General Election 2015: Education Question Time with the candidates
Saturday, 7 March 2015
The Ted Hughes Theatre at Calder High School was full for the education debate involving five of the Calder Valley constituency candidates for General Election this May and a very informed and articulate audience. Members of the audience composed their questions at the beginning, as they came in. Around 5 questions were selected.
On the panel, as pictured above, from the left were Craig Whittaker (Cons); Jenny Shepherd (Green); Paul Rogan (UKIP); Gill Goodswen (Chair); Alisdair Calder McGregor, (Lib Dem); Penny Brown (Calder High Head Girl) and Josh Fenton Glynn (Lab). Click photo to enlarge
What follows is a brief summary of some of the discussion.
Question:What one thing would you do to realise your ambition for education, how, and how long would it take?
Jenny Shepherd spoke of the need to rebuild local schools and to make schools once again educationally accountable. Paul Rogan thought there has been too many changes in education in recent years and more stability was needed. Alisdair Calder McGregor spoke of widening choices on what students can study. Penny Brown stressed that education should be made accessible to all; tuition fees should be ended. Josh Fenton Glynn stressed the need for increased investment in education and good school buildings. "Investment in education is money we'll get back. I will be a terrier whatever Government is in power." Craig Whittaker was proud of what his Government had achieved and intended to continue along similar lines.
In audience discussion, one person mentioned how many bad teachers there still were. However, the applause went to another member of the audience who said how dedicated and hard working teachers were.
Question: What is Education for? Opportunity answered Alisdair Calder McGregor. Freethinking said Penny Brown.
Question: When will politicians start looking forward?
Josh Fenton Glynn would cap class sizes for younger pupils and double the number of places in Sure Start. Penny Brown would equip young people for technology. Alisdair Calder McGregor said that the Lib Dems had blocked many of the Tories' poorly thought out policies. "Education is not just about schools" and several times stressed the importance of adult education. Jenny Shepherd told the audience that the world is facing massive changes in the very near future and that education should prepare children to be comfortable with uncertainty. Paul Rogan suggested we looked at best educational practice. Craig Whittaker received large applause when he reminded Alisdair Calder McGregor that Michael Gove was no longer Secretary of State, but then lost some credibility by the suggesting the Ridings School was replaced by Trinity Academy.
The meeting was tightly and firmly chaired by Gill Goodswen, former President of NUT. She occasionally allowed herself to join the conversation as when she praised the Finnish education system. "They trust their teachers."
Question: How do we enable girls and women to achieve positions of responsibility.
Jenny Shepherd explained that it is a complex question. There are still strong gender stereotyping; this should be unacceptable in schools. Craig Whittaker says "gender parity" is an important issue; there should be a culture of "inspiring young people to aspire." Josh Fenton Glynn argued that much is down to expectations. Paul Rogan pointed out that there is an even mix in the audience. In his business, he doesn't see a gender imbalance among engineers.
An audience member received loud applause to the suggestion that sex and relationships education should be compulsory. "Men need to get out of the way a bit," said another audience member. Another pointed out that we shouldn't blame teachers all the time for inequalities - the wider social inequalities can't be redressed by teachers.
Question: Calder High was one of the first ever comprehensives in the country. Actor Mark Rylance was recently in the news because he didn't learn to speak until he was 6. Many of us don't reach our intellectual prime by the age of 11. Isn't it time to end the 11 plus in Calderdale and make all schools in the district follow the route pioneered by Calder High?
Jenny Shepherd agreed that we needed truly comprehensive schools. Penny Brown pointed out that not all children have the same needs. Josh Fenton Glynn commended comprehensive education and argued that Michael Gove's 'vanity project' - Free Schools - were a waste of money. Paul Rogan thought grammar schools were a 'very good thing' and believed in the 80/20 division. "There should be a grammar school in every town." Craig Whittaker said that grammar schools have a part to play and also stood up for Free Schools.
One audience member pointed out that to get into grammar schools, you have pay for tutoring. Another said that for every grammar school there is a secondary modern.
Question, from a school student who was concerned about the decline in mental wellbeing she was witnessing.
Paul Rogan explained that he wasn't an expert in this field and didn't have an answer. Jenny Shepherd criticised the constant testing and assessment for putting too much pressure on young people. Alisdair Calder McGregor said he is isn't surprised. More investment in mental health was needed and the Liberal Democrat manifesto will be focussing on this. Josh Fenton Glynn stressed the value of Art and Music to balance other subjects. Penny Brown says we need to listen to those who are in education.
At the end of the meeting, The NUT tweeted that it was a great debate. That nearly 200 people turned out on a Friday evening shows a passion for education. Another tweet referred to a "Superb Education Question Time. Great questions and a depth of opinion."
There is a sixth candidate, Rod Sutcliffe (Yorkshire First), who was not present as he entered the contest after invitations and flyers had been prepared.