Last month I visited Flanshaw JIN School, which is taking part in a project called Primary Futures to raise the aspirations of school children. It’s difficult for young children to make the connection between what they do in the classroom and how it relates to the world of work. I spoke at the school assembly about what MPs do and got some great questions. A child’s early years are important, but that encouragement needs to continue until they leave school or college. The National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) targets the wards where young people have the lowest rates of participation in higher education, and helps them get into university. Our local programme is called Go Higher West Yorkshire (GHWY) and I met Wakefield College, one of the partners, last month. I was disappointed to learn that the future of NCOP is at risk.
Mary with the pupils at Flanshaw JIN School
The body which supports them will be replaced by the Office for Students in April, and the Department for Education refuses to commit funding until then. In the meantime, GHWY and the other 28 NCOP groups around the country are put in limbo and may have to cut staff. It’s unnecessary and unfair to teachers, pupils and parents. I asked the Education Minister what she will do about it, but I’ve yet to get a satisfactory answer. I have tabled an Early Day Motion in support of NCOPs and I will be seeking a debate on it. By working with my colleagues in Parliament I hope to provide some certainty for GHWY soon.
It was Holocaust Memorial Day on Saturday, January 27. I attended the multi-faith service in Wakefield Cathedral to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and genocides everywhere. It was a poignant reminder of the need to resist anti-Semitism in all forms, and how we can never allow those perverted ideologies to rise again. But I was also reminded of something positive – Britain’s role in providing a refuge for some of those fleeing the Nazis, such as the Jewish children rescued in the Kindertransport. We need to be welcoming to people fleeing violence and persecution, and there is a group right here in Wakefield doing just that – Wakefield City of Sanctuary. I popped along to their 2018 party in the Elizabethan Gallery and met refugees from Syria, Iran and Eritrea. I wish them the best of luck this year.
Next to my desk in Westminster I keep a piece of paper pinned to the wall with ‘271’ on it. It’s a reminder that I’m only the 271st woman elected to Parliament. I marvel at the fact that this week is only the 100th anniversary of when some women were first allowed to vote. There will be celebrations across the country this year, including in Wakefield, where a plaque to Yorkshire’s first female MP, Alice Bacon, will be unveiled at Wakefield One on International Women’s Day. It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come, but also of how much is left to do. I work in Westminster to ensure Wakefield women’s voices are heard at the highest level of government, and to cover taboo subjects such as female genital mutilation, sexual harassment and the tampon tax. Maybe, in another 100 years, women will marvel that we had to do it at all.