Here is the latest in a series of monthly columns written exclusively for this newspaper by Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark, in which he offers his own unedited thoughts and opinions.
For families with children, September is always a month of mixed emotions – regret that the school summer holiday which seemed endless to start with (and so short by the end) is over, the stress of buying new uniform and school shoes, the resistance to early morning starts and the excitement of being back in the classroom with friends, old and new.
And as the new term begins, politics has entered a vigorous debate about education policy – an area in which feelings are also mixed. Whatever your views on the debate, one inescapable fact is that our town is well served by a range of good schools – all-ability, grammar, church and independent. When Tunbridge Wells features at or near the top of league tables of the best places in the country to live, education is one of the most cited reasons as to why people want to move here.
During each Parliament I try to visit every school in my constituency – more than 50 of them. Earlier this month, I visited Claremont Primary School to talk about the role of an MP. With the hall full of around five hundred pupils it was almost as lively as the House of Commons! I am always encouraged by the knowledge our children have about our political system. One pupil at Claremont knew exactly how many MPs there are in Parliament – a fact which I am sure many adults would struggle to recall.
Whilst Claremont is a well-established primary school, later this week I will have the honour of opening our newest addition, Skinners’ Kent Primary School in Knights Wood. I have no doubt that it will be highly successful under the leadership of the Skinners’ Kent Academy Trust, very ably led by one of the country’s best headteachers, Sian Carr. The Trust also runs Skinners’ Kent Academy where strong management, passionate staff and dedication from pupils have created a school recently rated by Ofsted as Outstanding on all counts.
We have good schools locally but must not be complacent. For many of my constituents, getting their children into a primary school close to home is more problematic than they anticipated. It is one of the reasons I was always supportive of establishing The Wells Free School, the new Skinners’ Kent Primary, and now the proposed expansion of St Peter’s Primary in Hawkenbury.
We need to ensure all children have the opportunity to thrive and to achieve their best. That means making sure there really is a choice of good schools for all and that they go out of their way to encourage applications from all pupils, irrespective of background or parental support. I believe it is important too that the sporting and artistic potential of children is nurtured and encouraged. Then as students reach the end of their school days, they should be helped into training or continue their formal education in a way that prizes their individual talents – with vocational opportunities promoted as vigorously as an exclusively academic path.
I believe that every generation should be better educated than the last. As we have become better off as a nation and learned from the past, there is no reason why this continual progress should not be expected. That is why national debate on education will not – and should not – be settled forever.
We should be restless in achieving more for every child.
Greg Clark was elected to Parliament as a representative of Tunbridge Wells in 2005. The Conservative MP has since held a number of positions in Government and currently sits as a member of the Cabinet in his capacity as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: www.gregclark.org