Tuesday, 5 May 2015

EXCLUSIVE Interview with Tulip Siddiq

We caught up with the Labour candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, Tulip Siddiq (pictured left), who hopes to become an MP for the constituency in the 2015 election, for an interview, focusing on education, among other things. As many current Year 12's and 13's will be eligible to vote next year, we thought it relevant to inform readers, and how better to do that than asking our Labour candidate ourselves:

What do you think of the state of education at the moment, nationally and in Hampstead and Kilburn?
It's easy to knock the state of education in our country. While the last four years have been difficult for both pupils and teachers, Britain's teachers are among the best in the world, and young people work hard to achieve fantastic results at school - in the face of a Government that does not value them and runs down their achievements. I believe that we deserve better than this, and that young people and teachers should have the necessary support to go even further in improving the education system of our country.

The Conservatives and their Lib Dem allies have shut down avenues for educational opportunity, raising tuition fees to a level that has put a lot of young people off applying to university and slashing funding that helped students stay in 6th form education. And many of you will know how much harder the loss of the Educational Maintenance Allowance has made things, with many of you having to pick up Saturday jobs to make up the difference.

However, locally our Labour-run council has made a difference. We have the best schools in the country in Camden and I am especially proud of the expansion of Kingsgate Primary School which will increase the number of school places in the borough.

And, what would you want to change about British education in the future?
My priority would be to improve the student fees system so that people are not put off the chance to go to university. Everyone deserves a chance to go to university. Whether they decide they want to go or not is another question. My point is that they should have the option of going rather than letting finances dictate their decisions. That's why I am proud that the Labour Party is already committed to reducing the maximum tuition fee to £6,000 per year, and I hope that we can go further.

I also want to make sure that young people are supported in education past the age of 16. This means an emphasis on ensuring that vocational education is strengthened and that we improve the advice given to students who want to go down this path. Vocational education should not be dismissed, it is a respected career choice and we need to support people who want to pursue this option.

I also want to break down barriers for girls and students from ethnic minority backgrounds who are looking to get into fields where they are underrepresented. Science, Maths and Technology are examples of such fields. In my previous job, I worked in corporate social responsibility where I sought to increase the number of girls in the engineering industry. I don’t believe that any subjects or courses should be off limits to any of our students.

What would you offer the Young people of Camden, particularly those at Hampstead, outside of education in the future as an MP? For example, youth clubs and similar schemes?
We have some fantastic youth clubs and summer programmes in Camden including drama workshops, sports schemes and our summer reading challenge in the libraries.

However, one of my main priorities would be to ensure that even more get involved with the Camden Youth MP elections. The last election was in March this year and I was present at the hustings which were fantastic. 2.533 people voted in their schools, youth centres and online for their youth MP. This was a record turn-out, but I want even more young people to participate in the next youth MP elections. It means that you have someone to put forward your views to Camden council and to the Government so that decisions made by people at the top are influenced by what you want.

You mention the Youth Parliament, and Youth MP's. There is a general feel from students that the Youth Parliament is not worth bothering with, as it lacks a certain ability to generate change. Would you say this is true? Is there anything that could be done to make it a better, more viable representative of youths?
I am sorry to hear that the general feel among students is that the Youth Parliament is not worth bothering with. Perhaps the trick is to ask more teachers to raise awareness about what it actually entails and how students can get involved.

I think the Youth Parliament is a good idea overall, but I do agree that there are areas that can be improved. If you do have ideas for improvement, I would gladly receive them and pass them on to the council or the Cabinet Member for Young People.

You've recently stepped down as a Councillor to concentrate on your campaign to become MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. In your time as a Cllr, what have you done for the young people of Camden?
As Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities, I was in charge of a £22 million budget which consisted of libraries, community centres, volunteering, parks and open spaces, leisure centres and the Olympics. Despite the cuts to my overall budget, I worked really hard to find ways to try and improve opportunities for young people, whether that was through funding youth clubs and youth activities in some of the most deprived parts of Camden or bringing in reading schemes for children in our libraries.

One of the things I am most proud of is the work I did with disabled athletes in Camden, especially young disabled athletes. Starting from the interactive dance studio at Talacre Sports Centre to free swimming lessons for young people at Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre to enhancing skateboarding facilities in Cantelowes – I am so proud to have been part of a Labour administration that delivered these facilities.

At the moment there are not enough school places in Camden, especially the Hampstead and Kilburn area. Would you enlarge local schools that already exist, such as Hampstead, or build new ones, such as the proposed free school in West Hampstead? Or is there a better option?
As I have said previously, our schools in Camden are the best in the country and I am very proud of the standard of our schools. In terms of addressing the need for more school places, I would suggest enhancing our schools to accommodate this need. This is what Camden council is already doing for Kingsgate Primary School.

