Monday 21st June Back into Westminster where it is the turn of the Education Ministers to answer questions from MPs in the House of Commons. Every day in the House of Commons one government department opens the parliament session with an hour of questioning. The six week rota always seems to come around very quickly. I spend the morning preparing on every issue that I think might come up and once in the Chamber the questions fly very quickly. In the evening I meet with MPs about issues in their own constituencies.
Tuesday 22nd June I have set up a new National Centre for Family Hubs which we are launching today. These useful hubs help families to get advice and support on a wide range of different issues and mean families don’t get passed from pillar to post trying to get problems solved. We have a super Family Hub in Chelmsford and I am keen to see more around the country. The National Centre will help share best practice and assist local authorities to open hubs.
I meet with the Children’s Commissioner to discuss our review of the special educational needs system and have a useful meeting with the Housing Minister about the cladding issues that are affecting some properties in Chelmsford. I join MPs from different parts of the country and representatives of nurseries and preschools for the all party group on childcare and early education and have a catch up with the judge who is president of the family courts. Even though our courts are sitting more than ever before there are still long wait times for those needing to take their cases to court.
Wednesday 23rd June I join a Minister from the Home Office for a meeting with representatives of local authorities across the country to discuss support for unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Even though a huge amount of work is being done to try to prevent people traffickers we still see children and young people travelling to England, often on very dangerous small boats coming across the channel. This puts pressure on the children’s services in the local area where they arrive. We have set up a new National Transfer Scheme so that the children can be cared for in different parts of the country.
I meet with the team that are running our Holliday Activity and Food scheme. A huge amount of work is being done to make sure that these holiday clubs are live all across the country this summer. I meet head teachers of alternative provision settings which provide education for children and young people who have been excluded from school. These young people often drop out of education and training altogether and are at a high risk of becoming unemployed. During the pandemic we have been running a targeted programme to encourage them to keep up courses and its good to hear how successful this has been.
Thursday 24th June A busy online day. Every few years we prepared a report on Children’s Rights for the UN. This will involve getting feedback from children and children’s organisations all across the country so I spend time with the team discussing the plans. Work is also continuing on improving training courses for teachers on special educational needs, so I catch up the that team before also joining the Health Minister who’s brief includes support for disabled children. We will be publishing our new autism strategy soon and its been good to work together.
I head over to Great Baddow to visit the wonderful local charity Kids Inspire. They have been granted the Queen’s Award for Volunteering which is a huge honour. The Lord Lieutenant, Jennifer Tolhurst, is the Queens representative in Essex and has come to present the award. We are socially distanced in the garden and I hear from volunteers about their experiences mentoring children and young people who have suffered trauma. They are so very thoughtful and caring.
Friday 25th June A lovely, but early start to by Chelmsford day as I join church leaders from all across the city for a prayer breakfast. In normal times there is a huge prayer breakfast in parliament every year, where representatives of churches from every constituency come to meet MPs and pray together. This year we are all meeting online. It is a beautiful service and afterwards we have a very precious time discussing some of the issues people are facing in Chelmsford and what more we can do to support each other as we look beyond Covid.
The Year 6 group from Barnes Farm Primary dial me in for an online assembly. They must have spent ages working on the questions as they are extremely thoughtful. What an impressive group of students! A busy constituency surgery is followed by a discussion on support for local businesses. The week ends with an uplifting dinner with members of Rotary Clubs from all over Chelmsford. We are sitting socially distanced in tables of six in an open sided marquee. The clouds open in a truly torrential down pour, but the mood is happy.