• Wow!

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    22 January 2016

    Last week I was busy right across our vast constituency – a glorious swathe of Devon that runs from the West of Okehampton to the East of Exeter and from as far north as Chawleigh to as far south as Buckfastleigh. My main focus was on schools with visits to 3 of my 43 primaries – Bickleigh-on-Exe, Tedburn St Mary and Hatherleigh. It was great to re-visit these special places and to spend time catching up with their heads and listening to the progress they are making, the challenges they face and critically what government should be doing to further assist. But the most exhilarating educational moment was in Ashburton when I participated in the opening of the new Atrium Studio School. In the last parliament I lobbied hard for this new venture and £4 million was finally forthcoming from central government. What excited me most about this opportunity was the uncompromising priority for skills and employment that studio schools bring to the educational mix. In the case of the Ashburton studio school a clear focus on the Built Environment, Surveying, Planning, Architecture, Ecology, Interior Design and Structural Engineering – all skills for which there will be significant demand as we continue to focus on house building, with the current government committed to doubling the rate of house construction over the lifetime of this parliament. Along with skills development comes a close association with local employers who provide work placements and are closely involved with the courses provided. I visit hundreds of businesses and organisations every year and one of the most common laments is that schools too often produce students who are not quite ready for the world of work – well not these students – they will have worked closely with businesses right the way through their school career. The building itself is bright, spacious and uplifting. Its double height atrium creates a wonderful sense of space. As I was shown around by an enthusiastic pupil I was struck by its clean, clear modern design, devoid of clutter. This is a place where you can really think. Be creative. As I was just about to descend back down to the main floor a parent stopped me to say how much they appreciated this wonderful new school – ‘my son is showing me around with such pride,’ he said, ‘I have never seen him so fired up about school before!’ The school currently has around 50 pupils but will expand to 350 once it is full. I have no doubt that under its enthusiastic and inspiring Head Matt Messias it will go on to be an outstanding success. As I stared up to the lofty, crisp glass in the atrium above me I thought – this is what politics is like at its best – all those conversations in the Department of Education about pressing the skills agenda, empowering young people with a future, matching skills and job and here I was standing in a fresh right out of the box, solid embodiment of just that.