Monday 9th March - 11,147 steps The week starts in the Department for Education meeting the team responsible for Early Years and childcare entitlements. I’m speaking for the Government in a debate on this later in the day. This is a passion of mine as I helped to run my own local pre-school when my kids were little and saw first-hand how important those pre-school years are in setting a child up for the start of school. Early pre-schools, playgroups and nurseries can make a huge difference. Today nearly three quarters of children are entering school with a “good” level of readiness compared to just half only seven years ago. Over a million children are benefiting from the government’s funding of up to 30 hours of free childcare.
I take a lunch break to join other MPs meeting former Prime Minister David Cameron and the head of the ONE-Campaign. This is a global movement to end extreme poverty and preventable disease. The UK is the leader on global vaccination programs particularly against diseases such as measles and polio. This helps prevent outbreaks from spreading and this protects our own population too. Then back to the House of Commons for the debate on early years. It goes well.
Tuesday 10th March – 10,764 steps In the Department for Education discussing coronavirus planning. I’m focusing on making sure the impact on pre-schools and nurseries is minimised as well as making sure policies are in place to address issues affecting children in care and those with special needs and disabilities. There is a huge amount of work going on. I have helpful meetings on support for adoption families and foster carers. There aren’t a huge number of children involved but these are both incredibly important groups. I meet with a group of MPs from Hull to discuss children’s services in their area.
I get a text message from my whip explaining that the votes are going to happen much earlier than expected, so I race across Parliament Square back to the House of Commons. We are voting on the Telecommunications Bill and some MPs have tabled amendments regarding Huawei. Having met with leads of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre I am comfortable with the approach that the Government has suggested, but when the vote comes it is quite a narrow win for the Government. I suspect there will be more discussion in months ahead!
Wednesday 11th March – 10,967 steps It’s budget day, very early start queuing up outside the chamber at 7.30 am to put a “prayer card” in so I will have a seat. I’ve been asked to join the minsters team answering questions at the dispatch box just before PMQs. We are expecting questions about early years providers and the coronavirus. I spend the morning meeting the team working on this before heading back to the House of Commons. Its only my second time at the dispatch box, this time with a very crowded chamber, but fortunately I am able to answer the questions.
When the Chancellor comes to present the budget, the mood is sombre. We know the country is concerned about coronavirus and the impact it is having on the NHS and on employees and employers, especially small businesses. I am extremely pleased to hear the raft of support that is being given, it is going to be a challenging time ahead, so it is good that both the Government and the Bank of England are working together to support the economy. There is also good news locally in the Budget, as we hear than the Department of Transport have formally put replacing the Army and Navy junction as one of their priority projects, so we will be able to move forward to the next stage of development.
Thursday 12th March – 9,808 steps In the East End of London, I visit an “Alternative Provision” school. These are usually for those who have been excluded from mainstream. I am extremely impressed by this school’s record of helping young people to get qualifications and move on to the next stage of education or employment. They are helping people who often have hugely complex backgrounds and challenges. Many schools like this are not doing so well and we are reviewing the situation across the country. Then back into the House of Commons this time to lead a debate on teaching self-defence in schools. This follows a campaign led by the friends of young Ellie Gould who was tragically murdered last year.
Back at home I sit down to listen to the press conference from the Prime Minister, Chief Scientific Advisor and Chief Medical Officer. I know people are hugely concerned about Coronavirus and it is deeply helpful to listen closely to the scientists telling us what they know about the disease and the rationale for the measures they are asking us all to take.
Friday 13th March – 1,840 steps In Chelmsford I visit Tanglewood Nursery School. This is an outstanding nursery school in Melbourne. It’s very good to catch up with them. They are a specialist in helping children with special educational needs and disabilities and I hear about their work with other schools across the area. I also donate one of the “World Book Day” books that I have been given to share with local schools. The book is called “Bing’s Splashy Story” apparently one of their children has been desperately searching everywhere for this book. After such a busy week it’s an absolute delight to read the book with him and then pop it into his book bag for the weekend. Big Smiles.
Then off to Chelmsford County High School for Girls to meet their A Level politics students and then talk with all the year 13 group. They are a super group of students, buzzing with questions from local transport to climate change, prison reform and plastic waste.
I join a conference call with the lead of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, hearing about work that local authorities are doing to care for children across the country. The “working” week finishes with a very busy constituency surgery and the delivery of my large “Red Box” of weekend work and reading.