Tim Loughton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families came to speak to the UK Youth Parliament in Leeds during their Annual Sitting. Tim praised the UK Youth Parliament for the support it offered to young people across the country, and the way it engaged with a diverse and representative mix of young people. Tim commented how the UK Youth Parliament gets its members from all walks of life, ethnic minorities and ability groups.
Harry believes that the representative nature of the UK Youth Parliament acts only to strengthen the mandate upon which its members were elected. By looking like the people it represents, the Youth Parliament can ensure all young people are involved in services that affect them, all young people are supported through the receiving of help in their local communities and all young people have the opportunity to publicise their opinions in fair and robust consultations.
Mr Loughton took questions from Members about the issue of EMA, the academy programme for schools, and the severe problem of youth service cuts. He insisted the current alternative to EMA proposed earlier this year by the Coalition Government would be able to offer incentives to education for those who desperately need them. Harry believes the alternative will not meet the needs of young people in poorer communities, will add unnecessary burdens onto school staff and the whole re-introduction of a monetary support system was as a result of political unpopularity not as a result of them believing it would have real-life effectiveness.
On the issue of academy schools, Mr Loughton insisted government policy would be beneficial to young people studying across the country. He also outlined a plan that would mean the overall aim of the department for Education is to have all schools to become academies. It is Harry’s and the UK Youth Parliament’s worry that this would lead to an uncontrollable and unnecessary amount of autonomy from the local authority. Harry has set out three aims on academies which he is certain would improve their public image, and their quality.
1. That regulation must be in place to protect prospective students from a selection process that wouldn’t have been the case had the academy been a normal comprehensive school. Selection would disallow pupils attending the previous school to attend the academy if they do not reach a set of guidelines which is wrong in terms of including young people of all abilities
2. That those business people or private sector sponsors wanting to partner with academies, should be allowed to do so, on the basis that they will provide a service or training scheme to pupils, that enhances the general requirements of a basic national curriculum. This should come hand in hand with the idea that those in business willing to form links, should have had experience in the education sector or be part of a learning department within their own organisations.
3. That academy funding from central government should not exceed local authority funding from local government for similar schools, with similar needs and pupils on roll. This would create a two-tier education system and the idea of an inferior and less qualified and funded school. It would also mean parents sending their children to a local comprehensive will pay taxes to central government that contribute to the education of another child, more than their own. An equality of funding would prevent this, and above all introduce the idea of equality of opportunity.
Harry commented “Tim Loughton recognised that young people were in a position of difficulty and despair. He offered no promise of support, gave no indication of the future effects of government policy and failed to prove that he was on young people’s side. Now is a greater time than any for young people to show solidarity and really publicise an opposition to this Coalition’s programme of government. At the moment, we’re on the back foot, and it’s not up to anybody but ourselves to change that”.
Previously Harry wrote to Tim Loughton with questions about the replacement for EMA. While he is still awaiting a response, a copy of his letter can be viewed here.