When I ask Robert Halfon, the education committee chair, to name the witness who has affected him most, I’m waiting for a massive hitter.
Andreas Schleicher, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s training director, possibly Chen Liang-gee, the Taiwanese technological know-how and generation minister?
But as an alternative, he talks approximately Carlie Thomas, a senior caseworker from the St Giles Trust, who in March this yr spoke bluntly about the challenges of supporting kids vulnerable to exclusion. Select committees can name whoever they need – and the nominees need to attend. If they decline, they’re prone to being in contempt of parliament.
But other than Richard Atkins, the FE commissioner – the best excessive-profile witness he mentions and praises as “super” – Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, appears greater interested in people with frontline experience than the instructional massive cheeses. For the continued inquiry into special educational needs and disabilities, the committee invited children with SEND to proportion their experiences. They were applauded at the stop in their testimony, which didn’t go down nicely with all viewers of parliament live TV.
“Someone criticized me on Twitter, announcing, ‘giving them a spherical of applause is the whole thing that’s wrong. My reaction became, ‘you’re speaking me crap,’” he says.
“We’re giving them a spherical of applause, not due to the fact they’re unique desires; however, due to the fact, their proof was better than most politicians who have been on the platform. They had been high-quality.
“Their evidence becomes moving; it changed into extreme, it was real, it becomes high-quality. And, of the route, these human beings caught in their packing containers, they straight away need to stereotype – I become doing the alternative of stereotyping.”
Despite his personal public-school background, Halfon is assured in his abilities to hook up with human beings of all backgrounds. And not like a number of his fellow politicians, he insists that he writes his personal newspaper columns, along with The Sun, or for the website Conservative Home.
There had been a few uncomfortable classes, including one last May with the chief govt and the chair of the authorities-funded Careers and Enterprise Company. The committee individuals appeared united in their fury towards Claudia Harris and Christine Hodgson. They grilled them on why they hadn’t but had any effect – quite unfairly, I advise, because the organization changed into fashioned in 2015. Why become Halfon so adversarial to an enterprise set up utilizing his own authorities?
“They are untouched via austerity and have got buckets of money to play around with. There are no checks and balances; they’re now not inspected utilizing everybody well,” he says without a pause. “Other corporations are crying out for cash, and that they seem to be exceeded money like there’s no the next day. I suggest, after I come again to Earth, I’m going to return as the Careers and Enterprise Company. They’re loaded.” He’s indignant that the government-funded organization spent almost £50,000 on a conference on the children’s pastime center KidZania, pointing out that they might have funded it with personal sponsorship.
“Now you would possibly think, ‘oh, it’s handiest £50,000 out of a multi-million-pound price range, it doesn’t remember.’ But it simply suggests the form of attitude – that money is an unfastened-for-all. I suspect while you pass in that constructing, the cash comes out of the faucets.” Harris became increasingly flustered for the duration of the hearing, stumbling over her information and figures and famously refusing to say whether one hundred according to cent of the disadvantage fund was spent on deprived college students.
But what approximately the greater convincing witnesses? Has everyone managed to trade his thoughts on something?
“What’s opened my mind is that special instructional desires are a horror tale. It is irrefutable that it’s far a catastrophe,” he says, with the type of emotive language with a purpose to sit well within the column he’s avoiding to write down for The Sun about gas duty.
“The [Children and Families Act 2014] turned into very well-intentioned, most of the people believe that. But the assets which have been spent badly, the shortage of accountability, the steady treacle of bureaucracy that mother and father have to struggle through – it’s a horror story.
“Not everywhere. There were awesome examples of exact practice, tremendous practitioners – there’s excellent work happening in schools – but a lot of its miles going incorrect.” As he cites the consultation that featured Pepper the robot as considered one of his favorites, I flinch. When the pre-programmed humanoid became known as a “witness” in October, the committee made headlines, together with the BBC and the pages of the Daily Mail. Was that not a chunk gimmicky?
“Some Oxford instructional stated it became the maximum disgraceful show of AI in history or something. And I simply concept ‘get out of your ivory tower.’ We’re trying to carry this committee to millions of human beings, who would in no way watch anything approximately parliament, and explaining for to them – because it becomes everywhere in the news – what the future can be and might be. There are 10 to fifteen million jobs that might be lost to automation and artificial intelligence.”
Halfon understands the power of branding and the media. The committee’s social media crew is preparing a video on all the guidelines that the government has adopted, he tells me proudly. “The first-rate moments of the committee are whilst authorities adopt things, or while you know, you’re transferring opinion. So, as an example, on the alternative provision, we’ve set the controversy on this, and I suppose it’s one of the most important social injustices.
“There are many Pavlov’s puppies’ reactions to it with the aid of arch traditionalists who just want a Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest for our school machine. And even though they’re indignant with me, I’m happy because it’s placing a debate.” He has also made a few progress with apprenticeship bus fares. “I haven’t succeeded, but I hold haranguing the government approximately it. Having stated that, they’ve now introduced a few travel reductions; however, it’s no longer enough – we’ve got a manifesto dedication.”