Rehman Chishti is MP for Gillingham and Rainham and was previously the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief (2019-20).
In July 2019, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street promising to “rise in level across Britain”. In short, its mission was to increase economic performance across the UK, with a particular focus on ‘left behind’ areas, often outside London and the South East.
As a Southeast MP, I am often supposed to represent a well-to-do area that does not require additional government assistance. Still, it’s just not like that. Medway, the unitary authority in my Gillingham and Rainham constituency, is between 22 per cent of the most disadvantaged educational areas in England and 10 per cent of the most disadvantaged areas in terms of crime.
Within Gillingham and Rainham itself there are strong differences. In Rainham Central, it was recorded that 6.1% of children were living in poverty in 2018-19. Just a couple of miles away, in Gillingham North, that figure is 39.3%.
If the Government really wants to level up across the UK, it doesn’t just have to focus on areas traditionally considered ‘left behind’. A good quality education for all must be the basic component of our leveling agenda, within an aspirational conservative approach.
The phrase level up means different things to different people. For me, it represents an opportunity. I came to this country at the age of six without being able to speak a word of English. I attended high school and high school, and because I came from a modest background, I had to balance my A-level studies with a part-time job, as many students across the country do.
I was the first in my family to go to college, where I read Law and later qualified as a lawyer at age 24, before being elected Conservative MP at age 31.
In our great country, you should be able to be what you want through hard work, perseverance and determination. We, in politics, must ensure that the UK is a land of opportunity for all, where children have access to the best possible education and can have the best opportunities in life.
As a product of elementary schools, I know the transformative impact they can have on students. From the ages of 16 to 18 I attended Rainham Mark Grammar School and Chatham Grammar School for Girls. For those of modest background, a high school offers another opportunity to harness its full academic potential. This is true for children who already have good grades, but also for those who have not been academically distinguished.
In fact, data from the Department of Education show that elementary schools improve educational outcomes among all students, especially those who previously had problems and had few achievements. A staggering 93 percent of high school students get a good “pass” in English and math at GCSE, more than double the state high school average.
Not surprisingly, primary schools are extremely popular, with two-thirds of schools with capacity or more starting in 2019, more than four times the state-funded secondary school average.
The rise in level begins with education and I think a key part of this agenda should be to allow the creation of new high schools and the expansion of existing ones across the country.
Making the university accessible and fair to all will also play a vital role in upgrading the country. As the first in my family to go to college, I know how important it is for everyone to have the opportunity to do so. The goal of the previous Labor government that 50% of the population go to university was wrong.
However, we must ensure that everyone who wants to go to university can do so regardless of financial means. At the same time, the skills of all young people must be realized, either through the university or by professional qualifications and high-level learning in fields such as hydrogen energy, as offered in the my constituency. The increase in tuition fees over the past decade has not deterred people from attending college. However, students from richer backgrounds are still more likely to go to college than those from poorer backgrounds.
While the average debt of those who graduated in 2019 was £ 40,000, most students are not expected to repay their full loan. Therefore, any reform of higher education funding must be targeted and help those most in need. In fact, lowering tuition fees or lowering interest rates in general would help graduates with more earnings more.
Instead, the Government should try to reintroduce maintenance grants of up to £ 5,000 per year for those coming from low incomes, with the amount granted based on the student’s family income, so that, as the lower the student’s family income, the more he would receive.
After speaking with local university leaders, including Professor Jane Harrington, vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich (which has a campus on Medway), the reintroduction of maintenance grants would provide vital financial security for low-income students. It would allow them to focus more on their studies, rather than the part-time jobs they currently have to fill in order to stay financially. This is especially important now given the disruption in their learning that students have faced during Covid-19.
If we look at the Turing Scheme, for example, disadvantaged students can receive up to £ 490 a month in grants to cover their costs when studying abroad. Over the course of twelve months, this would amount to £ 5,880 in grants. If disadvantaged students can receive grants to help you with the costs of studying abroad, it is right that they may receive them when they study here in the UK.
