We mustn’t let our children down


The final scene at the Caldies Comp “Les Mis” performance

On Thursday night Erica and I had an absolutely marvellous night at Calderstones Comprehensive. We have always been impressed with the school since our youngest daughter went there in the 6th form and fell in love with physics due to some gifted teaching.  She also fell in love with her now husband Luke, but that’s another story!

We were there to watch Les Mis entirely performed by students although there were some teachers in the orchestra. You will appreciate that having spent 56 years between us as councillors we have endured some pretty torrid events BUT that was not what happened on Thursday. We, like all the audience, were entirely captured by an outstanding performance. It would be invidious to mention names but 24601 was literally outstanding. A real class act from a performer who was only 16 but seemed to be about 7ft tall!! So well done to all the staff and students who contributed. We have already booked tickets for next year – whatever they are doing!

But as so often happens the whole event made me think about what I believe education should do and how we deliver it.

Underneath you can see some of our ideas for Liverpool as contained in our manifesto. Of course education authorities are now pretty powerless. But we do have lots of influence lots of partners and lots of potential. Overall I think education is going the wrong way. Too many tests, too many inspections and too many restrictions. Gifted teachers are not allowed to teach what they know their pupils need but must conform to a pretty sterile curriculum. If we spent what we spend on OFSTED on paying for more teachers things could only get better. Students are trained to pass exams and not to get skills and wanting to benefit from what education can bring. I am appalled at the number of people tell me that they have never read a book when their formal education ended. Why did we bother!?

Our ideas look at ways we can help hard pressed teachers and they do need help. Education standards as expressed through the formal system are declining. Liverpool is now below average on most indicators and is losing out against other core cities. In fact Liverpool was singled out by the Chief Inspector of Schools for its poor performance.


 Basically that’s why I liked Les Mis and the incredible efforts of the school. It is likely that not one hour of what the performers spent on this event would have given them a single point for their GCSEs or A levels. However I can guarantee from watching them that they hugely benefitted from the experience.

They gained; Confidence. This is so vital in defining the leaders of the future. You could see from their mature performances that they are leaders of the future. Used to being in public; accustomed to delivering in public; sure of themselves. Team skills. Unless you deliver monologues you have to be a team player. This applies not only to the cast but also to the musicians and the many back stage crew that are needed to make this work. Enthusiasm. They learned that school, is more than exams and study (important though those are) they are communities, living entities where learning is part of something bigger and better.

Too few teachers now feel able to put the effort into those extracurricular school activities which were so important in my education. Yes I did pass exams but I went to a school which made us keen to learn; which developed my skills and talents (such as they are). Those teachers who don’t do these things are not lazy or bad teachers they are overwhelmed by forms, figures, tests and exams. They are not allowed to develop either their talents or the talents of the children they teach. That is why there is such a huge burn out with people giving up the profession after a few years or in some cases a few months.

So very well done to the teachers and staff at Caldies. You didn’t go an extra mile but an extra 10 miles. You did well for my family and I know you’re doing well for many more families as well.

If you want to see the rest of the manifesto it is available for downloading at http://www.richardkemp.org.uk.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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