Back when Cix was the main way of talking to other Lib Dems online, a tradition emerged of posting Lib Dem MPs’ maiden speeches so that people could read them and respond – a tradition LDV would like to continue. Yesterday, we brought you Duncan Hames and Simon Wright.
I praise the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and all those who have made their maiden speeches for their eloquence and endurance. It is customary during a maiden speech to speak in complimentary and glowing terms-indeed, frivolous terms in some cases-about the relevant constituency. However, I hope people do not mind if, as a Bradford councillor, I pass on that and leave it until another occasion.
I love my constituency, I really do, but it does have its problems. I fought it five times over a period of 20 years and I never considered for even one second trying to be an MP anywhere else. I am proud to be an MP, but even prouder to be MP for Bradford East.
I shall get one thing out of the way. I did not know Terry Rooney, my predecessor, too well, although I fought him five times. I do know, however, that he was a colleague of many here and gave 20 years’ service to the House. He put in many years’ work on the Work and Pensions Committee and chaired it. I pay tribute to him.
I have extensive yet limited experience of education; I shall try to explain what I mean by that. The extensive experience includes working for Leeds Metropolitan university for nearly 25 years. I cannot say that I regret having failed to come here sooner, because that would have meant my missing out on my wonderful memories of working with thousands of bright, funny, infuriating, creative and inspiring young people.
For the past five years, I have been seconded to Bradford City football club. I went there to help it to create a community department to engage with the predominantly Pakistani-Bangladeshi community that surrounds the club in Manningham. It is now host to a positive lifestyle centre, which has run programmes for more than 11,000 school children in the past five years. There is the football in the community scheme, which works with 130 of Bradford’s schools. I am probably most proud of all to be associated with my hero, Andy Sykes, who joined the British National party, understood how he had made an error, was going to leave, went undercover and was featured in the BBC documentary “The Secret Agent”. Andy was that man, and he now works with Dale Althorp carrying out some really tough work across the country with some really tough young people with extreme racist views.
For 26 years, I was a councillor in a ward in Bradford, where I was a group spokesperson for education. For four years, I held the education portfolio at a very difficult time, with a privatised education service, an Ofsted inspection that was one of the worst in the whole country, a move from a three to a two-tier education system, and the closure of all special schools and the reopening of new schools with co-located mainstream schools. For nearly 30 years, I have also been a school governor in special, primary and secondary schools, and I am still a governor at two schools in Bradford.
Bradford has one of the fastest growing populations in the country, and one of the youngest. Believe it or not, one in four of the population in Bradford East is under the age of 25. That is scary, because many of those young people are failing quite badly educationally. There is a view-we have heard it tonight-that if one can only improve the educational outcomes of children in deprived communities, that will somehow break the cycle of deprivation. Well, that is not my experience. It is not by raising educational outcomes that we reduce deprivation-it is by reducing deprivation that we raise educational outcomes. This is why I intervened earlier. We need to look at all the possible determinants of educational attainment, including gender, ethnicity, religion, and school structure-we have been through them all: community, foundation, grant maintained, academies, city technology and private. Nothing, but nothing, compares with deprivation as the overwhelming determinant of a pupil’s academic success and later, sadly, their prospects for employment, mental health, physical health and life expectancy. In education, class really does matter.
Yes, schools can be improved-I have been there-by better leadership, management, governance, teaching, learning, and freedoms from central Government. However, all head teachers and governors know that the most effective way of improving attainment is to change the intake of a school. I get very angry when I hear people glibly talking about good, bad or failing schools. I was chair of governors at a school branded as a failure-part of the national challenge-because of its attainment levels. At the same time, it was the first secondary school in Bradford to be categorised by Ofsted as outstanding. Madness. Schools in the more affluent parts of Bradford district are deemed to be good, but only because of their A to C grade attainment. They are left standing, in terms of contextual value added, by many inner-city schools that are looked down on.
The Queen’s Speech-certainly, the agreement-contains many education proposals that I welcome. The slimmed-down national curriculum and flexibility in terms and conditions are necessary if the pupil premium is to work. I am not sure why these freedoms cannot just be made available to all schools, and why that has to be the preserve of academies. The most important freedom is not from overpowering local authorities, which can be controlled-perhaps unlike Essex. That view is out of date. The most important freedom is from the strangulating control of local education and authorities and schools by central Government.
The pupil premium, which is conspicuous by its absence in the Queen’s Speech, offers the real prospect of redressing the disadvantage faced by young people from deprived backgrounds. There is already deprivation funding, but it is a pittance. By and large, the amount of money that a school gets is based on the number of pupils in the school. That cannot be right, because going into an Ilkley primary school on a Monday morning is not the same as going into a school in BD3, the area that I represent.
I said that my experience of education is extensive but limited. It is extensive because of what I have done, but limited because of where it has been-in Bradford. I acknowledge that. However, it is that understanding of Bradford that I was sent here to voice. In a place such as Bradford, proposals for more faith schools and academies and the rights of parents to set up their own schools threaten social cohesion, strategic planning of school places, co-ordination of admissions and collaborative partnerships. I worry about that.
For many years, my wife has worked in a service providing support for Travellers, Gypsies, Roma, asylum seekers and refugees. My personal test of new academies and free schools will be based not on their standing in a league table showing key stage 2 and 4 results, but on the extent to which they provide a helping hand for the clients my wife represents. We will wait and see.