Monday 12th July 2021 I have travelled to the North West as I want to see how some of our policies have been helping children and young people further away from Westminster. In Accrington I visit an “alternative provision setting with the MP, Sara Britcliffe. This is a school for students that have been excluded from mainstream. It is an area of the country with many challenges but the head teacher and deputy are full of optimism, they tell me how four years ago this school was completely failing and many of their teenage pupils were being enticed into drug related gangs. Under the new leadership the current students are doing well. One of the students tells me her plans to train as a nurse and of the forty odd students who left last year all, bar one, are still in employment, education or training. From the back of a room I watch an excellent teacher lead a Relationship, Health and Sex education class, helping the students to learn about health relationships and how to better protect themselves from harms.
In South Ribble the MP, Katherine Fletcher, takes me to see a primary school that works hard to support children with special educational needs. We join a small group of reception children who are taking part in the Nuffield Early Language Initiative. This is a program that we have rolled out across the country as part of the Covid education recovery work. I am told that just a couple of months ago none of the children in this group talked at all – now, after this course, they are chatting away and engaged. The head teacher is so pleased with their progress, it will have transformed their chances of being able to succeed in education.
Next, to Southport to visit a Family Hub. I speak with social workers and learn from a father how the hub is supporting him with the housing advice that his family need. A group of teenagers who have been struggling with mental health and self-harming tell me how the hub has helped them.
The train back to London is delayed due to flooding. Euston station is closed. We finally get to Watford and I navigate my way back via the north London overground services. It is very late but what an uplifting day.
Tuesday 13th July 2021 Back to back meetings in the Department for Education including an online round table with children and young people with special education needs and disabilities. A deeply thoughtful bunch who make good suggestions for how to help others recover from the impacts of the pandemic.
Wednesday 14th July 2021 In the Department I chair a meeting of our Mental Health and Wellbeing Action Group. Over recent months, this group has brought their huge experience of helping young people with mental health challenges to give really practical support, guidance and advice to schools across the country. We discuss what has been achieved so far and make plans for more work ahead. In the House of Commons I answer a debate about vulnerable children, setting out the work that we have been doing across Government. Its late in the afternoon when I jump on a train back to Chelmsford. The England women’s cricket team are playing India at our county ground, an important match as if we win tonight that will be a series win. As we watch the game, we discuss plans for the future of Essex cricket. It’s a nail biting game. With just six balls to go England win – hurrah!
Thursday 15th July 2021 Back into the Department, meetings on our review of special educational needs and disabilities, protecting children from online harms and rolling out more family hubs across the country. In the evening I join a small group of nursery and preschool teachers and staff for a reception at No 10. They have worked so hard through the pandemic and it is really good to say thank you. The wonderful Debs Watson from our own Tanglewood Nursery in Melbourne is one of those invited. She is always so full of positive suggestions of ways to support our youngest children.
Friday 16th July 2021 My Chelmsford day starts at our other maintained nursery school, Woodcroft. It’s the last day of term and the children are taking part in a “pentathalon” – running up a hill, through a tunnel and over a wobbly bridge. They are in great spirits and I have a super time hanging a medal over every happy head. Online next to meet up with those organising the British Science Festival that is coming to Chelmsford in September. Do check it out on the website, there is a huge program of events and the free family day will be fabulous.
Face to face next for a small meeting with representatives of the insurance sector. Over 2,000 people work from Chelmsford based companies in insurance, and the city is known for having leading expertise. They brief me about some of the challenges and opportunities ahead, I am impressed.
After an online constituency surgery I head over to the Job Centre were I learn about the huge range of jobs that are being offered locally. Over 100 young people in Chelmsford have also taken up “Kick Start” posts that give them the chance of a first job or new role. I check out the notice board for Kick Start offers, everything from office work to caring in a “cat hotel” and even a “Distillery Assistant” at a micro-brewery. What a positive way to end the week.