“Education, education, education”. That was the rallying cry of the Labour Party shortly before it was elected to Government in 1997. Whilst twenty years have passed since then, it is as relevant today as it was then.
Two weeks ago, I joined Lewisham parents as they took to the streets in protest about proposed changes to the national funding arrangements for schools. These changes, along with other financial pressures in schools, could mean that a large secondary school in somewhere like Lewisham loses out to the tune of £1 million.
In this week’s Budget Statement, the Chancellor announced funding to support the establishment of an additional 140 new free schools. A number of these new schools will be allowed to select pupils on the basis of academic ability. I believe that this measure distracts from work that could be done and funding that could be allocated to improve existing schools and support excellent education for all.
Times are tough at the moment but I am determined not to let the warped priorities of the current Conservative Government hamper the life chances of Lewisham’s young people.
That’s why last week, in the run up to International Women’s Day, I invited eighty 15 year old girls from Bonus Pastor School up to Parliament to learn more about possible future careers and to give them the opportunity to speak with a range of successful women who have excelled in their chosen professions.
With speakers including ITN’s senior correspondent Ronke Philips, Southbank Centre’s Khadeen O’Donnell and entertainers Jamelia and Ray BLK, the event was the first of its kind. It was the brain child of Bonus Pastor Headteacher, Ruth Holden and was organised in conjunction with Sonia Meggie from Inspirational You – two inspirational women in their own right.
I will always remember what it was like to be 15 years’ old and to have no idea what I wanted to do. I’ve always felt that “careers guidance” offered to young people has been unimaginative at best and unhelpful at worst. And so I’m committed to doing whatever I can to help Lewisham’s young people realise their potential – that includes arranging for the next Generation to literally walk the corridors of power!
My determination to see Lewisham schools improve is also why I am helping local mums and dads get a new Lewisham Parents Network off the ground.
With so much changing in education at the moment, it’s vital that we raise awareness of what is going on and make the most of the skills and goodwill we have in the community.
Please contact me if you are interested in finding out more about the development of the new Lewisham Parents Network.
Whilst changing the direction of Government policy is never easy, each and every one of us can do what we can to ensure that all young people – and not just a lucky few – realise their potential.