Today I spoke in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, which set out the Government’s plans for this Parliament. I used the opportunity to give voice to the concerns I heard from young people in my Big Conversation events in schools and colleges last October.
The 37 Big Conversation events included meetings with Y12 and 13 groups at Sheffield Park Academy and King Edward VII School, as well as groups at the University Technical College – City Centre and Sheffield College. I told MPs that these were some of the liveliest meetings and a great advert for why our democracy would be strengthened by extending voting to 16 and 17 year-olds.
In the debate, I focused on the points made by students on increasing school funding, broadening the curriculum, and improving mental health support for young people, as well as wider concerns on Brexit and the climate emergency,
I pointed out that although the Government had pledged to “increase” levels of funding per pupil in every school, they must at the very least restore the 8% cut in real terms that we’ve seen over the last nine years – and reminded Ministers of the discussions I’d arranged between local headteachers and the Schools Minister on the impact of cuts in Sheffield.
I also pressed the students’ case for more citizenship education and life skills, and asked Ministers to reflect on whether the straightjacket of the national curriculum, OFSTED inspections and funding cuts enables schools to provide the rounded education that young people need for the increasingly challenging world they face.
Finally, I highlighted the concerns students had expressed on access to mental health services and argued for their suggestion of a counsellor in every secondary school to provide early intervention to prevent problems getting worse.