The reform of the benefit system in our country is long overdue, and the introduction of Universal Credit was planned to simplify a complex system and guarantee that work pays and having a job is better than a life on benefits.
However, instead of improving things, the government has created a system which is not fit for purpose. Universal Credit, which merges six benefits and tax credits into one, is supposed to be flexible, making it easier for people to move into a job, cope with periods of insecure employment and ensure in-work payments for low-income families.
It’s nearly the end of the school term, when children and teachers can take stock of a busy year and look forward to the summer holidays.
I was delighted to be invited back to Stockport Academy in Cheadle Heath to hear about the students’ achievements over the year, which are truly impressive. They put in so much hard work and are a real credit to the excellent teaching and learning at the Academy.
Meeting members of the Academy’s School Council, it was also clear that school is not just about exams. So much work in schools goes into helping young people develop the skills which they need to cope and succeed in today’s complicated and often stressful world.
It seems there are increasing numbers of children and young people in the UK who are experiencing anxiety or may have a diagnosable mental health condition. And they are facing more pressures than ever before – including exam pressure, social media bullying, worries about body image.
When I was researching my reports into child sexual exploitation, some of the best examples of good support for young people came from other young people. We should listen more to young people.
So I was interested to hear that the Academy’s School Council is involved in a project to help support students’ wellbeing; encouraging young people to talk about their worries, thinking about the best way to support one another emotionally, being aware of any mental health issues and understanding what might actually make a difference.
If a young person’s mental health issues can be picked up early, and they get support, then they are more likely to flourish and succeed in whatever they do – including exams. As parents, we all want our children to be happy first and foremost, and it is good that the education system recognises this.
Parking around schools is a big issue for parents, headteachers and indeed neighbours. I receive complaints about drivers causing obstruction and parking inconsiderately at school drop-off and pick-up times. Occasionally this can lead to angry words being exchanged between neighbours and drivers or parents. More importantly, there is a huge worry that a child could be injured outside their school while trying to cross the road.
Enquiring with the council recently, I have heard how difficult it can be to recruit school crossing patrol officers – or lollipop ladies/men as we used to call them. It can be a very satisfying job, just a couple of hours a day paid above the national minimum wage. But it seems that there are several local primary schools with vacancies – despite poster adverts in schools and on the council website.
The council’s road safety team also regularly visits our schools to talk to the children and deliver road safety awareness projects. I was impressed to hear about the Eagle Eye initiative, where road safety officers and Year 6 pupils together patrol outside a school at home time, talking to drivers who are picking up children about the dangers of bad parking near a school. The Eagle Eye is booked up a year ahead to visit Stockport schools.
And the council can also send traffic wardens to the school to ticket the offending vehicles – if a car is parked on the yellow school zig zags it’s an instant parking fine.
The council, however, can only be part of the solution. Schools and parents already work together on their school travel plans. Maybe more schools could ask parents to sign a “parking pledge” to park responsibly – not on pavements, across drives, on the zig zags, or let children out of the car onto the road.
I know how much pressure parents are often under, but racing to school to drop children off or at pick-up time can put children at risk, and they would never forgive themselves if there was an accident.