Following David Cameron's decision to hold his Shadow Cabinet in Maidstone, I hosted my first senior politician tour of the patch today. It was a bit odd to be on the "other side" of a tour as previously I had been the one that would sign off David Davis' visits, but today I was the one playing hostess - and I was unusually nervous when I woke up this morning. A lot of work goes into organising them and you are always at the mercy of other people so you can never be quite sure how a visit will go - but it went brilliantly.
Michael Gove, Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, had specifically requested to come to Chatham & Aylesford which is hugely flattering because it usually happens the other way round! So after lunch at County Hall with Cameron and his team, Michael and I headed first to Aylesford Primary School where we were met by the wonderful headmistress Mrs Evans, the family liaison officer Jane and local Councillor Dave Smith.
Mrs Evans took us on a tour of the school which is a delightful primary in the shadow of the new Sports Academy. It is sad that such a huge amount of money has been invested in the secondary school and yet the primary school has had very little extra money invested in it and although extremely neat and tidy is in desperate need of repair. So much time and energy is spent devising policy on secondary education that often the primary system is forgotten despite the fact that if you get it wrong in the early years, then the rest of the education system falters. As soon as you walk into Aylesford Primary, you know you are entering somewhere special - it was evident almost immediately, as we walked through a salsa class, that the children appeared to be thoroughly enjoying their learning. I was hugely impressed by the game of Simon Says being conducted in French by the Deputy Head - I am ashamed to say that I found it difficult to keep up with the children, who were a 100 times better than me!
After our tour of the school, I took Michael up to Buckmore Park Kart Circuit where we saw the Park's launch of Playing for Success with local children.
Playing for Success Kent provides a wide range of activities that enable, enrich and extend young people’s experiences in Kent. It promotes informal, active and most importantly learning opportunities outside normal school hours. Playing for Success is a partnership initiative between the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Kent County Council and four clubs in Kent including Buckmore Park, Ebbsfleet United and Kent Spitfires.
Not only did we spend some time on the karts (although not driving them!) and in the class with the children, but we also heard about some of the other community projects Buckmore Park has been involved in to help local children, especially those who have been excluded from school. What this latest project helps do is highlight in a very practical way how literacy and numeracy fit into everyday life, and helps develop their skills in a way that is perhaps less daunting for them than a class room. It was hugely impressive and the children were very excited to be part of the scheme. Although the funniest part of the afternoon was when Michael started to ask questions about Britain's Got Talent - he wanted Signature to win (as did I) although almost everyone in the class had a different favourite!!
Once we had finished at the Park I managed to get Michael back to Maidstone in time for his train back to London and finally heaved a sigh of relief - my first Shadow Cabinet visit had gone well, without a hitch and to schedule.