IT WAS back to school this week for students and teachers across the borough.
The outstanding – and in many cases national-average smashing – results in our SATs, GCSEs and A-levels last year have set a really high standard for the next group of students coming through the system.
The importance of having well-educated, literate young people cannot be underestimated for Oldham.
But for some schools serious questions remain about the pace of their improvement and the quality of education they are providing – especially because most young people get just one chance for a decent education and to set themselves up for adult life.
The education offer to our young people now has to build on these basics. It needs to ensure that it is flexible enough to provide the right type of support for a group of people that has vastly differing learning abilities, styles and preferences and skills.
We recognise this in Oldham and that’s why we are committed to a number of innovative programmes and initiatives to ensure that everyone can succeed.
We are determined that our new Education and Skills Commission should not and will not be a pat on the back or so superficial that it fails to get to the root causes of education outcomes.
It will reflect and shine a light on success and good practice (and we have plenty of that) but it will also lay the foundations to build on and challenge underachievement. The objective is to deliver a great education where every young person realises their full potential.
One area where Oldham is leading in this is the newly-established Enterprise Hubs within our secondary schools. So far 11 secondary schools and Oldham Sixth Form College have signed up to the scheme and recruiting continues in earnest.
These hubs are developed and managed by our private sector partner, the Oldham Business Leaders Group, and aim to stimulate a culture of entrepreneurship amongst our young people: giving them skills and networking opportunities that will ensure they’re well placed to compete in the future jobs market.
The hubs offer activities designed to inspire, encourage and support pupils ranging from helping to set up and running their own businesses for a year, providing a variety of employability events and giving them early access to businesses and employers through channels like the Youth Employability and Enterprise Network.
This is time and money well spent. Giving Oldham’s young people the best possible chance of success is essential to them being resilient and confident as adults.
That is the basis on which the Education and Skills Commission is now operating and I look forward next year to learning how it believes we can improve further.
Our commitment to young people also remains strong once they have left school.
A few weeks ago, for example, we learned that the Government was stopping funding its Youth Contract Wage Incentive scheme.
This had already been successful in placing 70 young people in Oldham, so the removal of funding came as a real blow to our aspirations to Get Oldham Working –and that’s why Oldham Council has stepped in.
At Cabinet last week I was very proud to be able to commit £182,000 from our Manchester Airport dividend monies towards extending this scheme so that it can continue and another 80 young people can benefit from those opportunities.
On the subject of employability it would be seriously remiss of me not to mention Oldham’s Festival of Work which will run from Monday, September 8 to Friday, September 12.
This week the Council’s Employability team is already out and about in the Town Centre offering advice on jobs, apprenticeships and internships and in the week of the festival itself there are two key events taking place – the Oldham Jobs Fair (September 10) and the Get Ahead Jobs and Skills Fair (September 12).
Last year more than 1,500 residents attended the festival, which shows that local people are ready and willing to work. This – plus initiatives like Get Oldham Working, Enterprise Hubs, traineeships and Warehouse to Wheels, which I blogged about last week – all show that Oldham as a place is responding to the challenge.
Finally, this week also sees the start of Oldham’s Heritage Open days.
A whole host of our buildings will be throwing open their doors to the public from September 6 to 21 so we can all appreciate our fine architectural heritage up close and encounter our past in new ways.
For more information about the events please click here.
Thanks for listening.