We owe all teachers in Ipswich a huge debt of gratitude
- Credit: Tom Hunt
Since lockdown restrictions have started to be relaxed, I have made it a priority to visit as many schools in the Ipswich area as possible before the end of the Summer Term.
I take a huge amount from visiting schools, from nurseries to primaries, high schools to adult education facilities. Speaking to both pupils and teachers, and learning how their experiences are shaping their education, plays a huge part in informing my work in Parliament.
I am part of the Educational Select Committee, a small group of MPs who scrutinise the Department for Education and all associated bodies such Ofsted and Ofqual. It is Parliament’s principal way of holding these institutions and organisations to account and to have a position on this Committee is a great honour.
Therefore, every visit to a school in Ipswich is a real opportunity to speak to both pupils and teachers to see how they find the education system and to report back the ways they want to see it improved.
I have a personal interest, as someone with both dyspraxia and dyslexia in the Special Educational Needs Strategy (SEND) in schools. As a pupil, I was someone who never felt the school system reflected my style of learning. I was fortunate that after getting the support I needed it then did, and I am passionate about ensuring all SEND pupils get the same support I did. Therefore, it is of particular interest to me as a national SEND review takes place that I am able to learn from SEND units in Ipswich what challenges they face.
I wanted to highlight some of the great visits I have recently been on. At Ranelagh, I met some ‘Young Ambassadors’ who took me on a tour of the school. This fantastic primary school with pupils from a wide catchment area has a great support policy for new students who speak little English when they first arrive.
These Young Ambassadors, who are bi-lingual, really take it upon themselves to make sure that these new students, who are probably nervous and out of their comfort zone, are made to feel welcome and supported. It’s a great example of how they support the diverse range of backgrounds Ipswich has.
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I was also invited to Pipers Vale Primary where I have previously visited. They have established a SEND unit for 4 pupils on the autistic spectrum. This is a great example of the system working well but we must acknowledge that it is resource intensive. This therefore provides a good example of how the right amount of funding should be made available for these units.
I also wanted to highlight the anti-bullying strategy that Gusford Primary school has in place. Their ‘Bullying Ambassadors’ Harrison and Katy play a key role in supporting their peers who may be at risk of bullying.
They rightly take their roles very seriously and I was very impressed by how the new measures by Gusford are having such a positive effect, virtually eliminating most bullying before it even takes place.
Saying this, there remains undoubtedly huge challenges for the education system over the next few years.
There is definitely no substitute for school. Not only the class environment and peer learning but also the social relationships that school brings. These relationships and the social development they bring are key to maintain throughout the school systems.
I know how challenging this has been, with no number of virtual conversations able to make this up. What is pleasing to see is that the extent of the stagnation is not as bad as first feared. Most of the pupils are making good progress and catching up on this lost learning.
I am pleased to see that some of the barriers preventing this acceleration of learning have been removed. Getting rid of the self-isolation, often affecting entire schools has been removed, reducing the likelihood of further extensive disruption.
I am also pleased to see that bubbles are being removed. These stifled the creation of whole school communities, with physical assemblies unable to take place. I have made this very clear to the Department of Education and I am glad that action has been taken.
This is not to say that all lasting issues have not been eradicated. We are clearly seeing real issues with many pupils’ mental health deteriorating. I visited the Teenage Mental Health Ltd in Ipswich last Friday and spoke with Fiona and the team about the challenges we face.
It is clear that there is a long way to go to bring maturity levels up and coping strategies in on a larger scale, but I am confident that after meeting the staff and support networks at the schools I have, that this will be achieved effectively.
Looking back over the past few weeks there is not a teacher I have met who I have not been immensely impressed with. Their ability to teach both remotely and in person, an incredibly difficult task, has been a real testament to the whole teaching profession.
I have seen that teachers across Ipswich have been brilliant at adapting, teaching students in a whole manner of ways that would have seemed alien 18 months ago.
I can see how stressful this has been for all teachers and I have endeavoured to support them in Parliament and on the Education Select Committee as much as possible.
It is a shame that some teaching unions, like the NEU, who have had a significant amount of airtime during the pandemic have not presented the teaching profession in as good a light as it should have been. But through my visits, I have seen first-hand the incredible strategies and mechanisms teachers have used to adapt to these pandemic struggles.
This Wednesday I was invited by the Prime Minister’s advisors to visit Number 10 and discuss the national review into SEND. This was following my letter to Boris, where I highlighted that the lack of diagnosis of SEND has caused real issues within the Education system.
I pointed out that if children are not able to learn effectively then they are far more likely to resent their education and turn down a path that is not contributing to society.
I also added that following the pandemic where so much has changed, this would be a really good opportunity to push forward with more SEND reforms to ensure that no child cannot get access to the best type of education that allows them to succeed.
It will continue to be a very high priority of mine to monitor, scrutinise and push forward the national SEND review that is ongoing and I will be using all my trips to SEND units, and all my conversations with SEND teachers in Ipswich to help direct me in this priority.
I know the difficulties that schools and teachers in Ipswich have come through. I also know that we are not in the clear yet and many different difficulties lie ahead.
I will continue to visit as many schools in Ipswich as possible, I will listen to where they are struggling and feedback what strategies they feel are going well. I have been inspired by some of the young people I have met over the past few weeks; their passion for learning as well as their positivity and resilience, in a very challenging time, is incredible.
I do know that we owe all the teachers in Ipswich a huge debt of gratitude for the work they have done over the last academic year, and I hope they all enjoy a well-earned rest this summer holiday.