I wish to thank County Councillor Maureen Powell for her sterling efforts on the disabled access project at Abergavenny railway station. Her perseverance and willingness to work alongside Network Rail in pushing for improvements while protecting the station’s heritage means this scheme is progressing well. Funding from the Department for Transport’s Access for All programme will see two lifts installed to the existing footbridge, providing an obstacle free, accessible route to and between the platforms. There are a few more hoops to jump through before we have the outline design drawings. But it is good news for disabled passengers, parents with young children and anyone travelling with heavy luggage.
Covid-19 has presented many different challenges to schools. A few weeks ago, I visited King Henry VIII Comprehensive School in Abergavenny and on Friday I met with the new headteacher of Monmouth Comprehensive School. There have been huge efforts made to ensure the safety of pupils and the wider community. One-way systems, hand sanitiser and face masks were on display. However, simple things have become much harder. Gone are the days of a teacher leaning over a desk when a pupil can’t understand something. Instead, the teacher stays behind a marked area and work is looked at using IT. Some parents have raised concerns about access to toilet facilities and the need to wear coats in classrooms where windows are open to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading. All this is being addressed by new headteacher Hugo Hutchison. It cannot be easy to run a school at any time. Mr Hutchison has picked up the gauntlet in the middle of the biggest crisis to hit this country for decades. Good luck Sir!
Everyone has been affected by the pandemic but perhaps students more than most. Those turning 18-years-old and looking forward to moving away from parents, making new friends, socialising and studying are instead facing long stays at home or being confined to halls of residences and receiving lectures over Zoom. The current wisdom is that everyone should aspire to go to university and this should take on the form of three years away from home, with annual tuition fees of £9,000 plus accommodation costs. Surely now is the time to reconsider. Many young people end up taking degrees which are not directly related to the career they follow. Many large companies need people with specialist skills that cannot be found in the UK. In an era of online lectures and emailed essays, there must be questions to be asked over whether the current model is fit for the 21st century.
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 25 November 2020 and the Abergavenny Chronicle on 26 November 2020*