This time of year, one’s mind does not usually turn to schools – September is the time for that.
With new classes, new pencils and lots of good hopes and intentions for the coming academic year, enthusiasm and optimism are at their highest at the beginning of the autumn.
But even in the depths of winter, at the beginning of the calendar year, the work goes on across west Suffolk, as children return to school from an exciting Christmas break.
Over the last six years as an MP, I have had the great privilege to work very closely with our brilliant teachers and get around west Suffolk to visit the primary and secondary schools in my constituency.
Time and again, I have found the hard-working staff exceptional in their dedication to the children and to the profession.
I have found the pupils motivated and inquisitive – somehow, they always ask the hardest, most direct questions.
It is imperative for our children’s futures that our schools continue to improve. I will do everything I can to help with this upward momentum.
One of the programmes that I have become involved with is Speakers for Schools.
This fantastic organisation is responsible for sending leading figures in their professions into secondary schools to speak to the pupils about the industry and what they do.
The speakers can be from any walk of life, covering topics such as art, media and communications; business and economics; sciences; engineering and technology; politics and society or sports, leisure and health. The talks aim to ignite the imagination and aspirations of the young people in the schools and, therefore, create a lasting impact.
Our pupils have such potential – sometimes all that is required is for one person to speak to them and awaken something in them that they didn’t even know existed.
Nationally, more than 1,100 speakers have given talks to nearly 400,000 pupils over the last five years.
This is a programme that is going from strength to strength and I’d encourage anyone who thinks they have something to offer to get involved.
Giving talks like these in schools is one of the most rewarding things I do.
As Minister for Digital and Culture, an issue that was recently brought to my attention was the threatened ending of the history of art A-level.
There was a widespread campaign to save it and, thankfully, the Pearson exam board has rescued it and teaching will begin in September 2017.
Pupils, teachers and those in the arts world welcomed the good news of its reprieve as it is a subject that has the ability of enrich peoples’ lives.
Evidence increasingly shows that subjects like art or music and wider community engagement help pupils not just widen their horizons, but help their vital core subjects like maths and English.
One of the aspects of school life that seemed to have changed dramatically for the better is that schools seem more willing than ever to undertake demanding charitable projects and are finding ways to be even more connected to their communities.
I recently attended a local charities day at Newmarket Open Door. I was joined by several volunteers from Newmarket Academy to help sort donated clothes which were to be distributed locally.
I have also been made aware of a befriending scheme where pupils have made Christmas cards for elderly people who may be lonely during the holidays.
In Haverhill, the Café Coupals community café is run each half-term by staff and pupils from Coupals Primary Academy.
To me, this is a win-win proposition, providing a fantastic cafe for the community and a way for pupils to provide a service to the people around them.
All of these are examples of what young people can achieve with hard work and enthusiasm.
The combination of charity and service to the community from young people today will produce kind and empathetic adults of tomorrow – and we can’t have too many of those.
There’s lots more to do, but none of this is possible without the teachers and headteachers we should all support.
If you would like to contact me about this issue or any other matter, or you feel that there is a problem I could help you with, please do get in touch.
I can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 01638 576 692.
-- Matthew Hancock is MP for West Suffolk