Stoke-on-Trent has been the focus of the Government’s plans to level-up opportunities across our country. Working as a team, our Conservative MPs and Conservative-led City Council have secured record investment, on a scale our city has not seen for decades.
There can be no doubt that this funding is going to truly help level up our city. And while we all put our focus on a more positive and exciting future, we must ensure that we do not forget those who will be leading it. Stoke-on-Trent has a greater range of employment opportunities available than ever before, just waiting to be filled. Our talented young residents of Stoke-on-Trent must have access to these opportunities and the support needed so they can grow and thrive within our city.
Earlier this month, the Government published its Levelling-up blueprint. As part of the Government’s plan, 55 areas across the country – including Stoke-on-Trent – will receive targeted support to help young people from all backgrounds achieve the highest standards of education.
These Education Investment Areas will help ensure that talented children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the learning they need to progress into job training or higher education. These Areas will also be eligible for retention payments to help schools retain the best teachers in high priority subjects, and they will be able to access a new pilot programme aimed at improving pupil attendance.
I was delighted to hear confirmation that Stoke-on-Trent will be at the forefront of the areas winning extra support. This will be vital in ensuring we broaden the aspirations and achievements of all our city’s young people so they can achieve their full potential.
It does of course build on and strengthen the excellent work done locally in schools through the Opportunity Area. I would like to pay tribute to excellent the work being done by the Education Challenge Board locally to spearhead the drive to help schools that need to drive up standards.
For many of our young people, school cannot simply be about learning. For young people to achieve we must also address many of the wider challenges they face, especially the impact of pandemic. These challenges have caused demand to surge for many services that support children and young adults. We must focus more on mental health support for our young people to meet this demand, something I’ve discussed with many of the schools and colleges I’ve visited in Stoke-on-Trent recently.
I was particularly pleased to speak in a House of Commons debate on children's mental health about the work being done to improve mental health care for young people in Stoke-on-Trent. Many of our teachers and mental health services are doing an incredible job, but we need to further grow this provision. I am determined we will deliver on the mental health support teams for every school and college in our city, and that we will further expand provision to better meet the needs of our young people.
I made clear that preventative support must also start from an early age, and it was particularly good to hear the Minister recognise this, and the work being led by Stoke-on-Trent City Council to develop family hubs locally.
Responding to the debate, the Children and Families Minister told me:
“the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, a passionate advocate for children and young people in Stoke-on-Trent, has made a compelling case for family hubs and the family hub model and investment in Stoke-on-Trent, and we will no doubt discuss that further down the line.”
Finally, I would like to share with you my excitement over a recent visit to Belgrave St. Bartholomew’s Academy by the Minister for School Systems, Baroness Barran. It was a great opportunity for the Minister and I to meet with teachers and children at the school and hear about the excellent work they are doing, especially with the use of digital technology in the classroom.
I have spoken many times about my efforts to ensure that Stoke-on-Trent is at the forefront of the Government’s mind. Recently, we had a visit from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and now we have had the Schools Minister. This goes to show that the Government, on a cross departmental basis, are interested in our city and support our plans to level up Stoke-on-Trent.
During recess week, I have continued to visit various schools in Stoke-on-Trent South to speak to the amazing staff and pupils. I particularly want to congratulate Trentham Academy and Ormiston Meridian Academy on their amazing Ofsted reports recently: all the students and staff at both schools should be incredibly proud of what they have achieved. Across our city we have seen incredible efforts by our schools and teachers to support young people through the most challenging times of the pandemic for which they deserve our thanks. I will continue to push for the continued support that our local schools, colleges and young people need to achieve their best.
Originally published in The Sentinel newspaper 21/02/22