Four of the candidates in the Norwich North by-election went speed-dating with a special 'people's panel' of students, teachers, and parents yesterday.
Labour's Chris Ostrowski, the Conservatives' Chloe Smith, the Lib Dem's April Pond and the Greens' Rupert Read were quizzed over their plans for education at the Norman Centre in Bignold Road, Mile Cross.
Each panellist was given six minutes with each of the four candidates at the event organised by the University and College Union (UCU) to mark the launch of its 'Make education count' campaign.
Panellists included Raymond Brewry, a foster parent of three teenage boys, who said he was concerned about the opportunities for young people in Norwich North. He said: “I am an adviser on Norwich Prison's Independent Monitoring Board and I am concerned we are locking too many kids up as opposed to educating them.
“If candidates are serious about tackling law and order they need to invest in community courses. Kids are more likely to end up inside when they do not have the right opportunities to learn. I want all my children to have a chance.”
Candidates were also quizzed by City College Norwich lecturer Hannah Pomeroy, who teaches on a special programme for some of the most marginalised young people in Norfolk. She said: “I work with kids who have not achieved their potential through statutory education.
“Some have been the victims of extreme bullying, many have been excluded from school and others have spent time homeless as a result of tough domestic situations. It is really important that programmes like ours are properly funded and that all the candidates at the forthcoming by-election come and speak to front line workers."
Sally Paramour, vice-chairman of the Norfolk Women's Institute and a former headmistress in Norwich, was seeking answers on access to adult education, and Gary Champion, a teacher at the Hewett School in Norwich, wanted the candidates to raise the expectations of young people in Norfolk, who have the worse aspirations rates in the whole country.
City College Norwich student Mikel Denoba, will be a first-time voter at the by-election, wanted the candidates to tell him how politics can be made more appealing to young people, and questions were also posed by adult learner Simon Bass. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “We believe investment in learning and training is more important than ever. Whilst we have a wonderful university and college in Norwich, many people don't have the qualifications they need to live based on choice rather than necessity.”
Meanwhile, Craig Murray, an Independent candidate at the by-election, said he was amazed he had not been invited to the event.
He said: “I'm Rector of the University of Dundee. In Scottish universities the Rector is second only to the chancellor, so I'm absolutely amazed I was not invited. “A number of the candidates have just finished their education, so I think I know more about education funding and policy than the rest of the candidates put together.”