Anyone who has come across me as a politician will know that I’m driven by a desire that our country does better for children. I don’t think our country has ever come close to matching the ambition that children have for themselves.
So when I heard I was moving jobs to become shadow minister for schools in Labour’s Education team you can imagine my joy.
For the last year I’ve worked my socks off in the Justice team trying to give voice to victims of crime and young people trapped in a poorly designed criminal justice system. Throughout that time I wasn’t able to make a single visit due to the covid restrictions which was hugely frustrating. However, I produced a victims bill giving new, enforceable rights to victims of crime which has provoked government to finally promise one of their own in response this year. There are some other policies I have been working really hard on that I also want to see through to completion and you’ll be hearing more about those in the next couple of weeks.
So it’s a great sadness to be moving on from that role as I really loved it, but thankfully the brilliant Anna McMorrin is taking over from me and I know she’ll be brilliant.
This is my second front bench role and I’m grateful to have some experience now. It’s a little overwhelming when you get appointed to a new position because within ten seconds of the press release going out you get loads of really kind messages of support plus many others demanding to know your views on very specific policies. Sadly getting appointed to a new position isn’t like downloading a book where you wait a few moments for it to download and suddenly all the information is there! I want to get this right and that means learning the hard way: reading, experiencing, listening and asking lots and lots of questions!
I’ve had a lot of quite recent experience in education, most importantly being chair of governors of a local school for six crucial years as it underwent an amazing programme of improvement, but I totally understand the need to start afresh and learn from those in the frontline of education before anything else.
So I want to say right now…don’t worry, in the coming days I will be spending a lot of time in schools – and I don’t mean sitting in the principals office sipping coffee, I want to start off in classrooms listening and learning as much as I can, talking to students and frontline teachers and hearing what they have to say.
You’ll know that I had a tough journey through education and had a few barriers of my own to overcome. I don’t approach this job as if things need to change based on my experience but I do hope the struggles I went through give me empathy with others who need support to thrive. I know for sure that the steeliness I have when it comes to knocking down barriers that prevent youngsters moving on in life and exploring all the potential they have – whether they know it at the time or not – comes from my own experiences.
I had to return to secondary school at the age of 25 to start over again. I never, ever want another student to leave ill prepared for the future and no one who’s come across me on this subject can doubt just how determined I am to ensure that young people spend their future lifetimes exploring their potential and putting their talents to good uses, not wasting a life trying to overcome challenges that a well purposed educational system would have helped them deal with long before.