Thursday, 27 August 2020

Return of schools

Throughout the last few months, on every front, we have all had to try to work out how to return to something closer to normal life while recognising that we have to live alongside the virus for some time to come. measures we have put in place have evolved from a full lockdown to steps that reduce the transmission of the disease through observing social distancing, wearing face masks and having localised restrictions where there are flare ups.
In recent weeks schools have been doing a lot of work to identify steps that will enable all children and young people to resume their education. For many pupils, next week will be the first time that they have returned to school since the beginning of lockdown in March.
During lockdown, parents quickly adapted to the situation educating their children at home and teachers found innovative ways to teach through the internet and other programmes. It was a national challenge but one in which parents and teachers alike played their part and helped to ensure that children kept learning through difficult circumstances.
However, we now need to ensure that children can resume their education in school safely. Time spent out of class means lower average academic attainment and its vital that we ensure that the Coronavirus pandemic does not have a lasting impact on their future. Moreover, the return to the classroom is also crucial for the welfare and health of children. Socialising with friends, playing sports, and exploring creative subjects are all important parts of how children grow up and learn.
I understand that many will have concerns about COVID-19 in schools. The country’s Chief Medical Officer has said that there is only an exceptionally small risk from COVID-19 in the classroom, and I know that headteachers, governors and all who work in our schools are working hard to ensure that our schools are as safe as possible. Guidance published by the government will be closely adhered although different schools will have different settings and different issues to resolve but everyone will be working hard to keep our children safe.

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Supporting our students

When the country entered the lockdown phase some time ago now, one of the decisions initially taken to protect people and stop the spread of the virus was for schools to only remain open for parents of key workers. A consequence of this was that children across the country partook in online learning with many teachers coming up with innovative methods of teaching. At the same time the Secretary of State for Education confirmed that assessments and exams would not be taking place this year and that work was underway with the sector and Ofqual to ensure that young people would receive the qualifications they need.
Whilst it was not possible for exams to go ahead the Department for Education worked with Ofqual to identify a way of awarding grades in conjunction with schools and assessment centres. Undoubtedly there would be limitations to such an approach, however an appeals system was quickly implemented to help with any schools or colleges that had experienced a process or data error. 
On Thursday last week when A level and AS level grades were awarded, there was an overall increase in the top grades. At A level, 2.5% more students received an A* or an A, attainment was broadly in line with previous years, and more students got into university than ever before, including more from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Unfortunately, it also became clear that the algorithm used to help calculate the grades revealed a number of anomalies that had not been anticipated by Ofqual which undermined confidence in the system. On Friday I spoke to the head teacher at Camborne School of Science and International Academy who subsequently raised some of the concerns that they had over the process. Over the weekend I also received representations from concerned parents and students who had been affected by the lower grades that they had received. I subsequently raised these concerns with officials and it was clear that nationally the system had resulted in too many inconsistent and unfair outcomes.
As a result, earlier this week, the Education Secretary has confirmed that GCSE students will therefore receive their centre assessment grades on Thursday, or their calculated grade if it was higher. A level students will be reissued with their centre assessment grades – any who received a calculated grade higher than their centre assessment grade will still receive the higher.
Understandably this move will create different pressures for universities, but the Department for Education are working closely with the sector to create additional capacity and ensure that they are as flexible as possible and that they honour all offers made and met. Students who previously missed their offer and will now meet it on the basis of their centre assessment grade should get in contact with the university. Those who have accepted another offer will be able to release themselves if they have a preferred offer reinstated. I hope that in the weeks ahead, many more local students can now pursue their ambition and take the next step in their careers.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Planning for the future

Whilst much of the country continues to endure a heat wave, it has been nice to be back home in Cornwall where it has been much cooler and fresher with the Cornish mist that is a regular feature at this time of year. Over the past week I have been visiting some of my favourite spots in Cornwall such as Godrevy, Zennor, Mounts Bay and the gardens at Trebah, Trelisick and Heligan. Many of these areas are part of the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and are part of what makes Cornwall such a special place to live and work.
Last year the government commissioned a review into National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The conclusion was that more should be done to strengthen them and improve cohesion between them. Cornwall has a rather unique AONB in that it is a composite site with multiple areas predominantly around our beautiful coastline. At the time of designation there was serious consideration to designating it a National Park but in the end they settled for the AONB. Later this year I will be giving a response to that review and will be looking at how we can strengthen the AONBs.
Ever since I was elected in 2010, I have always maintained that developments should be done with local communities not to them, and that there should always be developments on brownfield sites rather than greenfield. Last week, the Government released its White Paper on its reforms of the planning system. As things stand our planning system is complex and slow. It is a barrier to building homes which are affordable, where families want to raise children and build their lives. It takes an average of seven years to make a housing plan for an area and five years to get permission to build, often followed by the slow delivery of homes and the roads, schools, hospitals and other community infrastructure needed to support them.
The White Paper will consult on a number of proposals ranging from new roles for local authorities with more accessible map-based local plans and quicker timetables in the development of these plans. Crucially, there will also be a new emphasis on building beautiful architecture that is in keeping with the surroundings. Too often in the past here in Cornwall we have seen large scale developments that are not consistent with our historic built environment and which end up looking tired. We need to put more emphasis on the quality of what we allow to be built. If we protect our most beautiful and unique areas and then when we do build, build things that look the part, we can deliver the homes we need and protect the natural beauty of Cornwall.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

A new beginning for Wave Hub?

The Wave Hub Project in Hayle was the first commercial scale demonstration project for wave power in the world and when it was originally being developed some ten to fifteen years ago, there was a lot of potential. I always got behind the idea of wave power as part of our renewables energy mix. Here in the far south west we have enormous energy contained within the Atlantic swell. There have been a number of tentative developers who have been close to deploying at wave hub and one that actually did. However, a decade on, it is important to take stock. Some of the technical challenges around harnessing the power of waves have been harder to crack than hoped and, at the same time, offshore wind technology has progressed in leaps and bounds and now makes a major contribution to our national energy needs.
Recognising these developments, Wave Hub is now diversifying its approach and utilising the Wave Hub infrastructure for the deployment of Floating Offshore Wind (FLOW). A floating offshore wind turbine is an offshore wind turbine that allows a turbine to generate electricity in water depths where fixed -foundation turbines are not possible but they make use of what is now a mature technology using wind turbines. They are usually placed in shallow waters and are able to reach stronger and more consistent winds than onshore wind turbines. The Celtic Sea is a unique area containing the required depths to build the offshore wind towers required to generate the renewable wind. Moreover placing them out at sea helps to reduce the effect that such an installation would have were it to be inshore.
Floating offshore wind is at a unique point in its development and the opportunity for the Wave Hub site to be used as a base to implement this renewable technology is exciting. In recent months I have been working with the team at Wave Hub to help overcome some of the issues that need to be resolved so that the plan can be progressed. We have made some good progress, but there is still a bit more to be settled.
Camborne, Redruth and Hayle are towns that have always had a rich industrial heritage leading to some of the most important inventions and discoveries that this country has made. Much of the expertise developed here in drilling technology for mining was transferred to drilling for offshore oil and gas with companies like Seacore and LDD at Tolvaddon and these companies are now applying their expertise to offshore renewables. We have the skills locally to make this project succeed, even if by a different route than originally intended.