with that criterion, except that it effectively prevents federated schools from gaining academy status unless both schools are “outstanding”. That seems a particularly perverse rule when one considers that one of the objects of the Academies Bill is to give schools “the freedoms and flexibility they need to continue to drive up standards”. I very much hope, when the new Academies Bill is drafted, that that rule can be amended to make an exception for outstanding schools like Westlands which, for the best of intentions, have linked up with a less successful school.”