It is almost difficult to remember that last week I did anything else but the Hillsborough debate but I did. Before last Monday’s debate, I took my seat in the Chamber to ask the Education Secretary to clarify whether or not he believed in the parity of aspiration.
He didn’t like my question. I didn’t like his answer.
Michael Gove, for me, sums up all that is wrong about this government. He is out of date and subsequently out of touch. This is a man that thinks that in the 21st century, it is more important for schools to be teaching Classics (Latin and Greek) rather than ICT and design technology. Last time I heard his boss talking about the way out of the economic road to ruin they have led us down, he said Britain needed to start building things again. The two stances are totally contradictory.
Kids in Walton will not be huddled around the fireplaces of their mansions this winter reading the Aeneid (as great a poem as it is!). The large majority won’t be looking for jobs in the Natural History Museum when they finish school. And frankly, they won’t be looking to read a dead language at University either. So what is the point in creating a two-tier education system that denounces vocational courses that are of real benefit to kids in Liverpool?
The government have a problem with vocational courses. I was a bricklayer and after that, I taught apprentices the tricks of the trade. My commitment to training and giving kids a chance has continued with me and even in my current role as MP, I have an apprentice in my Walton office.
Jobs as electricians, plumbers, bricklayers and carpenters might not be the chosen profession of a millionaire’s child, but they are noble professions in their own right and I’ll not let anyone talk them down.
That is not to say that I am playing down the abilities of kids in Walton. I visit schools across the constituency on a weekly basis and let me tell you, we have some amazing potential in our ranks who I am sure will go on to gain first class degrees, but it isn’t the case for the majority and there has to be a dose of realism from time to time.
In the last general election, far too many people blamed Labour for the benefits culture, but we were slow to point out that under our watch, more people then ever were in work and unemployment was at its lowest since records began.
This was in large part because of our commitment to vocational courses in schools, colleges and universities. There is no better example of this then the creative industries. When Tony Blair opened the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Britain led the way in showing a clear commitment to creativity and innovation. But it was investment in schools – in media studies, business, music, art, design, technology and ICT – that is why the country’s creative edge flourished.
Some people think of vocational courses as “second-rate.” But why? The creative industry was the fastest growing sector in the last ten years with millions more jobs and billions more pounds in the economy. It remains the second largest sector now, just behind the financial services. Vocational courses made that happen.
Not everyone can recite Chaucer or the full works or Shakespear but everyone does have an individual talent and it is for Governments to ensure that every child reaches their full potential. It’s the government’s job to create an environment where these talents can be nurtured not neglected.
So as I prepare to take my place on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, I am determined to remind Mr Gove of the responsibility he has to our children’s education, our country’s industries that are reliant upon vocational courses, and the economy that reaps the rewards from those talented enough to work in such sectors.