BEP column


Here’s my first MP’s column for the Bristol Evening Post. We only get 450 words, so it’s a case of trying to make as many points as possible in that space… I assume the comment “We still have a failing transport system, thanks for all your help and support Kerry” is meant sarcastically. As I always remember one of my senior colleagues saying on a visit to a mosque in Bristol, when asked about Israel and Palestine. “There are some things we can influence, and other things that are within our power.” Unfortunately transport in Bristol is only something I can lobby on, complain about and – sometimes – succeed in getting extra funding for. But sorting out the entire city’s transport problems? Not within my power… I wish it was!

On the House:

Bristol East Labour MP Kerry McCarthy

W HEN I was first elected in 2005, it was clear that education – along with that perennial thorn in all our sides, Bristol‘s failing transport system – had to be one of my top priorities.

Bristol’s state education sector had been under-performing for years. We languished near the bottom of the national league tables. Many parents chose to send their children to schools outside the Bristol boundaries, or went private.

The ‘staying-on’ rate at 16 was another area in which Bristol performed badly. After all, if so few children were achieving good grades in their GCSEs, what incentive was there for them to carry on in education? In schools where barely one in five pupils was getting five good GSCEs (grades A to C) it was an uphill struggle to convince pupils and their parents that many of them should aspire to go on and do A levels, and maybe even start thinking about university.

Labour’s education policies were geared towards making these kids feel that they could overcome such obstacles.

There was a real push to improve school standards, which resulted in a dramatic increase in GCSE pass rates. All the secondary schools in my east Bristol constituency were rebuilt, and the fantastic new buildings made a real difference to pupils’ morale, and behaviour. As one pupil said: “Someone, somewhere thinks we’re worth it”.

We set up the Aim Higher programme, to nurture the aspirations of young people to progress beyond GCSEs. We introduced Education Maintenance Allowances of up to £30 per week for children from the poorest families, to help them meet the costs – travel, books, equipment, school trips, lunches – of staying on in Sixth Form, and, yes, to give them a bit of an incentive to do so.

And now all this good work is under threat.

Bristol was fortunate to be in the first wave of Building Schools for the Future, before the Coalition Government’s axe fell. Many other local authorities were not so lucky and won’t get their new school buildings. Aim Higher is being axed. EMAs are being scrapped. The Coalition’s much-trumpeted Pupil Premium won’t mean any more money in real terms, just the same money spread more thinly. And this week the Government will try to force through Parliament moves to raise university tuition fees.

It’s no wonder young people have taken to the streets to protest. (I don’t condone violence or vandalism and neither do the vast majority of the demonstrators). I am backing the Save EMA campaign, I’ve met with students at the protests, and I will be voting against the fees rise tomorrow. I hope other Bristol MPs put our young people first and do the same.

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