Monday 2nd March – 10,869 steps Today is the first time I speak at the Dispatch Box of the House of Commons. I will be answering questions from MPs with the Secretary of State for Education and other ministers. We spend the morning preparing as the question session starts at 2.30pm. As the Minister for Children and Families, I know I will be taking questions on school meals and holiday food, children with special educational needs and disabilities and children in care. I know in advance what the main topics are likely to be, but I have no idea what follow up questions might be raised, so I’ve spent the weekend researching all the issues that might come up. When the time comes the questions flow fast, and the hour goes incredibly quickly. It is nerve-racking!
I join a reception to celebrate 30 years of the UN Convention on Rights of the Child. The UK was one of the leading forces in getting this international agreement passed. The event is packed. I’ve been looking at some of the challenges faced by children in care. I am pleased to be able to tell the young people and campaigners about the new Government plans to make sure all young people in care will be able to ask for an advocate to help speak on their behalf.
In the House of Commons, the Bill for HS2 passes unanimously.
Tuesday 3rd March – 11,913 steps Tomorrow, the Child Safeguarding Panel is due to publish its review into serious incidents where children have died or suffered serious harm. I read the report which covers many tragic cases. It is extremely important to learn from these incidents, so I look carefully at the recommendations that the panel has made.
In the House of Commons, I join a packed room of MPs for an update on the Coronavirus situation from the Chief Medical Officer. He is extremely calm and measured, laying out the facts on what we know about the virus and how it spreads, and explaining the various scenarios of how the situation may develop in the weeks ahead. It is important to try to slow down the spread of the disease towards the warmer months which will help to spread the pressure on hospitals and the NHS. I join a meeting organised by the National Autistic Society and hear inspiring stories from those with autism about what has helped them and what more they would like to see achieved.
Wednesday 4th March – 10,219 steps More briefings in the Department, this time about children in care and “alternative provision” for children and young people who have been excluded from school. We are undertaking a review to improve this. At PMQs many of the questions are about Coronavirus. The PM is very calm and serious, announcing that the Government will make sure that those who do the right thing to protect others should not be penalised and in particular that those who need to self-isolate will receive sick pay from day one, and not have to wait four days as is normally the case. I meet the officials who considering the impact of the virus on education, we discuss plans to help children who need care and foster carers. There is a huge amount of planning happening all across of Government in order to be well prepared.
I take part in my first House of Commons Chamber debate as a Minister. The topic is sibling contact for children in the care system. We will be reviewing guidelines to help ensure children can more easily keep contact with siblings, when this is in the child’s best interest.
Thursday 5th March – 13,934 steps Early train to Birmingham to visit schools that are outstanding at helping those with Special Educational Needs at Disabilities. The Westminster School in Sandwell has completely refocused the curriculum to give students best possible opportunity of achieving employment after leaving education. I meet 16-19 year olds with very complex needs who have been taking part in supported internships and apprenticeships in a huge number of areas. At Hartwell Primary I am blown away by the teachers and pupils who support those with complex needs. The school has specialists helping children with hearing needs as well as those with social, emotional and mental health needs. I hear how they are giving a new chance to very young children who have been excluded from other schools.
I finish the day knocking on doors in West Bromwich East with the new MP Nicola Richards. We are campaigning for the excellent West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street who is up for re-election in May. He has a huge amount of respect on the doorsteps which shows the difference a locally elected mayor can make.
Friday 6th March – 5,188 steps Day in Chelmsford starts at Essex County Council where I meet the Head of the Children’s Social Care Service with Cllrs Louise McKinley and Ray Gooding. Essex is one of the top performing local authorities in England at providing children’s services and helps other councils across the country. It is fascinating to hear how their team works. I have a chance to speak to a group of care leavers. I hear about their experiences and learn how challenging it can be for those who don’t have family to turn to for advice or support. In the Family Hub at Chelmsford Library I meet parents, children, teachers, health visitors and advisors – and a great group of book loving pupils from Kings Road Primary. Since opening three years ago the Hub has helped thousands of families with free advice and support. It is deeply inspiring.
Over to Chelmsford City Council for the quarterly meeting on community safety and policing priorities. We discuss the work to support rough sleepers and reduce the number of those sleeping on our streets.
I pop over to Oaklands Primary School. I’ve been given five books to share with schools for World Book Day and five schools have asked me to drop them off, so we have great fun with the pupils voting on which book they would like to have – democracy in action!
On the Rainsford Road I meet the team from Enterprise Cars. There have been problems with customers parking vans on the roadside which makes it dangerous for those trying to cross. The company has now stopped renting out vans in Chelmsford and will be moving to a bigger location. They talk to me about their plans to introduce car share club schemes locally – with electric vehicles.
Saturday 7th March – 12,398 steps Yummy scone and a cuppa at Chelmsford Cathedral’s monthly coffee morning. The artist, Anthony Harrington has painted a beautiful picture of the Cathedral for me. It is stunning and shows the choir gathering outside before a service. I will hang it on my office wall in Westminster. Anthony is going to sell postcards in aid to helping the choir take their music on tour. In Moulsham Street I join the Annual General Meeting of Conservative Clubs from across the East to give them an update on news from Westminster. I spend a sunny Saturday afternoon delivering leaflets and chatting to residents in Moulsham Lodge. Thank you to everyone who stopped to talk!