MP's Herald Column: September

As we move into Autumn, much of our thinking now is focused on the education of our young people. As schools have returned and as colleges and universities gear up to return in the coming weeks, we are gradually getting back to some ‘normality’ in terms of education. Albeit, we all recognise that this ‘new normal’ is very different to how education was delivered prior to the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. I want to pay tribute to the staff of all our schools and in the Education team at Cumbria County Council for their hard work and dedication in getting our children back into full time education this new academic year. They also did a fantastic job looking after the children of our key workers during the lockdown. I know that the summer exam results time was very stressful for many. I was really pleased that the Government decided that students were to be given their grades based on teacher estimates rather than the algorithm, whichever was the higher. I know it was an incredibly distressing time for students, parents and teachers and I hope that this pragmatic and sensible decision allayed some of this anxiety. I had many constituents contact me with their concerns and I made representations to Government on their behalf. I am so pleased that the Government listened and rectified this situation.

As someone who worked in Higher Education for many years, including time as an Admissions Associate Dean, I know that this is such a crucial time for students. Educational assessment is not an exact science, especially in a year when exams had to be cancelled. In meetings with Ministers I have been assured that this process will benefit students across the sector who have worked so hard and that measures are being taken to help Universities bolster capacity this year and next after this period of uncertainty. I wish all students the very best of success and happiness in their new school, college and university years.

As we all know, a critically important educational institution in our area is Newton Rigg College. This unique college is pivotal for Cumbria and the wider UK in supporting our rural communities and training the next generation of folk to support the wide and varied sectors that we host. The Strategic Review into Newton Rigg College is progressing into the evaluation and development of expressions of interest from potential bidders. I continue to lead the campaign to save Newton Rigg and through my lobbying of Government I was able to trigger this Further Education Commissioner-led Strategic Review of the College. We are now at an exciting stage of this Government-led Strategic Review to evaluate proposals from interested parties who have come forward with innovative plans to take over Newton Rigg. I encourage staff, students and other Newton Rigg stakeholders that our campaign and work to save Newton Rigg very much continues. Newton Rigg is very much open for business this upcoming academic year. The fantastic results recently announced from this year’s students really emphasise the case for Newton Rigg College to continue into its next chapter of providing first class education for students and supporting our rural sector.

Finally, and very importantly, I know constituents will share my concern at the recent uptick in Coronavirus cases we have seen nationally. It is a stark reminder that we must remain alert and vigilant in order to try to control the virus. As we start to get more out and about with school, work and leisure, it is so important that we to continue to follow the key public health guidelines: wash your hands, cover your face and make space.