Monday 7th September In the House of Commons each day ministers from one department take questions from MPs. Some of the questions are submitted in advance but others can also be asked on the day. Today is the turn of the Education team and answering questions is always nerve wracking as one wants to give clear responses. As Children’s Minister I know I will have questions on early years, special educational needs and disabilities and mental health support for pupils and teachers. These are all areas that I have put a huge amount of work into over recent months. We start the day with an early meeting to prepare for last minute questions, I check in with officials on any breaking news making sure I have an answer to as many topics as possible.
The session starts mid-afternoon, with questions flowing rapidly. I get asked a question about children with autism and social, emotional and mental health needs. There is a lot of concern from parents that these young people may find the return to school extremely challenging and risk being excluded from their school. This so called “off-rolling” of children is not lawful, so it’s good to give a firm message of support to children on the record from the dispatch box.
I have a catch-up meeting with the Secretary of State before a debate on the Fire Safety Bill. The Grenfell Tower fire was a terrible tragedy. This Bill will implement the recommendations of the inquiry into the fire and will lead to improved safety for all. I did not support the opposition amendment which would have cut across the current consultation which would have delayed implementation.
Tuesday 8th September Lots of meetings on the Spending Review, an intense amount of work is going into this at the moment as it will set the framework for all Government spending for the next three years. Then a helpful meeting on school food and plans for holiday clubs next summer. I catch up the Andrea Leadsom MP who has been tasked with reviewing support for families and children under the age of two. Finish the day with a thoughtful meeting with other women MPs. The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, who are more likely to have lost employment. I’ve been working on making sure that families can access childcare, and we discuss other measures to support them.
Wednesday 9th September Weekly meeting with other ministers, this time focusing on the safety of students returning to university which we know will be complex. I catch up with the team who are delivering a new program to support schools with mental health and wellbeing issues which is being rolled out across the country. I meet one of the new Members of Parliament who is working with his local council to set up a one stop service for families of children with special educational needs, and then listen into debates on the furlough scheme and exams. All talk is of the new social distancing rules, limiting meetings in homes and social occasions to no more than six. There has been a concerning increase in the number of cases of Covid. It is so important that people take action and follow these new rules.
Thursday 10th September Meet with the founder of Frontline, an inspirational training organisation for social workers. Then I host a huge Zoom meeting with the Directors of Children’s Services from all across the country. They have worked so hard during the pandemic to protect children but there is still a huge amount to do. We discuss support getting those with special needs back into school, the roll out of our mental health project, school meals, funding for nurseries and preschools and, most importantly, increased vigilance for children at risk of harm.
I have my weekly stock take meeting with all officials and pop over to the House of Commons to discuss the latest twist in the UK/EU talks with my whip. It is worrying that if there is no agreement on a trade deal the EU have suggested they might block food movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and I can see that the UK would need to take action to prevent this - but having to go over what was so recently agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement is concerning too.
I meet the Work and Pensions Minister about financial support to families on lower incomes, and the Prison Minister about improving outcomes for young people at risk of being drawn into crime. I meet with the group of Headteachers who are helping to reform the system for children who have been excluded from mainstream schools and end my Westminster week with an inspiring meeting with Dame Louise Casey. She set up the troubled families’ program which has given practical advice and help to hundreds of thousands of families. I pick her brains about the planned reforms for the care system.
Friday 11th September A super constituency day meeting the Child and Family Wellbeing team from the Family Hub in Chelmsford. They tell me how they have been supporting children and their families with mental health issues during the pandemic. Do contact them if you need advice! I meet up with the bosses of Ford – many people in Chelmsford work for them. I catch up with our local Police Commander on various issues, including hearing what exception work the volunteer “Specials” have been doing. Then a very helpful discussion with the Head of Housing at Chelmsford City Council thinking ahead for those that need housing support. We discuss the latest announcements from the Government to protect renters and rough sleepers and how to make sure that Chelmsford can benefit. I join other Essex MPs for a briefing from the Chief Constable for Essex Police and our Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Roger Hirst. The work they have done to tackle serious violence, especially drugs gangs, is deeply impressive. Finish the working week with a huge Zoom meeting with MPs from across the country for a briefing by the Prime Minister.
Busy weekend following up with problems some residents have had booking coronavirus tests as there has been a large increase in demand for tests. Please do only book a test if you have symptoms or have been asked to get one before a hospital appointment, by the council or as part of the Governments pilot projects.