November 17 2010

Bill Esterson


Last week I was a guest of Ken Livingstone on a TV show called the Epilogue. Ken interviewed me along with a former Labour MP, Martin Linton as a review of Andrew Rawnsley book, 'The End of The Party'. The book is Mr Rawnsley’s account of the last Labour government and concentrates on the roles of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. I have to say it is very well written and appears to be a balanced account of what happened and of the approaches of both of the dominant characters of the last government. 


Ken was also the guest speaker at the Labour Party dinner in Sefton and it was good to hear a very authoritative analysis of the economic situation, an alternative to the consensus view about the cuts and a history lesson about what happened in the past when governments took the approach being advocated by the coalition government.


My new role includes membership of the Education Select Committee. Select Committees carry out enquiries into key issues and make recommendations to the government. We are investigating the role and effectiveness of Ofsted and it will come as no surprise that many of the witnesses we have interviewed have called for big changes. 


Perhaps one of the simplest changes suggested has been that each Ofsted inspection should be led by one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors to provide consistency. It is clear that good inspections help schools and other establishments to improve. The challenge that the Select Committee can see is how to get the balance right between inspection and improvement. 


The Select Committee is also investigating behaviour and attendance in schools. We visited Leicester last week to meet education officers from Leicester City Council and also from Leicestershire County Council. Two very different areas side by side and with different challenges. We also visited a Leicester School which was rebuilt by the last government as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme. 


It was refreshing to hear from staff and students just what a difference it has made having brand new facilities, bright, colourful, open spaces and an outstanding head teacher and senior teachers. In the last five years the school has more than doubled its GCSE results and it was good to see the obvious commitment from all at the school. 


There was no doubt in the minds of the members of the Select Committee that a combination of outstanding teaching and great facilities does make all the difference in our schools.


I was lucky enough to attend the Shakespeare Schools Festival last week and to watch students from Holy Family School in Crosby and Range High School in Formby perform The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew. Each performance lasted about 20 minutes so was a summary of the play rather than the whole thing. Each school managed to tell the story and make it relevant to the modern world.  


Holy Family’s story was especially relevant as it tells of borrowing money and the consequences although the idea of giving a pound of flesh perhaps is going a bit too far as repayment. 


Range also made their story relevant as the comparison between Shakespeare’s day and now was uncanny, the way they portrayed relationships and young love. Both were excellent and both schools have more than earned their reward, which is a day with the National Youth Theatre. Well done to all the students and the staff who supported them.


Remembrance Day was a chance to reflect on those who gave their lives, those who were injured and those who lost loved ones protecting the freedoms we take for granted. It was good to see so many people supporting the ceremony at Five Lamps in Waterloo and I understand that many more people attended events around Sefton. 


I was reminded this morning that 112 service personnel have died in Afghanistan this year and along with other MPs I recorded a short video message which the men and women serving in Afghanistan will have chance to see before Christmas. 


Many people reading this will have friends or family serving in the armed forces and we should all recognise the sacrifice of those who died and their families.


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