A message from Matt Dunkley CBE:
12 March 2021 weekly update
12 March 2021
This week, Matt shares his thanks to schools and settings and introduces our new Director of Education Christine McInnes.
Welcome back to the latest iteration of lockdown schooling!
I would like to repeat my thanks to you on behalf of all Kent’s children and young people for rising to the Covid challenges one again. Sadly this is becoming normal practice now, but I want to recognise your ongoing support for our county’s children and young people and your tenacity to ensure that new Covid safe guidelines are implemented in your schools. We have continued to receive reports that children enjoy and value their time back in the classroom and parents feel very supported by schools.
I want to take the opportunity to formally introduce Christine McInnes, our new Director of Education. Christine joined us in early March and has been finding her feet in a virtual way around Kent and she has kindly provided today's introduction to give you more background of her career and journey to Kent.
Matt Dunkley CBE
Children, Young People and Education
It feels very strange to take up a new post while still sitting at the same table I have been sitting at for the last year, with the cat and dog for company for most of the day. It’s quite a contrast from the previous whirl of activity that this type of role entails and I have particularly missed visiting schools and early years settings, which is by far the most inspirational part of the job.
Kent is a fascinating county of huge contrasts and I was absolutely thrilled and honoured to be appointed as Director of Education. Everyone has made me feel really welcome so thank you for that.
Much of my career has been spent in London, though I have previously worked in Kent as National Advisor for the Department of Health and Department for Education Healthy Schools Programme and I have also spent two and a half years as Chief Education Officer in Bracknell Forest. Most recently I was working as Director of Education and Partnerships in Tower Hamlets, a borough which covers just 7.6 square miles (19.8km squared) with approximately 100 schools. Whilst that may seem very different to Kent, the wicked issues we were working on are actually very similar, place planning and sufficiency, school standards, strategic planning for SEND inclusion, equalities and of course managing budget pressures. Working together with schools and early years settings to support robust leadership and sound decision making through the period of the pandemic has, I think, tested us all.
It has been inspirational to see leaders and staff rise to every challenge, seeking to minimise the impact on children, young people and their families. On Monday the wider opening of schools saw the fruition of much planning and work by staff. I know from my own extended family and friends that many children and young people were really looking forward to school, but possibly not as much as their parents were! Inevitably, for some more vulnerable youngsters, who have lost the habit of attending school and engaging in learning, there will be challenges in getting them to re-engage. There are too particular concerns about the impact on critical areas of development for children in the early years. Addressing these concerns, alongside the lost opportunities for development and learning for all, means we are looking at working under extraordinary circumstances for the foreseeable future.
I’m sure we all welcomed the appointment of a former teacher, Sir Kevan Collins, as the education recovery tsar and it is encouraging to see Sir Kevan already making the case for additional resources to support this work. Locally, I have been really impressed with the development of our Reconnect: Kent Children and Young People Programme, which recognises that academic catch up will be most successful when delivered in a context of wider opportunities that draw on a range of community resources.
This Kent role also includes the leadership of Education and Skills and Adult and Community Education. For me, this is a really exciting opportunity to consider how we can create a smoother continuum as young people transition from school, where they have been prepared for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life, into adulthood and for many parenthood.
Parents are the primary educators of their children and their positive involvement in education can have a tremendous influence on outcomes. I am interested in how we can build on the existing good practice of programmes such as family learning to help narrow the achievement gap for more vulnerable pupils. These services also play a critical role in the wider economic development of Kent, upskilling young and older adults to access employment opportunities that are coming on stream through developments such as the London Resort, to name just one. The relationship between the level of parental education, family income and the educational achievement of children is well documented, and we know enabling adults to gain qualifications can play a critical role in lifting families out of poverty. The 14 to 19 Review will provide opportunities to explore these inter-dependencies further and add value by developing a more integrated life-long learning approach across the county. Finally, with well over 22,000 learners, we cannot underestimate the role of Adult and Community Education in promoting learning as an enjoyable experience which contributes to personal development, as well as it’s important role in building social capital.
I very much hope this week has gone well and I look forward to meeting you over time.
Director of Education
Children, Young People and Education