Friday, March 29, 2013

The Shape of Schools to come

Yesterday I was one of a group of councillors taken on a tour of the new North Shore Academy.  The school holds a particular interest for me, not just as the first completely newly built secondary school in the borough for a number of years, but also because one of the schools which closed to form the new academy was the one at which my husband had been among the first to gain his school leaving certificate shortly after it opened as Roseworth Secondary Modern School.
Main hall & dining space
Something like 40 years later the old school has seen its last pupils.  The furniture is being moved into the new building and after an extended Easter break of 3 weeks the staff and pupils will follow it.
Gym, with mirror wall
School design has come a long way in 40 years.  This school has no hidden corners where errant pupils can avoid supervision.  I has a huge ground source heat pump to warm the building via radiators in winter and a large array of photovoltaic cells on the sports hall roof to provide some of the electricity needed.  Although the school is very well insulated and will not need a lot of gas to top up the heating it will need a great deal of electrical power to feed all the computers and other technology.  Every teaching space has the facility for using laptops or desktop computers.  White boards are screened from the sun so that they can be better seen.  CCTV watches staircases and open spaces even when teachers are otherwise engaged.  There are big open areas as well as individual classrooms so that staff can choose the best environment for the kind of lessons they are teaching.  There's a wonderful technology suite with up to the minute woodworking tools and machines.  There's drama space and a recording studio, a music suite and comfy dining area.  Certainly people can't blame the building if teaching and learning doesn't happen.
Adjoining the school is MyPlace, the youth and community centre for the borough.  People using that area during the day are securely locked out of the school, but the school can use parts of it and securely lock out the public.  In fact it's hard to tell which parts of the building are for community use and which are solely for the school's use.
I'll be interested to go back in 2 or 3 years' time to see how the spaces are actually being used, as opposed to how the architects think they'll be used.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

National Apprenticeship Week

More than 2600 people were on an apprenticeship last year in Stockton-on-Tees thanks to the Liberal Democrats in government. That is a huge increase of 111% compared to the last year of Labour’s government.

These figures are a big boost for apprenticeships and young people in our borough which comes as National Apprenticeship Week is underway, aiming to raise awareness and celebrate the successes of the apprenticeship scheme.

Apprenticeships are a brilliant way for young people to learn the skills and get the experience necessary for a successful career but successive recent governments have pushed university education at the expense of apprenticeships.

Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government have promoted and invested heavily in apprenticeships because they are one of the most effective ways of helping young people get jobs. Apprenticeships also allow us to build a stronger economy, with a highly-skilled and flexible workforce.

Apprenticeships rely on employers making opportunities available.  Where they do, as in Nifco, the company benefits as well as the young person.  Someone who serves an apprenticeship doesn’t just know the theory of the job but understands how to put it into practice in that workplace.

National Apprenticeship Week is another opportunity to celebrate the success of our apprentices and for businesses to see how valuable apprentices can be to them.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Fairtrade Fortnight -busiest yet in Stockton

The last fortnight has seen more events and activity on the Fairtrade front than ever before in Stockton.  It wasn't all organised by the Fairtrade Borough Partnership but we were involved in many of the events.
Of course the planning started before Christmas and it's been great this year to have support from sections of Stockton Council which previously haven't been involved. We've had a competition between schools to produce artwork using the packaging and wrappers from Fairtrade items. The imagination shown by some of the children is amazing, as is their wider thinking around the construction of their sculptures.  For example, I wouldn't have thought of eating the fruit from the banana, stuffing the skin with yellow tissue paper, spraying it with hair spray and wrapping it in the plastic bag it came in to stop it going black and smelly.

The Rediscover Stockton shop on Stockton High Street has provided a lovely display space for the results and they're staying there for another week or two to give people the chance to see them.  On Thursday the Mayor visited and selected the winning item, a farmer watering his crops, constructed entirely of Fairtrade wrappers.  It must have taken a great deal of thought and work and is a worthy winner.  Now I'm waiting for the school to let me know how many children were involved so that we can produce their certificates and prizes.
Meanwhile a stall on Stockton market gave a chance for people to buy some Fairtrade items that aren't readily available in local shops as well as getting information.  Being able to man that stall for two days was great.
All Saints Church at Hartburn was full last Friday for a talk from three people who'd been on "Meet the People" tours to meet the people who make some of the products sold by Traidcraft.  Tours of Vietnam and Sri Lanka were described with the aid of slides and samples of the crafts produced there. Fascinating and well worth hearing.  It made us even keener to go on such a tour when eventually I retire!
On Monday the turnout was less impressive but those who heard Paul Chandler, CEO of Traidcraft, talk about the work of Traidcraft and the challenges for the future were enthusiastic and attentive listeners and had plenty of questions afterwards.  Strangely, the samples of Fairtrade wine didn't find many takers!  I'm sure the university will find a use for the bottles they had left.
A Fairtrade coffee morning at Norton library, Big Brew at Preston Park and the annual Fairtrade cafe at Egglescliffe CE primary all drew good numbers of people and we hope some of them learned more about Fairtrade than they knew before.  At the very least they enjoyed some Fairtrade drinks.
The one sour note of the fortnight was the failure to have a motion in support of Fairtrade passed at Stockton Council.  Despite attempts to communicate with the Council leader we had no response on the proposal from the Partnership until the day before Council when a very basic motion was proposed.  I didn't have time to contact all the members of the partnership but those who did read it and respond weren't happy at all.  As a result I withdrew our motion and made a public invitation to the Leader and relevant cabinet member to come to a meeting of the partnership and discuss the problems they see with our motion.  I've now sent them the list of partnership meeting dates and await their answer.
Other than that, though, it was a very successful fortnight and well worth the effort of organising the events.