OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on Early Years education in Bristol South

(Newspaper column as seen in the September 2019 edition of The Pigeon)

I’ve been a longtime supporter of Early Years education. Before I became an MP, I was a governor of a nursery school and my own children all benefited from the previous Labour government’s investment into Early Years education, so I appreciate first-hand how valuable it is. 

Nurseries and pre-schools have such an important role to play in communities – helping children get a good start in life and preparing them for school. Early years provision offers an important safety net for those children who may be at risk of falling behind from the off and is crucial for social mobility. Children’s Centres are central to this too. 

Decent and affordable early years education is even more important for families on low incomes. When early years education costs more than you earn, it’s no longer an option open to you. This is clear from the many conversations I’ve had with parents. 

Earlier this year, Matt Caldwell, Acting Headteacher of Illminster Avenue Nursery School, said: “Nurseries are social hubs and beacons in communities that have nothing else left in their locality, as service after service has been gutted by years of austerity…we give thousands of children in Bristol the best possible start in life.”  

To view it as childcare alone is a mistake. Nurseries and pre-schools deliver a vital education function; they teach toddlers the basics – learning through play and socialising with other children.  

The government should be investing sufficiently in this area. 

It has offered working parents up to 30 hours of subsidised childcare a week. But my meetings with early years leaders across South Bristol have revealed a gulf between the increased running costs of accommodating this ‘subsidised’ offer and the amount the government actually contributes to this. 

Earlier this year, I met with the team at Windmill Hill City Farm’s nursery Windmill Hill City Farm’s nursery who explained that the government’s ‘funding’ falls short of what they need to run the nursery – by around £1 per child per hour. As a result, they have had to limit the number of subsidised places they offer to avoid running at a loss. This directly impacts parents who may struggle to secure a nursery place locally for their child/children. 

Once again, the government is pushing the financial burden of delivering services onto the service providers. We’ve seen this in other areas – with schools and healthcare. To claim the credit for supporting families without providing the funding to meet their commitments is not good enough.  

I’ve raised this in parliament in the past and I will continue to do so. I’d be interested to hear about your experiences of current early years education in Bristol South. Does it work for your family? You can contact me via the details below. 

Bristol apprentices speak about their journeys ahead of South Bristol Apprenticeships Fair

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth has organised another apprenticeships fair. In partnership with City of Bristol College, Bristol City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions, the South Bristol Jobs and Apprenticeships Fair 2019 will take place from 11am – 3pm on Thursday 28 February at the South Bristol Skills Academy in Hengrove.

The event is free to attend and you’ll be able to find out more about the apprenticeships on offer in Bristol and beyond, support and training available and be able to chat to apprentices themselves. Here, we speak with Bristol apprentices about their apprenticeship stories…

‘A boy from Bristol with a dream’ 

Carl Bembridge, 25, from Speedwell, Bristol, celebrity hair stylist and wig-maker 

After leaving school, Carl started a hair styling apprenticeship at City of Bristol College – working in Cohesion salon in St George with a day a week at college. He now divides his time between the Bristol salon and celebrity events and shoots across the world, including Love Island stars. 

Carl, who describes himself as ‘a boy from Bristol with a dream’, says: “I always knew I wanted to work with hair. I loved hair from a young age, especially long hair. I didn’t know how to get there but after doing work experience at Cohesion I learned about apprenticeships and then I found out more at college events (like the apprenticeships fair). 

“I chose the apprenticeship because there was more practical and actual salon time, so I learnt a lot more about the environment. I looked forward to college and seeing my friends once a week – it wasn’t too much and it was never going to get boring; and I was earning money, which was new to me and a change from school. 

“Secondary school was hard. I was picked on for wanting to do hair. When I chose Cohesion for my work experience other boy students found out and called me names, but I’m so glad I carried on. Since I finished my apprenticeship, I went on to win numerous competitions – including Hairdresser of the Year 2015. I now work with celebrities, travelling all over the world to style hair for photoshoots for magazines like Hello and events such as London Fashion Week.  

“Becoming a celebrity hairstylist known for my hair skills is amazing. I’ve got to work with TV stars from Keeping Up With The Kardashians and was taught how to make my famous wigs by Kylie Jenner’s wigmaker Tokyo Stylez. I’m going to keep setting myself goals to become more well-known and to become my own brand. There are no limits. 

“I was always driven and knew what I wanted to do but I’m really glad I did the apprenticeship because it was one day at college and the rest of the week was working life, like real-life working earning money and building my clients. In my industry, apprenticeships are great for building yourself as the stylist you want to be. I’d definitely recommend apprenticeships.” 

‘Apprenticeships – not just for school leavers’ 

Jacob Kulig, 32, from Henleazean apprentice with a Bristol global logistics and freight company 

When university graduate Jacob was looking for a meaningful career, he turned his attention to apprenticeships. 

The 32-year-old joined Expeditors International shipping and logistics company in Avonmouth as an Apprentice Air Export Agent in 2015. 

 His Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) Level 2 apprenticeship has seen him progress from working on operations into finance and accounting, covering areas such as billing, invoicing, quoting and pricing. This is the direction he hopes to follow in his newly-forged career. 

“Returning to college gives me good boost of confidence,” explains Jacob, who graduated from Jagiellonian University in his home country of Poland in 2011. “That constant development is necessary for everyone. There are so many skills that may become helpful in a future career, and in life generally.  

“I am a university graduate, but some university programs are very generic or too abstract to provide a good start; whereas attending a professional course can equip you with the exact knowledge and skills which are essential for undertaking a specific job. 

“Combining work and studying is already a part of success. I am glad that I am passing exams and developing knowledge that matches with the matters dealt with at my workplace. 

“An apprenticeship will help you move from a standstill position. Even if you are already in a profession, an apprenticeship will set up you new insights and a different perspective and you will see that it was definitely worth it.”