Robert's Weekly Swindon Advertiser Article - 14th September 2017

Helping to make sure that our children and young people get the best start in life has always been one of my key priorities and as part of this, with North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson, we met Bradley Simmons, Regional Director at Ofsted on Monday to discuss the recent progress made in Swindon schools.

You may recall that Bradley Simmons was the author of the Ofsted letter that was highly critical of education in Swindon last year.

The need for there to be a process in Swindon by which local educational providers can be challenged and specific improvements proposed was clear and it was welcome that the Lead Member for Children’s Services and School Attainment, Coun Fionula Foley, secured £600,000 in funding over the next three years from the Council to set up the Swindon Challenge Boards, which bring together all key stakeholders in education including the Regional Schools’ Commissioner, headteachers, the teaching schools, governors, local businesses and senior council leaders with the aim of improving educational outcomes in all our schools. Ofsted also has an observer on the board. It is vital that there is cross-working between schools here in Swindon.

I was pleased to learn that the provisional KS2 results in Swindon show a high improvement rate. Reading, writing, and maths have improved by 15 per cent, whilst we are still awaiting provisional results for phonics. Improvements in teaching are also being seen in all Swindon primary schools, but everyone recognises that more work has to be done at all stages of schooling.

The Challenge Boards must continue to monitor and identify best practice so that all Swindon schools can benefit. I will continue to regularly visit schools here in South Swindon, to support their work and that of the Challenge Boards.

Last week, the Adver published a story about a Swindon man who was jailed for eighteen and-a-half-years after being charged with controlling or coercive behaviour, along with a string of other serious offences, including sex with two underage girls. Rhyan Thomas was jailed after he tried to intimidate witnesses from his prison cell when he was on remand charged with rape.

In my role as Solicitor General, I piloted the new controlling or coercive measure through the House of Commons in 2015 via the serious crime bill. I’m pleased to see that this offence has already closed a gap in the law around this type of behaviour, particularly in our town.

I am also pleased that the government has recently announced plans to improve the experience of going to court for witnesses and victims. In many courts, traditionally victims and witnesses are asked to wait in sparse, unfriendly surroundings. A total of £80,000 will now be spent on five new victim and witness waiting rooms across the country, making a number of changes including the addition of children’s toys.

Research conducted with court users has shown that small changes such as these can make the court experience less intimidating for some of the 156,000 victims and witnesses who give evidence each year - particularly children and the vulnerable. The new pilot rooms will be used as models for further changes in courts across the country. I am looking forward to seeing how the remodelled rooms can provide a positive change and hope they will assist victims and witnesses to have a better experience of the court process.