The last two weeks have been dominated by the horrendous events in Israel and now Gaza. As you know from previous newsletters, I take an interest in Palestine.
I think I mentioned in my newsletter that I was very concerned after my last trip to the West Bank and Israel in May as Palestinians appeared to have given up hope and were angry. I have to say such prescience fills me with no satisfaction at all.
It was very distressing to be there then but the awful atrocities in Southern Israel are beyond anything that can be imagined and I understand the anger of Israel and the wish to finish off Hamas - a terrorist organisation.
However, this cannot be at the cost of more innocent lives and there was already a humanitarian crisis in Gaza - something I am incredibly concerned about.
Some eminent Jewish lawyers put it very well in the Financial Times last week, I attach it at the end in case you want to read it, but this extract sums up my feelings:
‘Just as international law provides the means for categorising and criminalising the barbaric acts of Hamas, so too does it provide a framework for governing how Israel must respond. Any nation, conducting any armed conflict, no matter what the provocation, is bound in law to comply with all the “laws of war”.’
The full text is here. Hamas must be routed and we need to work for a longer-term solution that provides a future for both countries. I brought this up in my question to the Prime Minister in Parliament on Monday.
Sadly, I fear more loss of life – many of them innocent - on both sides before this terrible situation is resolved.
I had a very busy recess visiting as many schools and organisations as my day allowed. I love going into schools and never fail to be impressed by young people. I visited Peter Symonds College to talk about Advanced British Standards and how a 11-18 curriculum might work. It is such a successful college with 85% of its 4300 students going on to university.
I did a masterclass in Kings School in Winchester at lunchtime and was expecting a couple of people, the room was packed and the questions were fast flowing. The question on voting at 16 was interesting, why should 80-year-olds be making laws that affect 16-year-olds? I pointed out that 80-year-olds had been 16 and not the other way round but I remember thinking the same at that age.
Transgender issues also come up a lot, especially since the Prime Minister was very clear on this in his conference speech. They all wanted to know whether I agreed with him. I do but that does not mean that I don’t support the trans community - just not at the expense of others’ rights. I sat on the Women and Equalities Select Committee when we brought forward the transgender inquiry so I do have a good understanding of the issues for transgender people. But that does not mean that we cancel out what is a man and a woman.
The Education Select Committee is holding its inquiry on Ofsted now and I was very pleased to hear panellists’ views. I think we will be making some good recommendations that the new Chief Inspector will be able to take forward. I also met the new NEU General Secretary and was pleased to hear he agreed with many of my thoughts on education including the rigorous training of teachers – as 40% of teachers pull out of the profession before five years when they become effective. We do need to look at this too.
The All-Party Group on Schools, Learning, Assessment, which I co-chair, launched a report this week on assessment and it has been well received. You can read it here. I am hoping our next inquiry will be on teacher training.
We spent four hours voting on the Levelling up Bill this week. I think there were 21 votes and I hope that it will move through the Lords quickly next week and become law. There are some very good planning objectives in it including giving more power to local people.
On a lighter note, I entered the Parliamentary photographic competition and was pleased to be a finalist but I did not get in the top three. It was interesting hearing the judge's views on the pictures although he skirted past mine for some reason! The burnt car in Palestine was certainly topical!
I am out hearing people’s views at the moment so please fill in any surveys that you might receive from me or let me know your thoughts.