MONDAY WAS a big day for the borough as we launched Oldham’s new Education and Skills Commission.
Chaired by former Education Secretary Baroness Estelle Morris, the Commission will help to raise local standards and aspirations – and it is absolutely vital to our plans to secure future prosperity for Oldham and its young people.
It’s important to be clear that young people have made great progress in educational attainment across the borough over the past decade – including closing the gap on the national average in the key GCSE performance indicator.
And it’s not just the older children who are making great strides.
Attainment at Key Stage 2 for both English and maths in our primary schools has risen approximately 12 per cent over the past ten years and now either matches or outstrips the national average. This bodes well in terms of future attainment at GCSE level.
Unprecedented investment has also been made in state-of-the-art new school buildings, upgrading existing facilities and expanding to accommodate growing pupil numbers.
Over the past five years there’s been around £230m of investment in schools, much of that coming from the Building Schools for the Future programme and PFI schemes.
We’ve also seen the landscape of education change with the growing number of academies and a soon to be opened University Technical College, for example.
The role of the council in that mix has changed. Whether that’s for the better or not only time will tell, but it does require a whole new way of thinking, operating and working cooperatively.
Although we believe bricks and mortar are important, successful education is about so much more than that. It’s about leadership in schools, sixth forms and colleges and from parents and the wider community.
Flagship schemes like Junior University, Enterprise Hubs and Primary Engineer get attention for all the right reasons, but each and every day sees something wonderful happen. Often it’s the smallest thing that can set off the spark in our young people.
Well, for me the answer is simple.
A good education is the essential foundation of a fair society and – as the national education system and the regional jobs market continue to undergo great change – we must ensure we’ve got the right skills and knowledge here, plus the right benchmarks, focus and vision to inspire and enable all children to fulfil their potential.
Put simply, future success is not guaranteed and we cannot be complacent.
I’m a politician and I have a drive to ‘change’ things for the better.
I want to end predetermination. I get angry that professionals can track a child born into an Oldham household today and be able to predict what results that child will have, what experiences, what social networks, what job, illness and what age they will be when they die, and probably even the likely cause of that.
What makes me angry isn’t that the professionals dare to predict, but that history tells us they are pretty likely to be right.
And you don’t have to be a parent to feel that anger. It goes against fairness and hits at the heart of our aspirations for our borough.
Setting up this Education Commission now is about showing the leadership necessary to ensure all partners take part and buy into a process that challenges us all to look closely at our standards and delivery.
Our ultimate aim is to define a new ‘Oldham Education Standard’ that all partners will aspire to achieve so that young people can meet the challenges they will face in future years.
As well as looking at how we can help young people get better results, the Commission will focus on the economy and unemployment. It will link closely to Get Oldham Working and see how that fits with our education offer, how we can help young people move into Higher Education or prepare them for meaningful employment and the job market of the future.
By 2023 around 100,000 jobs are forecast to have been created in Greater Manchester and almost 200,000 additional jobs created in the North West over the same period. We need to give Oldham’s children the best possible chance of securing these jobs.
Figures also suggest that an increasing number of roles in Greater Manchester will be created at the higher and lower ends of the skills ladder, which means there will be fewer at intermediate levels. We need to ensure our young people are educated to the appropriate levels needed to make the most of these opportunities.
The Commission will submit interim findings in January 2015 before delivering a final report in June 2015.
I want to welcome and urge input from anybody who wants to get involved. To find out more about the Commission, please visit the new website at: www.oldham.gov.uk/educationcommission
This is about putting in place strong foundations to build on.
If we want a better Oldham we must fight for it.
We have a good story to tell, but we can and must be better.
Thanks for listening