There is probably nothing more important to our future as a prosperous country than the need to ensure that every child has an excellent education. I feel very grateful for the education that I had at my local country primary school, Lylehill in County Antrim, and my wonderful grammar school, Belfast Royal Academy. Despite a few people trying to close all the grammar schools in Northern Ireland, they are still operating and doing extremely well.
On the country primary school, I realise that such a Bill cannot include everything, but we should remember that in 2006 the Government launched the Learning Outside the Classroom manifesto, which aimed to give every school student the opportunity to experience out-of-classroom learning in the natural environment, yet in 2008 well over half of all school-aged children would never have had a visit to the countryside or an opportunity to understand anything about the countryside. I feel particularly strongly about that, because I am the chairman of the Countryside Alliance and, more importantly, because of my inner-city schools. Using a great deal of charitable money and donations, we try to get all the primary schools in my constituency at least one visit to the countryside. That makes such a difference to the children. I hope that can be considered.
There are many aspects of the Bill with which I agree, because some of them will help to ensure an excellent education, but I share some of the concerns expressed to me by head teachers that many of the proposals in the Bill could have waited or are not necessary and will add more bureaucracy to schools, particularly to the heads. Much more time and money will be spent on ticking more boxes to satisfy monitors about things that do not necessarily need to be monitored or could have been monitored in a different way, especially where schools have good leadership.
Previous speakers have commented on home-school agreements. I cannot understand how all the effort, work, time and money involved will improve by a single iota the education of a child in primary school.
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