December has not been a happy month for me as a Liberal Democrat. During the past four weeks I have seen the loss of three important members of the Party. All had an interest in education. This post is by way of thanks for their dedication and service.
Paddy Ashdown was Party Leader when the ‘penny on income tax for education’ policy was promulgated in the 1990s. The policy was to contrast with the then Conservative government’s reduction on spending on education that continued into the first two years of the Labour government under Blair and Brown. Paddy was an inspirational figure and came to help me become elected in 2013 to Oxfordshire County Council.
Honorary Alderman Jean Fooks was a City Councillor in Oxford for a quarter of a century and a County Councillor for sixteen years. A physics graduate from Oxford, when women physicists were even less common than they are today, Jean taught me all I know as a councillor about the concerns over children taken into care and their education. These young people suffer in many different ways, but the lack of concern on the part of some schools and those in national government for their education is a burden they really should not have to bear.
Education, is about learning, butt it must be set in the context of the child. If the Christmas story tells us anything it is not to judge a person by their circumstances. Most children are taken into care because of the failure on the part of others. We must not expect the system to compound that failure, especially when these children are moved into other areas. When, for reasons of economics, these children end up in areas where there are many of them located together in a small area, the State must consider what the implications for their education will be? Removed from their families, they must not be cast out of our education system because they are troublesome. Jean realised this, and through her work on Corporate Parenting and visiting the children’s homes on a regular basis, she set an example of leadership.
Gordon was, until the summer, the treasurer of the local Lib Dems. He was then diagnosed with the condition that sadly ended his life all too soon afterwards. Gordon, was also a volunteer with Children Heard and Seen, a small Oxfordshire charity that works with the children of those in prison. All too often children with a parent, usually a father, in prison have a high risk of a life of offending themselves in later life or even as adolescents, this is especially the case for many boys. CHaS has sought to recognise the needs of these children that often have nobody to turn to that understands their position. They can be bullied at school and have lost a vital role model. Mentors, and those such as Gordon, can show these children that they are worth talking time over and can help them to fulfil their potential.
All of these three have been inspirations to me in the steps that they were prepared to take to help others. As we enter 2019, the memory of all of them will remain with me as I continue to try to do my best for Oxfordshire and its residents.