The first thing I needed to achieve as your Member of Parliament was, working with the Sandown community and teaching staff at Sandown , was to save secondary education there and get a failing academy out. The academy programme in many parts of Britain works well, and we have good academy schools on the Island. However, it didn’t work in Sandown and we needed to change. We won both those battles and I am very grateful to Councillors, the Council and the Sandown school community for an amazing joint effort. However, winning the battle is not winning the war. Education is not where it should be on the Island. The victory for Sandown still leaves a school needing improvement, and education collectively needing to continue to raise aspirations and standards.
As part of a local and national effort to get things right, the Isle of Wight is working with Hampshire County Council, and in late 2017, we agreed to continue with this excellent partnership. At the last election, the Conservative team made a pledge that within four years all schools were to be good or outstanding. We will achieve this through the school improvement strategy, Delivering Educational Excellence, recently published by the Isle of Wight Council. I am delighted with that ambition. Nationally, Government spending on schools will hit £43.5 billion by 2019, more than ever before. Per pupil funding on the Island has increased. There is more money in education than ever in our history. Over 80 percent of schools on the Island are now good or outstanding. However, I will also be working to get additional support for our schools.
I also believe that we need fewer sixth forms that are able to serve their students better. Currently we have five sixth forms for eight secondary chools. Hampshire has just seven Sixth Forms for 68 state secondary schools. Currently, our sixth forms don’t have the depth to support Island sixth formers.
Improving primary and secondary education is critical in everything we do. In addition, as a priority, we need to deliver significantly improved higher education on the Island. I believe that this should take the form of a campus on the Island, almost certainly in Newport.
Why do we need more higher education?
First, because Islanders have considerably lower levels of higher education than the national average. At the last census, 23 percent of Islanders have a higher education as opposed to 30 percent of the national average. This is not acceptable.
Second, some Islanders, especially from poorer backgrounds, are put off by travelling across the Solent. We need to tackle this by bringing more higher education to the Island.
Thirdly, we need higher education to develop our economy - especially in composites and defence - and to grow more prosperous. We need to be able to attract digital and high-technology businesses.
Fourth, education is a moral good in itself.
Fifth, a Newport campus would help regenerate our County town.
However, whatever the balance of higher education courses, I believe it that higher education on the Island is critical to the re-orientating our economy, raising our aspiration and inspiring our young people. In addition, there should be no reason why the Island couldn’t win students from the mainland, attracted by either the quality of the courses or the lifestyle. Whilst the Island is not going to tempt students who want to live in London or Manchester, for those who like sailing, surfing, cycling, riding and walking, the Island has a unique offer.
Personally, I do not believe a ‘new’ university is in itself the best option. We should instead aim to support existing providers to expand and for them to use the campus. There are several potential courses of action, although most revolve around a gradual extension of courses, working with existing providers, whilst building relationships with mainland universities. This could entail IoW College evolving to offer degree courses, HTP offering degree apprenticeships, the excellent Platform One music school and the UKSA - one of the best sailing schools in the world - building on their success and having the option to use the campus to house some or all of their students. We could also work with St Mary’s to examine the options for trainee nurses and doctors to use the campus, and to see if we could develop a conference economy too.
The most important thing now is that the Council and education community on the Island commit to the ambitious goal of seeing a campus here, as well as an ambitious but achievable goal of significantly expanding higher education on the Island.