It's been a busy few weeks in Parliament, and I just wanted to take the time to share with you some of the things which I've been working on.
Education: At Home and in School
Ensuring our children get the best education possible is an issue that will never go away. As the former Secretary of State for Education, this is a matter that is very close to my heart, and I will always champion the interests of children and young people. For the last few weeks, I have been paying close attention to the question of home education: in particular, how we can balance parents’ rights to home school their children with the need to ensure all kids receive an education that is up to scratch.
Of course, there are many parents in South Staffordshire and beyond who work hard to provide their children with an excellent home education. However, many children are labelled as ‘home schooled’, despite receiving very little or no education. I’m sure you’ll be as alarmed by this situation as I am and agree that this is something we must urgently address.
I recently spoke on the idea of a ‘Children not in school register’ in Parliament and have been working with my colleague, Flick Drummond, who will introduce a motion on this topic this week. Moreover, I will be meeting with various groups, including the Centre for Social Justice, to discuss how we can tackle this issue in a way that is proportionate and fair. As ever, I value the input of my constituents, so please do not hesitate to get in contact if you would like to share your thoughts.
Beyond the realms of home education, I was delighted to hear about the Government’s new £2 billion investment in schools, which will see primary schools receive £35,000 and secondary schools receive £200,000. We’re all feeling the pinch right now, so it is great to see the Government show their support for the younger generations. There is no doubt in my mind that schools across South Staffordshire will put this funding to good use and continue to provide the high-quality education that our children deserve.
Textbooks Not TikTok
Alongside funding increases, I have also been focussing on the importance of raising behavioural standards in our schools. Over the last few months, student ‘protests’ have rocked numerous schools across the country. They appear linked to TikTok videos, viewed by millions, which encourage pupils to emulate activity and take part in their own school ‘riots’ - shaking fences, flipping tables over and letting off fire extinguishers.
Technology is invaluable, and my time as Education Secretary during the pandemic underscored the importance of laptops and iPads in keeping education going. However, this latest ‘trend’ goes to show the disruption personal mobile phones can cause to the school day. After meetings with various stakeholders, it is my firm believe that the Department of Education needs to reconsider a proposal advocated during my time in office - banning mobile phones during the school day. It would put a stop to this copycat behaviour and ensure that schools remain cohesive places of education. We also know phones can act as a breeding ground for cyber-bullying and that social media can damage young people’s mental health. In short, all the evidence suggests that banning mobiles in schools is the way to go.
Students should of course have phones. As parents, it is important that we can contact our children on the way to and from school. How else would we know the obligatory pick-up point! Instead, we need a solution which limits access during the school day, and I welcomed the opportunity to explore a variety of innovative methods to tackle this problem over recent weeks. Pioneering ‘locked pouch’ technology, where student’s place their phone into a small, locked sleeve at the beginning of the school day, was of particular interest, and I hope to continue these discussions with Ministers and education providers as the parliamentary session progresses.
Ending Puppy Smuggling
Barely a day goes by without one of you writing to me about animal welfare. So, as the proud owner of two dogs, I was to meet with representatives of Dog’s Trust in support of the upcoming Kept Animals Bill.
The Bill seeks to tackle the atrocity that is puppy smuggling by reducing the number of pets that can travel in a non-commercial movement, as well as increasing the minimum age at which dogs can be brought into the country.
Unfortunately, this Bill has suffered delays and is currently at a standstill. This cannot continue. I will be speaking with the Dog’s Trust in order to explore ways to get the Bill moving again and garner support for this vital piece of legislation within Parliament. In the meantime, I urge all of you to continue to continue to show your support for the Bill: let’s take the lead and end the barbaric practice of puppy smuggling once and for all.
A Truly Global Britain
Whilst it is important that we focus on issues at home, we cannot lose sight of the role Global Britain plays as a guiding light to others on the world stage. Nowhere is this more true than with regards to the hunger crisis currently unfolding in the East and Horn of Africa. It is estimated that 1 person in the region dies of hunger every 48 seconds, and that 10 million people are in direct need of humanitarian assistance.
I recently spoke at a debate in Parliament to urge the Government to do more to help our friends in their time of need. The UK is leading the way in pledging aid, having allocated £165mn for 2022-23, but it is still not enough.
In 2017, the UK galvanised the global community to prevent the region from descending into a famine – and I believe that we must take action to do so again. We must use our newfound agility to act before it is too late and show the rest of the world what it means to be a true partner to the region.