Monday, 17 March 2014

St Michael’s Free School

Last weekend I was privileged to open the new school building at St Michael’s Catholic Secondary School in Camborne. The building will be providing some brilliant new teaching facilities, with new science laboratories, design and art classrooms as well as drama, music and ICT suites. It was great to officially open such an important resource for the school and take a look round the new facilities.

I first visited St Michael’s about eighteen months ago when it opened with just 45 pupils. Today it has 122 on the roll and it is growing, with aims to reach over 300 pupils in the next few years. It is not easy starting anything new, least of all a school, but this new Free School has made a very strong start.

Parents have been attracted to the school because of its high standards, small classroom size and encouraging environment to students of all backgrounds and interests. I was really interested to learn that at St Michael’s pupils from many different backgrounds were progressing at the same rate, with early data indicating the school has little or no attainment gap for those pupils on free school meals when compared with others.

The government has been keen to support the opening of new schools like St Michaels because the simple truth is that all children are individuals and will respond to different approaches in education. We want young people to find something they are passionate about and then have the support to really excel. For some that might mean a school that has a major focus on science or languages or indeed a focus on numeracy or sport. Some pupils flourish in larger schools but others will best develop their confidence if they have the support and nurturing environment provided by a smaller school.

We should not deny parents the choice if they feel that for their children a smaller school would be better at nurturing their individual talents. In the old days, only wealthy parents could choose where their children were placed but the opening of schools like St Michael’s prove that is now changing. Whilst it is likely that most will attend and be given the opportunity to thrive at our larger secondary schools, giving parents different options can only be a good thing.

I think it is so important to create a culture of excellence in the education system where schools are constantly striving to achieve more for all children, whether by stretching the most academic children so that they can go to university or giving additional support to help inspire those falling behind. The government’s reforms are a really positive step because a good education is the single most important thing to increase social mobility and help the next generation to get on in life.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032