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Friday, 17 May 2013

After years of campaigning... finally launching Teach First in Bristol!

I was a bit humbled to be asked to speak at the launch of Teach First in Bristol.
I've learnt in politics that it pays to bang on. and on. and on. and if you're in doubt, bang on again...

Back in 2008, I submitted a report to the organisation Teach First,  which selects high-flying graduates and trains them as teachers to go into the most challenging schools in the country.

I'd seen the amazing effect Teach First had in London and other areas and being a bit pushy for Bristol, wanted Bristol to have some of the action. So I wrote a short report outlining the challenges Bristol's schools faced, and why we needed Teach First to come to Bristol.

To my amazement, they didn't tell me simply to bog off. They told me it was difficult. They'd have to get it right - that expanding without diluting the quality of the offering was important. Lots of things. So meetings ensued and I got people from Teach First to come to Bristol, we set up meetings and got Teach First to meet with some movers and shakers in Bristol's educational world.

Now, around five years down the line, thanks very largely to the superb work of Catherine Hughes, head of St. Bede's School in Lawrence Weston, Teach First has finally come to Bristol and had it's launch event on 16th May.  It was an amazing event for several reasons;  First, it hopefully heralds an exciting time in Bristol education ; second it was the fulfilment of so much work from so many people like Catherine Hughes, and finally, it was a heartening demonstration that if you persist , sometimes things really do work out.

I met an inspiring and superb set of Teach First teachers that evening. I'm so excited they're coming to our Bristol Schools, and wish everyone the very best!

 As ever, more info on my website!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Swimming club's joy after campaign to reverse council monopoly on lessons

You may have seen in a big splash ( sorry ) in the Evening Post that common sense and fairness has finally prevailed in the Council's strategy for swimming in the city.

Portway Swimming Club youngsters celebrating victory of common sense!
Absurdly, and most oddly, the Council had decided that ONLY its private provider of leisure services , SLM, could deliver learn to swim lessons - despite that fact that some of the city's swimming clubs ran very much loved and very successful learn to swim sessions.

The Council therefore booted clubs like 'Portway' out of their pool time, to make sure that they didn't commit the heinous sin of teaching children to swim. They could do other things in that pool time ( I guess a children's party would be okay ) but heaven forbid they should be taught to swim.

Madness - and utterly wrong.

We had conversations and meetings with the Amateur Swimming Assocation locally, the clubs and Cllr Simon Cook , cabinet member with responsibility for sport and leisure, the Council finally saw sense. (But not before officers had ignored the request of Councillor Cook that Portway should be allowed to carry on its lessons in Henbury pool while a suitable solution was found.) 

I found that although the council said their contract said only SLM could provide learn to swim, this was not in fact the case.

I also held a debate in the Chamber in the House of Commons on this.

FINALLY, thanks significantly to Cllr Cook and the Mayor George Ferguson ( who saw the madness of this) common sense and justice prevailed.  But how amazing that we had to go through all this in the first place.

As a former swimmer myself ( I competed nationally for City of Bristol in 200m and 100m backstroke, under the superb coaching of international coach Eric Henderson who was appallingly hounded out of Bristol by some of the then council officers) I know just how much club swimming means to these youngsters, and as a former surf life-guard on the beaches in North Cornwall, I have seen how swimming is a sport that quite literally saves lives.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Towards a royal college of teaching?!

I've put together a booklet on the idea of a 'Royal College of Teaching'. Get involved and tell us what you think!
As the daughter of a surgeon, I suppose I've been brought up with a developed sense of just how much the professionalism of people like doctors and teachers matter to our public services. It is easy for politicians to forget that the success of schools and hospitals is not ultimately down to Whitehall Mandarins, officials and politicians, but the doctors, nurses and teachers who work in hospitals and schools, and other public services.

One of my favourite Conservative thinkers and poet, T.S. Eliot wisely warns against trying to 'devise systems so perfect that nobody will need to be good'.   I'm a conservative because I believe in systems that enable people to be good; that bring the best out of people and encourage them to take personal responsibility for themselves, and their professional excellence; not a top-down bureaucracy dreamt up by someone with a swanky degree in a stuffy room in Westminster or Whitehall, and aggressively micro-managed to the coal-face through a series of people with lots of management qualifications but no real life experience of the thing they are supposed to be managing.  Our NHS isn't  a system, it's the people who work in hospitals. Our schools are our teachers.

I was always grateful that it wasn't politicians who told my dad how best to perform a surgical operation, but that the Royal College of Surgeons, as a body of doctors set the standards of what good surgery looked like, was the body that promoted and protected those standards. But that's not the case in education. Over decades the state has steadily encroached into the classroom. I think it's time for teachers to regain ownership and responsibility for their profession and professional excellence.  ( I've written a bit more at length in the Telegraph HERE)

So I've put together, with teachers and professionals, a pamphlet comprising views from all sorts of people within the education profession, (including all the Unions) and from other professionals who have a professional body like engineers and medics, to discuss what " A Royal College of Teaching" might look like; potential pit-falls and other ideas.  We launched it last night at the Royal College of Surgeons and I was really proud to have  Norman, from Brightstowe Academy ( the most improved school in the country last year) speaking at the event!

 We really want to get feedback so if you're interested, please contact me and I can send you a copy, or its available online at   . There's a feedback page and we'd really welcome thoughts.

The irony of all this is , of course, that such an idea cannot come from a politician like me, but from the teachers and teaching profession itself, and if teachers don't want it, it will never happen. So please, if you are a teacher and have opinions, thoughts on this, get involved!

 There's also a bit more information on my website.