Sunday, 16 March 2014

Visiting Local First and Middle Schools over the last month

I have visited 4 schools over the last month: Wylam First, Prudhoe West First, Ovingham Middle two Fridays ago, and Bellingham Middle School just over 14 days ago. It is worth setting out some of the impressions of our Tynedale schools - although for todays blog I have not addressed Bellingham in detail, because my blog a couple of weeks ago addressed that visit in part. Certainly last month it was clear to me that Bellingham Middle was doing very well - see here:

The importance of the visits to the local East Tynedale schools is the past problems of Prudhoe Community High School, which I am pleased to say is clearly turning itself around after an unlucky Ofsted inspection. I have not met the new headteacher at PCHS, although we are sorting a meeting in the near future, but I am hearing very good things. One thing is clear: I am certain that Prudhoe Community High School has a future which I believe will be a lot better than the last 6 months.

A month ago I went to Wylam First School, and met with many of the teachers, governors, pupils and a couple of parents. On any interpretation it is a very happy and friendly school. I was pleased to hear of the good news on the school roof, the recent positive results, the fact that numbers are so good and the general sense of optimism about the school.  Certainly the news that Northumberland County Council have agreed to repair the Wylam First School Roof is good news, and a testament to the hard work of so many, not least the governors. What is also clear is that this is a school that is at the heart of its local community: the role of the local community in the orchard is a good example of this in action. This is vital, and such integration is, I suspect, one of the keys to any such school thriving in the future.

Prudhoe West School is in a state of transition, because I arrived literally the day after the former deputy head had been promoted to be the new headteacher. The new head was full of enthusiasm and fizzing with new ideas. Also full of ideas, spark and fun were the 50 or so pupils who I saw prior to them coming to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament in the summer. We chatted for around 15-20 and the team and I are looking forward to welcoming them.

Then, two Fridays ago I went to Ovingham Middle School. Again it is a successful school, very much integrated into its local community, and building strongly on the character and make up of the local community. Thus, there is a strong science and environmental element to the school, which dovetails well with the local community, which my experience and the casework I receive as the Ovingham MP has shown that the village has a particularly proactive environmental approach.

My visits to the schools are clearly snapshots, but all are run by positive heads, and enthusiastic teachers, making do with occasionally creaking school infrastructure and a "can do" attitude. The coalition has safeguarded and protected 4-16 education funding, but all the local schools would want a better financial settlement. The problem here is the traditionally poor deal that rural areas, and particularly Northumberland, suffers from when compared to urban areas. Efforts are being made to change the funding formula but this requires a major funding shift and, in any event, by necessity, would change slowly over many years. But the argument for such a change - although there would be winners and losers around the country (Northumberland would do better) is a tough one to make politically, albeit there is a growing acceptance of the need to change.
UPDATE: Since I started drafting this blog we have had the announcement of enhanced funding for the Northumberland schools, announced last Thursday by David Laws, in the Commons. I am trying to find out more but on first appraisal this appears to be both very good news, and part of the change we need as part of the Fairer Funding campaign.

It is an almost impossible job to visit every school in the constituency (not least because all visits have to be squeezed in on a Friday, as I am in London Monday to Thursday most weeks) but I am
slowly getting there. I hope to finish this task in the next year but am struggling to visit all the First Schools across Ponteland and Tynedale. But all 3 of the East Tynedale schools I visited are clearly well run and in good order.