The sad truth is that a lot of Camden schools missed out on Building Schools for the Future funding after the present government took over in 2010. This means that a lot of our schools haven’t had the investment they should have.

I do think there is a need for better long-term planning regarding population changes in London. That’s the real issue and the government needs to wake up and do something about it.

Do you think a body like the Hampstead Trash is a good thing?
As one of your own teachers has said, I think schools should be rights-respecting. I am a firm believer that pupils who take an interest in democracy and accountability should be applauded and indeed, encouraged.

However, it’s good practice to keep all debate respectful and teachers have a right not to face personal abuse or slander under any circumstances. 

You say that teachers should not face "personal abuse" or "slander". We, of course, agree wholeheartedly with that, and have rejected articles in the past on that basis, but we would like to know if there is any specific example you are thinking of, or just a general point?
About slander and personal abuse of teachers, there are no specific examples that I can think of. As I mentioned previously, I am a strong supporter of freedom of speech, but we should also be considerate of other people's rights.

Do you think there is enough done to raise political awareness in schools?
Definitely not. There is a desperate need to embed more democratic practice in our schools. We should have a stronger emphasis on citizenship education. We should have mock elections and more MPs should be invited to speak at our schools. I recently went to a hustings at a school in Camden and it was brilliant. I would love to be invited to more schools for hustings in the lead up to 2015.

I really think it would make both students and teachers happier if there was a better balance between pupils and teachers running their school based clubs and organisations.

What are your thoughts on School Councils?

I do think school councils can provide a valuable forum for student views and are a good way to encourage young people to get involved in civic life and democracy in general. However, I experienced some good and some poor school councils in my life. One of the schools I attended had a brilliant school council whereas another school had a very tokenistic council. The main point is that the school council can be a very important vehicle as long as the council is treated with respect by teachers. This ensures that more people want to be involved and also that a students’ first experience of democracy is a positive one!

If we had a scheme whereby student councils had one or two seats on the board of governors, I think this would increase the merit of school councils. They have this system for co-op trust schools and it tends to work very well.

In January last year we exposed a public document that contained the personal details of over 400 students and their parents that had been left on a school server. What are your thoughts on this? Should we trust state bodies more or less with details such as this?
I am not familiar with the particular aspects of this specific case in question, so I feel it would be inappropriate for me to pass judgement on what happened or how the school should respond.

However, on a broader note, there is a concern about this issue on a national level. In a recent case, the Government failed to respond to people’s reasonable concerns about online privacy. A NHS database was also put on hold amid fears that patients had not been properly briefed about their rights.

There is a need for the Government, whichever political party is in charge, to have a proper debate about the challenges surrounding privacy and data protection. With an increasing number of people banking online and using the internet for all kinds of personal services, we need to ensure that individual interests are protected.

What are your thoughts on the voting age in Britain?
I am fully behind lowering the voting age to 16. If you can get married at 16 and become a soldier at 16, why shouldn’t you be able to vote at 16? I was informed enough to vote at 16 and wish I had been given the choice. I’m pleased that the Labour Party has said they will allow 16 year olds to vote if they are elected in 2015.

However, the truth is that we need to give 16 year olds a reason to vote. As politicians, we need to talk about the things that matter to young people – education, university fees, youth clubs, bullying at school – before we can expect them to become interested in politics and cast their vote.

Finally, should students have more of a say in their education, or is it best left to the adults?
I think there’s a balance to be struck when it comes to education. It’s not just black and white. Schools should recognise that students, as those experiencing the learning process first hand, will have very important insights into how to make education more accessible.

But teachers are dedicated professionals who work hard to give young people the best start in life. In my opinion, both experiences should be valued and heard.

On that point, we agree that teachers should be at the helm of students' education, but would you say that students should have more choice about their educational environment (i.e school sites, classrooms, division of funding), rather than it being left up to adults that don't have to spend time in them (i.e governors, Councillors)?
I have read your blog and I know that the blog focuses a lot on how money is spent by your school. I don’t think it would be viable to leave all the financial decision making entirely to students but I do agree that greater student consultation is needed when it comes to decision making including financial decision making.

A strong school council, and student/ teacher discussion could be a good way of doing this. It would mean that the school has to consider what the students think and take into account their choices about how money is spent.

In the interest of impartiality, we will be interviewing as many main-party candidates as possible in the run-up to the election, to hear their views as well. Thanks must go to Ms Siddiq for making time for this interview.

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