Monday, October 10, 2011

Education, education, education

That could have been the title of the Members Policy Update earlier this evening - presentations on developments in the 3 phases of education.  A whistle stop tour of the compulsory 5-16 stage left us breathless but with a sense that at the moment schools in Stockton are working together remarkably well despite the best efforts of successive governments to introduce ever more variety of type and governance.  Maybe we're old fashioned in Stockton but heads and governors seem to like to feel part of the big family of schools, even when able to go off and do things independently.  Whether that will continue if the Free School at Ingleby Barwick goes forward who knows?  Only time will tell.
At the stage which used to be called 6th Form there's a wide range of bodies providing education - we have two hugely successful 11-18 schools which provide not just for young people in their traditional catchment area but for a wider range once they're over 16.  We have a very successful 6th form college, providing a wide range of courses and seeing growth in the number of young people wanting to study science and maths.  We have a further education college on two sites, one providing a more traditional academic approach than the other and so catering for a wide range of students.  Then there are numerous organisations providing teaching and learning in the workplace for modern apprentices and trainees in a variety of fields.  As was pointed out by the head of the 6th form college - in  Stockton you can study every subject except agriculture, and for that you only have to go to Guisborough!
And then there's the university sector - Durham's Queen's campus in Stockton and Teesside in Middlesbrough.  I guess I'm biased as a former student but I do admire Teesside's commitment to developing courses which bridge the skills gap in the area while at the same time they manage to provide some top quality computer related engineering courses. 
But what was really refreshing today was the upbeat approach of the Vice Chancellor of Teesside Uni, pointing out the good aspects of the current government's approach to funding.  The fact that students don't start paying back till they're earning £21K or more, and that there are grants and fee waivers for lots of students from poorer backgrounds to help them to access the courses.  As he pointed out, the alternatives could have been far worse.  It was relatively easy to fund free higher education when only 8% of young people went to university.  Now with over 40% it's not possible to keep it free, and this system means people pay less per month than under the current system.  As he said, students do understand when it's properly explained.  It's their parents and grandparents who worry at the thought of debt.
There are some flaws in the new funding ideas, some parts not properly thought through.  It's sad but true that every government iniative ever seems to have bits like that and this government is no exception!  There are some worrying times ahead for the sector but there are rays of hope as well.  It was refreshing to have them pointed out by someone who's not a politician but knows what he's talking about.

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