Last week looked set to have been a fairly quiet week – a couple of zoom meetings on food poverty, and with child poverty organisations; a vote to introduce exclusion zones to prevent protesters from gathering outside abortion clinics to harass patients and staff; and a vote to appoint a new independent panel to hear complaints of bullying and harassment against MPs.
All very important work, but my diary was unusually empty nonetheless.
And then, on Saturday afternoon, suddenly my life became turbo-charged. Keir Starmer called to ask me to take the role of shadow secretary of state for education. My phone, twitter feed and inbox have been red-hot ever since.
I can’t describe what an honour it is if you’re a Labour MP to be asked to take this role. Access to top quality education for all and opportunities for lifelong learning are in Labour’s DNA. It’s always a very important brief, and never more so than now. The covid crisis has thrown up so many challenges: getting children safely back to school as soon as possible, and plans for summer holiday activities; addressing the funding crisis facing universities if students can’t start or continue their studies; support for childcare providers, many of whom are going out of business while parents are looking after children at home – piling up a problem of lack of supply when parents return to work; ensuring our further education colleges can meet the demand to train people in new skills as we face a huge increase in unemployment when we emerge from lockdown.
Getting my head round all of this, introducing myself to the many stakeholders and interest groups, meeting my new team and recruiting more staff, have meant the weekend has been utterly hectic, and much busier than the working week had been! I’m very lucky that my researcher, Nick, who joined me recently, had worked in the shadow education team before the 2019 election, so has a great deal of knowledge and expertise.
I’m also aware that many of my constituents know a great deal about education policy too. Thank you for all the good wishes, offers of help, invitations to meet and make visits, and suggestions of briefings I should read. I will be working my way through all of them, and hope to respond as soon as I can. It’s great to know so many experts and people who want to help, but I must say I wish most of all that my dad was still alive. He was a headteacher, then lectured in a teacher training college, he was utterly passionate about education, and absolutely loved teaching – if he visited a school, you couldn’t keep him out of the classroom. I’d have loved to have had his advice on hand.