Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Last week Cornwall welcomed inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission who jointly carried out an inspection of our local area. Under the Children and Families Act 2014, the government placed new duties on our local health, social and education services that provide for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities.

The inspection will evaluate how effectively the local area identifies the needs of children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities, and meets the needs of these children and young people so that their chances of participating fully in society improve.

Improving the lives of the most vulnerable people in our community is I believe amongst the most important roles of Cornwall Council. Our public services working effectively in partnership with local businesses and charities as well as families and carers is essential for improving lives. This is especially true when public finances are tight as we all want to see public funds spent on improving the opportunities for children and young people with special education needs and/or disabilities.

Central government has its role to play too and I am pleased that an ambitious project which will help support vulnerable children and families in Cornwall has been awarded almost £2m from the Government’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme.

The project, developed by Cornwall Council in partnership with health organisations, is one of 24 projects across the country to receive funding from the Department for Education’s £200m programme which has been set up to encourage local authority children’s services to innovate their practice and the way they deliver services.

This new and additional funding will help transform the way education, health and social care services work together to better meet the needs of children, young people and their families.

First published in the West Briton 12/07/17

Business Rates and Schools Funding

What a joy to be in Cornwall last week, watching nature awaken from winter slumber and catching up with many local people and organisations.

Tackling the frustrating lack of progress in supporting the people sleeping rough in Truro was a priority. I am pleased to report that there are extra police officers in Truro now and the multi-agency working needed to resolve the current situation is beginning to take shape. Truro Safe will soon be distributing leaflets letting people and businesses know how they can help the Police, Cornwall Council and other partners tackle the totally unacceptable problems currently being experienced in Truro.

Business Rates are an important source of income for councils, paying for vital services such a social care. I was surprised that following a consultation on the future of business rates in 2015, the status quo with modest changes was the preferred option. As the value of property on which business rates are based changes over time, so there are periodic revaluations. I understand that most businesses won’t see an increase, with rates set to fall across Cornwall by an average of 4.9%. While improvements to small business rate relief mean many local small businesses won’t be paying any rates, concerns remain. I have raised these with the Minister and I am pleased he is listening. I regularly update my website with information:

https://www.sarahnewton.org.uk/

You can also find details of a consultation on a proposed new national funding formula for schools there. I have long campaigned for fair funding for schools in Cornwall. I am pleased that the Government listened and the current proposals are the second stage of a genuine consultation to get the formula right, including accepting the costs of small rural primaries. I remain determined to ensure that Cornwall’s children and schools get their fair share of funding and am working with Ministers to achieve this.

First published in the West Briton 22/03/17

Back to School

Along with a loving family, a good education is an important building block for our children’s futures. While learning starts as soon as we are born and it is important to nurture all aspects of development, time in school can shape much of our future chances in life.

Given the importance of education not only to each person but to the whole of our society, it is not surprising that it is a policy area that I spend considerable time on. Time listening to local teachers, academics, leaders of schools and colleges, parents, carers and young people. I also listen to local and national employers about future opportunities for our young people. This enables me to represent the views of my constituents with Ministers as they undertake their role of shaping government policy.

Over the past six years we have made great strides forward, with more than 1.4 million more children in “good” or “outstanding” schools than in 2010. The academies programme has helped unlock the potential of many schools. This Government is committed to helping all schools enjoy academy status freedoms and school-led system improvement through multi-academy trusts.

Conversion to academies in Cornwall has improved educational outcomes for children and young people. The majority of young people are in schools that are academies and Cornwall now has an above average proportion of ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools, and a proven track record of securing improvement. In 2009, 62% of our schools were judged to be ‘good’ or better, and this has risen to over 90% in March 2016. It is well reported that throughout this period school inspections have become tougher. As two members of my family are recently retired teachers, I have seen first-hand how dedicated teachers are to providing a great education.

We are fortunate to have highly effective leadership of our two local secondary schools, which have both enabled local young people to achieve excellent results in recent GCSE exams. These results are significantly above the national average and amongst the best results of any school in Cornwall.

During a recent conversation with Brett Miners of Falmouth School, I asked him about the success of the school. I thought you would be interested in his response. He summarised the journey over the past three years as being built on a belief that tolerance and respect coupled with high aspirations, standards and expectations underpin much of what the school does. Aiming each day to give students the highest possible quality of support and in return expect excellent standards of behaviour in and out of the classroom ensures all students have every opportunity to succeed. “This way we can make a real difference.”

He went onto say, “We are also determined to make the school a community school. We have increased the use of the building in the evenings and at weekends and we now work with an increasing number of groups who regularly hire the school facilities.”

I very much support the new Sports Development Project at Falmouth School, the construction of which is imminent, as it will enable many more local people of all ages to participate in a range of sport.

The commitment to ensuring that every child in this country receives a high-quality education and that we narrow the attainment gap between rich and poor is the driving mission of the Government’s education reforms.

This Government is putting the interests of ordinary working-class people first. We want this country to be a truly meritocratic country, where what matters most is a person’s individual talent and their capacity for hard work, so we need to build a schools system that works for everyone, not just for the privileged few.

The Government wants to build on the progress made over the past six years and make the schools system truly fit for purpose in the 21st century. The current “Schools that work for everyone” consultation is about engaging with as many views as possible so that we can design policies that make the most of the expertise that we already have, and widen access to good and outstanding school places for all. There is so much potential in our country, and that talent base needs us to ask the big questions, leaving no stone unturned so that we can build a schools system that truly works for everyone.

“A” Level Results

Congratulations to the young people, teachers and their families who worked so hard for the excellent “A” level results we saw from our local schools and Truro & Penwith College. I believe that a good education is essential for people to realise their full potential and play as full a part in our society as possible.

We have, yet again, seen record university application rates, a four percent rise on last year, from every part of the UK. As importantly to me, more young people, including high achieving young people, are starting apprenticeships.

As we build a Britain that works for everyone and not just the privileged few, we want to ensure that every young person going to university or starting an apprenticeship receives the high standard of education they deserve.

Building on the progress of recent years, more people from disadvantaged backgrounds will be going to university this year. 18-year-olds from the least advantaged backgrounds are seven per cent more likely to be placed than in 2015.

While more needs to be done, more people from disadvantaged backgrounds go to university in England than in Scotland despite free tuition from the Scottish Government. For 2014, the latest figures available, the entry rate of university students from disadvantaged backgrounds was 18.2%, up 5% from 2009. For Scotland the comparable figure was nearly half that at 9.5 % despite free university education.

Jeremy Corbyn in his recent visit to Cornwall pledged to scrap university tuition fees. While constant scrutiny is essential to ensure everyone who has the ability to benefit from a university education has the opportunity, scrapping the current system, introduced by Labour and made much fairer by Conservatives in Government and described by the independent OECD as offering the most scalable and sustainable approach to university finance, seems reckless.