Opinion: ‘Bottom of league tables isn’t clever’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council writes...

It’s absolutely right that the country began its release from lockdown by sending children back to school. Schools have shown great ingenuity in delivering lessons virtually and they were always open for children of key workers. However, school is not just a place where facts are ingested, it’s also where children form bonds with each other. As much as we would like to think that our world has been turned into a virtual domain, children do need the atmosphere of the classroom and the interaction with their peers.

It’s also good news that Peterborough is building two new schools: it’s past time, however, given the recent expansion in our population. We need solid, functioning schools with appropriate teacher to pupil ratios.

This is not merely a matter of learning reading, writing and arithmetic: it used to be that someone with a basic schooling could go into a factory job and have a prosperous lifestyle.

These roles are now few and far between; the jobs of the future will rely on academic skills, imagination and information technology skills. Many jobs that are available now, such as a web designer, were not in existence when I was in school. I was fortunate, I received a thorough education which imbued both flexibility and curiosity. It also ensured that I had the confidence to follow my dreams, wherever those dreams led me.

Peterborough was already struggling, bumping along the bottom of the league tables; I am concerned that the pandemic has only made things much more challenging.

This is by no means the fault of the teachers and the headmasters: they have performed heroically despite the strange combination of pressure and indifference they have endured. However, they are just not getting the support nor the resources they need to succeed. Schools need solid financial support, and I was disappointed to see the government has cut pupil premiums in some areas. This is not helpful.

Even in the absence of resources, the current administration could do more: it could expand its support for the third sector, and foster homework clubs throughout the city. It could reach out to firms and ask for their help in building digital initiatives. Peterborough is home to one of the most successful insurance comparison services in Europe: surely, they have some thoughts on how best to educate students to face in to the modern world?

Unfortunately, our Conservative administration suffers from a deficiency that plagues its colleagues in Westminster: they believe that they can just do something simple, and all will be well. Children’s education suffering? Open the schools: the teachers will sort out the whole business of making up for lost time. Well, no, it doesn’t quite work like that: the teachers need help. By all means, open the schools again: let’s start the process of returning to normal.

But don’t assume that the line between point A and point B is straight and smooth. What’s required is an active, enquiring government which has a question as its starting point: “How can we help?” And: “What can we do to make things better?” A government that is tired and is devoid of ideas won’t begin with these queries, rather, they will do something and say, “that’ll do”.

But it won’t do. Children are our future. We must do all we can to give them the best start in life. Bumbling along at the bottom of league tables is not good enough. Children inherit the future: it is up to the adults of today to ensure they are prepared for it.

A Labour administration will make education a priority across our city.