GALLERY: Minister talks success, academies and tuition fees during visit to Fenland schools

THE Minister of State for Schools praised the improvements made to education in Fenland after donning a hard hat to take a tour of Thomas Clarkson Community College.

Nick Gibb MP spent Thursday morning with pupils at Leverington Primary Academy before visiting Wisbech Grammar School and the much-improved Thomas Clarkson in the afternoon.

Alongside NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay, the Minister was treated to a 45-minute tour of the secondary school’s �34million Building Schools for the Future project, observing the new facilities as they near completion.

He said: “I have enjoyed it very much. I think Thomas Clarkson is on an upward trajectory, Wisbech Grammar is a good example of an achieving school and Leverington is an outstanding primary academy that will provide the perfect start for young people in education.

“At Thomas Clarkson it has been nice to see where all the taxpayers’ money is going. It’s a beautifully designed school and it will be a very good environment for young people to fulfil their potential.

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“It’s good to come to a school that’s got challenges and that’s grappling with them.”

Mr Gibb had earlier taken part in a phonics lesson at Leverington Primary Academy and opened a newly-renovated science laboratory at Wisbech Grammar School.

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He was given a tour of the grammar school by the head boy and head girl before watching a special Remembrance Assembly.

Sixth-formers also quizzed the Minister on the Government’s decision to scrap the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

Mr Gibb said: “Some sixth-formers at the grammar school raised the issue of EMA, because a lot of their students had received bursaries. With the state of the economy and state of public finances we had to make difficult decisions.

“We have now reduced that EMA spending, which stood at �500million, and focused it on those young people for whom finances could be a deterrent from higher education. There’s still a �180million bursary fund for those young people.

“Financial issues should not deter any person from staying in education.”

Mr Gibb also defended the Government’s decision to allow universities to charge as much as �9,000 for annual tuition fees.

He said this should not put people off higher education as graduates would not start paying their loan back until they were earning �21,000 a year or more.

“They have got to think of it like a mortgage,” he said. “We are used to that procedure when buying flats and houses.

“It’s not like a credit card debt and it’s not as if bailiffs are going to be knocking on your door. You don’t start paying it back until you are earning enough.”

With several schools in Fenland considering academy status, Mr Gibb praised Leverington Primary Academy as a perfect example of how to achieve success after breaking away from local authority control.

“It was a very good primary school with very high standards academically,” he said. “It is a good example of a school that has flourished as an academy, giving it that professional autonomy to help it succeed.”

Mr Gibb admitted there were “teething problems” when any school made changes but said he would encourage more academies in the district.

Mr Barclay said: “Today was an opportunity to bring the Minister here and show him the positive improvements happening in Fenland.

“These include the oustanding rating at Leverington, and its inspirational head Rosie Simmons, the grammar school, which is a key component in the educational landscape, and Thomas Clarkson, which under the leadership of Maureen Strudwick is becoming an inspirational place.”

John Lucas, vice-principal of Thomas Clarkson, showed the Minister around the school’s evolving facilities as Principal Ms Strudwick was absent through illness.

Mr Lucas said: “For the children to be joined by a Government Minister while they see where they’re going to be learning - it really means a lot.

“When you see something as impressive as the new buildings it just inspires you.”

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