Giving young people a fair start in life!

Here’s my latest Muswell Flyer column, also available here:

My early years were spent at Highgate Primary – one of the many great schools in Haringey borough. And the schools here are getting better and better, with particularly impressive exam results achieved this year by our bright students.

It’s so important that young people are given an excellent education, and have an equal opportunity to succeed regardless of their background or situation at home. But I’m also aware that some students, through no fault of their own, are still finding it harder than others to achieve the results.

That’s why the Lib Dems in Government are working hard to ensure every child gets a fair start in life.

Last month at the Lib Dem party conference, Nick Clegg announced that, from next year, all infant school pupils will be eligible for free school meals.

Free meals do already exist for children from poorer backgrounds – but research showed that many were not claimed because parents were not aware of the option, or unwilling to admit they qualified.

Making all infant school children eligible will remove this stigma – for parents and children. In addition, it will save parents an average of £437 a year per child; and ensure that all children are receiving a nutritious, healthy and filling lunch – something which is proven to have a positive impact on performance at school.

The Liberal Democrat Pupil Premium has also been giving schools extra funding since 2010 – with the money specifically targeted to schools with higher numbers of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

This academic year, schools in Haringey will benefit from an extra £13 million on top of their usual budgets.

Schools themselves can decide how they use the extra money. I have met with Head Teachers to discuss how the money is being spent. Employing extra support staff, employing staff with particular language skills, funding after school clubs and subsidising school trips for poorer students are among the best examples I’ve heard.

The Liberal Democrats in Government are also focusing on jobs and apprenticeships – particularly to tackle youth unemployment.

Just before the Lib Dems entered Government in 2010, people who didn’t go to university were being left behind. Youth unemployment in my constituency was 7.1%, which was far too high.

Since entering Government the Lib Dems have helped create over 1 million jobs and 1.2 million apprenticeships. Apprenticeships in particular are helping young people learn trades, earn money, and build a career.

They’re popular too. I organised an event in Wood Green to match up our young people with companies looking for apprentices – and over 130 youngsters turned up to try and secure an apprenticeship.

And I’m pleased to say that youth unemployment in Hornsey and Wood Green is down by a third (to just 4.8%).

There is still a way to go before children and young people have equal opportunities to succeed and get on in life. But I believe these Lib Dem measures – free school meals, Pupil Premium and focus on apprenticeships – are a good start towards building a fairer society.