Robert's Weekly Article - 30th March 2016

I hope that friends and fellow residents in Swindon enjoyed a happy and peaceful Easter weekend. Easter is an important time of the year for many of us, which is why I wholeheartedly agree with our Prime Minister’s views about being proud of our Christian heritage, which is where many of our country's values, such as tolerance, respect, democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law are derived from.  These are the values that bind us together as a nation, and that is why our Government continues to promote British values and strengthen the institutions that uphold them. That includes standing up for the hard-fought British liberty of freedom of religion, which includes the freedom to have no religion, of course.

Our Government will also continue to back faith groups in carrying out their valued work, supporting moral leadership and a sense of community. It is vital that we challenge extremism in all its forms, tackling the violence and hatred that seeks to create division and is championing what unites our country across class, colour and creed.

Speaking of holidays and spending time with loved ones, I know that the Government’s plans to relax Sunday Trading Hours caused quite a stir among those who work at weekends because I received a number of letters and emails from fellow local residents. The debate has now taken place in Parliament and MPs have decided not to go ahead with plans to relax trading hours.

I was happy for this limited measure to be passed, which would have given local authorities discretion to decide whether or not to pilot the extension of hours.  I am personally reluctant to see Sunday become like any other day in terms of opening hours, but I can see the challenge that internet shopping poses to many shops. I do value the opportunity for families to spend time together and I know that this decision will be welcomed by staff across the sector.

Last Monday, I was delighted to meet staff and pupils from Oliver Tomkins Church of England Primary School during their visit to Westminster for a tour of the House of Commons. I have organised quite a few tours and events for our local schools in Parliament over the last few years, and it’s very encouraging as your local MP to see young students who are so keen to learn more about the role of Government and how the changing nature of politics makes an impact on our day-to-day lives.

On the topic of schools, I have touched in previous articles on changes to the national funding formula for schools which will be implemented 2017-2018. These changes, announced by our Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, a few weeks ago, will make the system fairer for schools and pupils across the board by ‘levelling the playing field’ extending opportunity to every child, no matter where they come from or which school they go to. 

As I’m sure many readers are aware from the Chancellor’s recent Budget statement and the White Paper ‘Education Excellence Everywhere’ set out by the Education Secretary, our Government wants to see all schools become academies by 2020, as well as an end to local authorities maintaining our schools by 2022. Local authorities will move away from maintaining schools and focus on championing pupils and parents.

Over the last five years, the academies and free schools programmes have freed thousands of head teachers and leaders to drive improvement in their own schools and across the system. Autonomy and accountability come together in academy trusts, where leaders have more control over budgets and teachers’ pay, can take decisions they believe will improve standards and are held to account for the outcomes.

The results from 2015 are very encouraging. They show that primary sponsored academies open for two years have improved their results, on average, by 10 percentage points since opening, more than double the rate of improvement in local authority maintained schools over the same period. 2015 GCSE results show that secondary converter academies are performing 7.2 percentage points above the national average, with 64.3 per cent of pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs, including English and maths.

Lydiard Park Academy here in Swindon is a shining example of what academies can achieve, and it has made remarkable progress in recent years under the leadership of Clive Zimmerman. Lydiard has also applied to become a multi-academy trust, which means it could offer support to other schools in Swindon that haven’t made the same progress over the last few years.  We have seen other local Academies come together in this way, with equally encouraging results.

I am confident that the new system in which all state-funded schools are academies will deliver better results for all pupils nation-wide by empowering great teachers and leaders with better leadership structures.

My next advice surgery is 8th April 10-12 at my constituency office on Wood Street. If you would like to make an appointment to raise a local or national issue with me, please do not hesitate to contact my office on 01793 533393 or send an email to robert.buckland.mp@parliament.uk.