If we use £ 5,000 as the average grant amount, this reform would reduce the debt of these students after a three-year degree by about £ 15,000. Rewarding hard work is exactly what we should represent, as conservatives.
Improving and expanding access to foreign languages will help the UK rise in level, while promoting Britain’s global agenda. I think everyone in this country should learn at least one foreign language as a child. This principle was recognized by the Government in 2011 with the introduction of the English Baccalaureate, a compulsory component of which is a foreign language.
At the moment, unfortunately, we are still far from reaching this ambition: only 32% of young people in the UK say they can read and write in more than one language, compared to 91% in Germany and 80% in the whole EU. .
And, the situation does not improve; the number of students taking a language decreases year-on-year. As in 2015 Cambridge University report clarifies, this is no small problem: the lack of language skills not only threatens the competitiveness of British companies abroad, but limits the UK’s soft power on the international stage.
With the introduction of T-levels, now would be a fantastic time to integrate language learning into professional and technical qualifications, ensuring that more of our young people, regardless of their academic background and achievements, learn at least one other language. .
In an increasingly digital economy, increasing education also means giving all of our young people technical skills that will enable them to participate and thrive in a digital world. Over the past year, we’ve seen how much we depend on technology, which has allowed many people to work from home during the pandemic. Now more than ever, it is critical that students have adequate coding and computer skills, with a focus on new technologies such as artificial intelligence.
The Government has already made great strides towards this, with the introduction of computer science as a subject at all levels of schooling up to key phase 3, teaching children essential skills in computer science and coding.
However, much remains to be done, as the number of students taking computer science or ICT at the GCSE level has been declining over the past five years, while a worrying gender gap has opened, with only the 21.4% of GCSE’s computer inputs come from women and girls. The problem is urgent: the investigation of McKinsey & Company shows that by 2030, two-thirds of the UK workforce (21 million people) could lack basic digital skills, severely hurting the UK’s business competitiveness.
We need to look to expand the number of students learning essential IT skills and coding, drawing inspiration from successful international examples, from Estonia to Arkansas. As Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas, put it: “Whether you’re looking for manufacturing or the use of robotics or the knowledge industries, they need computer programmers … If we can’t produce these workers, we won’t be able to attract and maintain the industry we want ”.
In addition to improving IT skills, equipping students with stronger critical thinking skills is key to enabling them to adapt to the challenging world we live in. Having seen the dangers that misinformation and misinformation can pose when intentionally spread by hostile individuals, organizations, or states, as happened with the assault on the U.S. Capitol building in January 2021 or with misleading claims about vaccination against Covid-19, it is vital that young people are equipped to detect false information online.
Finland, for example, has integrated information literacy and critical thinking through its national curriculum. The result has been that Finland ranks first out of 35 European countries in its ability to withstand fake news (currently the UK ranks 10th).
For now, our schools are already teaching British values to help prevent radicalization and extremism. However, combating the spread of misinformation and dangerous misinformation is one of the next great challenges we face as a country to protect ourselves from social disorder, which could also undermine our democratic institutions. It is vital that we teach these skills early in schools so that young people can help stop the spread of false information.
If we really want to level up across the country, education should be at the heart of government strategy and areas like the Southeast and Medway should be considered. Prior to 2010, Medway’s three constituencies were represented by Labor MPs. Since then, we have achieved significant majors. If the Conservatives want to continue to represent areas like this, the Government cannot forget them. We don’t have to level up in the southeast to try to level up in other areas of the country.
With the Queen’s speech next month and coming out of the restrictions of the Covid-19, now is the time for a bold government agenda that will level the entire country and provide young people with the tools they need to deal with modern challenges of the world. Improving education is a vital part of this, whether it is by reforming student finances, expanding primary schools, improving foreign language teaching, or placing greater emphasis on critical thinking. and school computer skills to help counter misinformation and misinformation.