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Skills, social justice, standards, and support for the teaching profession will be my priorities

3 min read

If I’m re-elected as chair I will continue to ensure the Education Committee has a significant role as an influencer of policy, writes Robert Halfon MP

I have always believed that education and skills provide a real ladder of opportunity for our young pupils, would-be apprentices, students and adults wishing to reskill. A good education can transform the life chances of millions, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

Despite some great improvements in standards, with almost two million more children in good or outstanding schools, and significant advances in phonics (the proportion of six-year-olds passing the phonics check increased from 58% in 2012 to 82% in 2018), too many are being left behind – particularly, white working-class pupils, children with special education needs and children in care.

Disadvantaged pupils are 19 months behind by the time they do their GCSEs. Some groups are particularly vulnerable. While the average national Attainment 8 score is 46.5, rates for pupils with statements of special educational needs/education, health and care plans are 13.5, looked-after children are 18.8, and white working-class pupils are 28.5.

“A good education can transform the life chances of millions”

Everyone should have access to a good school. Yet, a child living in one of England’s poorest areas is 10 times more likely to go to a sub-standard school than one living in the richest areas.

To support the profession and the development of local teachers, we should incentivise highly-commended initial teacher training providers to work with disadvantaged schools, offer teaching bursaries, retention payments and salary bonuses.

Moreover, although the Government has introduced some important reforms in terms of building an apprentice and skills nation, with the apprenticeship levy and T-levels, we still have a significant skills deficit.

The fourth industrial revolution presents major challenges, too; some estimates suggest that up to 28% of jobs done by 16- to 24-year-olds could be lost to automation by 2030.

Previously, as Education Committee chair – working closely with fellow members of all parties – I ensured our committee made a real effort to set out these challenges and took steps to overcome them.

We examined early years and early intervention, excluded children and quality alternative provision, special educational needs, school and college funding, value for money in higher education and reform of the apprenticeship levy, alongside strong support for degree apprenticeships.

We had a real impact on Government policy, both by influencing the debate but also through our recommendations.

If re-elected as chair, I will continue to work with colleagues to champion skills, social justice, standards, and support for the teaching profession. These should be the interlocking foundations of the Government’s education programme.

Early intervention, children in care, the role of free schools, adult and lifelong learning, vocational education and further education are just some of the areas which I hope the new committee will examine over the coming months and years.

Our committee can continue to have a significant role as an influencer of policy, a place of original thought and a group that holds the executive and quangos to account.

If the Education Committee can help pupils, apprentices and students climb up each rung of the ladder of opportunity to the very top, then we will have really made a difference.

Robert Halfon is Conservative MP for Harlow

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