Cat Smith column - We have to get our priorities right, so let's get Brexit sorted

Cat Smith says finding a solution to Brexit means Parliament can refocus on the issues which are most important  like education
Cat Smith says finding a solution to Brexit means Parliament can refocus on the issues which are most important like education

This week, Cat Smith MP argues Parliament needs to get Brexit sorted so MPs can turn their attention to vital matters at home.

As some of you know, I very reluctantly had to cancel the Brexit public meeting I had organised in Fleetwood last Friday. Happily, the public meetings in Knott End and Lancaster were able to go ahead, albeit with a greatly increased police presence.

I’d like to thank the police teams who came along to ensure the safety of guests, my team and my family – it was hugely reassuring to have them there and, as always, they were both professional and approachable.

Every day MPs face threats to their personal security and that of their families. It’s upsetting and difficult to deal with, but is resonant of the times we live in. It’s important we strive to find a solution to this Brexit mess so we can move on and focus on the domestic problems facing this country – child poverty, low incomes and public services at breaking point.

Public services like education, where this government has created a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, with more teachers leaving the profession than being trained. Education is what empowers all of us to realise our full potential yet a generation of children are paying the price for Tory failure in our schools.

Years of real terms pay cuts and the huge cuts to school budgets have made it impossible for schools to recruit the staff they need.

That’s why, in Government, through the creation of a National Education Service, Labour will provide ring-fenced funding to give teachers the pay rise they deserve.

We won’t waste money on inefficient free schools and the Conservatives’ grammar schools vanity project – and we’ll oppose any attempt to force schools to become academies. Instead, we’ll aid attainment by introducing free school meals for all primary school children, paid for by removing the VAT exemption on private school fees. To give all children the best start in life, we’ll reduce class sizes to less than 30 for all five, six, and seven- year-olds, and seek to extend that as resources allow.

The world’s most successful education systems use more continuous assessment. We’ll therefore abandon plans to reintroduce baseline assessments and launch a commission to look into curriculum and assessment. We’ll consult on introducing teacher sabbaticals and placements with industry to encourage interaction between education and industry and introduce broad experiences into the classroom.

We’ll also put £150 million back into supporting children in schools by scrapping the Conservatives’ nonsensical plans for schools to pay the apprenticeship levy and we’ll extend schools-based counselling to all schools to improve children’s mental health, at a cost of £90 million per year.

And we’re committed to delivering a strategy for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) based on inclusivity, and embed SEND more substantially into training for teachers and non-teaching staff.

I believe that when education fails, it isn’t just the youngster that is held back, but all of us. When we invest in children to develop their learning skills and capabilities, we all benefit from a stronger economy and society.

Finally I’m delighted the Commons has approved plans for MPs to be able to vote by proxy following a row over the treatment of expectant and new mothers. Those absent from the House of Commons for reasons of childbirth or to care for a child will now be able to ask another MP to vote on their behalf. Sadly it took until 11pm on Monday night for the decision to be taken – not a very family-friendly time to still be working!