Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Advocate for Access to Education" - An important new role for Simon Hughes

Almost from the moment I became a youth worker there has been a political advocate for young people who has stood head and shoulders above the rest, who has been an inspiration, not only to me but to so many others in the field - that person is Simon Hughes.

So I am absolutely thrilled to hear this evening that he has been appointed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg as "Advocate for Access to Education" with a brief to engage with young people in secondary education about how to deliver the government's objective of increasing educational participation, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Now, of course, I would prefer a simple "Advocate for Young People" but this is a start and will give Simon an opportunity, I trust, to interpret the role as widely as possible. After all, access to education is about more than just dispelling myths or providing information, or extra support through the pupil premium - it is about a whole range of other issues that impact upon a young person's life.

Nick Clegg said "Simon Hughes record championing the concerns of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds make him ideally suited to lead this important work to ensure that an increasing number of young people with the talent to succeed at university have the chance to do so - regardless of their starting point in life.

"I know Simon will be tireless in seeking the best ways to communicate the opportunities open to young people, just as he will be a strong advocate for them to government."

On accepting the role, Simon Hughes said "It is a privilege to be asked to take on this role, and I will do so with urgency, enthusiasm and determination.

"Parliament has settled the maximum university fee level in England from 2012 and we now have a critically important task to ensure that every potential student has access to all the facts about the costs, benefits and opportunities of further and higher education.

"I will work with every person of goodwill to ensure that from 2011 we have the best system of educational advice, information and support in place, designed to benefit all potential students and to ensure that disadvantaged young people increasingly gain access to further and higher education."

Clearly, my view hasn't changed - and is still in line with party policy, namely that we should be phasing out tuition fees altogether. We all, as Liberal Democrats - Simon included - must continue to make that case. However, if the PM and Deputy PM are honestly interested in engaging young people and their ideas about what is best for their futures, I sincerely hope that his findings may lead to if not a rethink, at least a modification of what is on offer at the moment. Michael Gove may bleat that it is not the case that higher fees put off young people, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, from applying to University, particularly the top Universities, but as the Sutton Trust research shows - this still is and will continue to be, a very real barrier.

It is also very encouraging that Simon is being asked to make recommendations on the successor to EMA - a hugely important issue if young people are not to face yet another financial barrier to participating in education. So, I wish him all the best in this crucial role - I know there is no one else with the skills, expertise and understanding to be able to ensure young people themselves really do begin to have a say in their futures.

And interesting to note that the Guardian is already interpreting this appointment as another government U turn......


Anonymous said...

As always, I enjoy your posts and am heartened to see you still fighting for your party from the inside. Sadly though, I think that Simon lost so much credibility in the "will I, Won't I" abstention debacle that this appointment is simply a merkin to cover the Conservative plan to dismantle the British education system for all but the wealthy, and another master stroke of use of LibDem MPs as human shields.

IainMonty said...

Sorry Linda, I don't doubt your sincerity but all that Simon Hughes is now is yet another *useful idiot*. At best the replacement for Cable as the "acceptable" face of LibDems in a Tory government.
Now that he is on the payroll (with no pay), he will have to vote with the Government on everything, not even abstentions are an option.
And while everyone debates his appointment, the Tories carry on doing what they wish while the LibDems take the flack.
As to the Guardian analysis, they are desparate to justify their support of the LibDems prior to the election and are clutching at straws. There has been no U-turn, no policies have changed. His recommendations will only be accepted if they fit the Tory agenda.

Linda Jack said...

Well, I think we have to wait and see how this pans out. The problem is the perennial one of being in the tent pissing out or outside pissing in! To be frank anything that makes things less worse has to be a bonus. I just get pissed off myself though with people like John Denham (who is a man I have always admired) talking about apologies when his govt not only brought in tuition fees but trebled them! Short memories or what? Yes, I will continue the fight for the soul of my party and I am confident that Simon will do the same. I don't see that he has any collective responsibility, any more than the likes of Frank Field had when he was asked to undertake a specific role. Anyway, I was reading somewhere that being in coalition does not historically bind smaller parties to collective responsibility - something I hope my party will learn over the coming year :-)