Putting our children first

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Boris Johnson this week announced a funding boost for schools and colleges. £14 billion over three years, ran the headlines! Except it’s not £14 billion. And it may never reach our cash-strapped schools and our underpaid teachers. No sooner was it announced than the Government’s spin was discredited by many, including the IFS:

“somewhere between meaningless and misleading”

said their Director, Paul Johnson. And not nearly enough to undo the damage of nearly a decade of brutal austerity.

Others expressed at best, doubt, at worst, cynicism about the likely delivery of the funds to schools, FEs and Special Educational Needs services. The Government is blatantly in election campaign mode, sprinkling generous fiscal promises around like confetti. The hastily announced Spending Review and controversial Queen’s Speech are nothing but manifestos in disguise, not worth the paper they are written on by a Government without a mandate.

Education is one of my personal priorities. I’m a mum of four children, who have all attended local schools, and vice-chair of governors at a local primary school. We have fantastic schools in our constituency, led by inspirational, committed Head Teachers and staffed by teams who go more than the extra mile, every single day, for the children they teach.

But I’m worried about the future. I am worried about the impact of years of Tory funding cuts on what we can reasonably expect our schools to deliver. I am worried about the pressures on our hardworking teachers and some of their most vulnerable pupils. I am worried about the sustainability of a system that expects teachers to provide increasing levels of complex support for mental health and Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision. Support which was previously offered by wider public services that have been run down by funding cuts.

Let’s take funding first. Just before Parliament broke up for the summer, the influential Education Select Committee (Commons Education Select Committee “A Ten Year Plan for school and college funding”) published a comprehensive report on schools that laid bare the scale of the crisis. Total school spending per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms between 2010 and 2018; in further education, the situation is worse, with funding falling by 16% in real terms since 2010. This has had a direct effect on our children’s education: at least 250 schools across the country are closing early on Fridays to save money (BBC News) As I wrote in a previous blog, schools and colleges in our constituency are not immune and the head of Hinchley Wood was one of a number of Headteachers who wrote to the Government to highlight the local challenges in March.

We need to do much, much more. That’s why I’m campaigning for:

  • An extra £7billion to go into school and college budgets: reversing school budget cuts and protecting per pupil funding in real terms.

  • Guaranteeing our hardworking teachers a pay-rise that is at least in line with inflation.

Within a primary school system that is already fraying at the edges, the system of assessment and testing that puts pupils through SATs tests in Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 is no longer justified - whether in terms of the stress under which it puts young children, or the intolerable pressure under which our dedicated teachers have to “teach to the test” rather than using their experience and expertise to deliver the best outcomes for all their pupils. In July, in one of the largest polls of primary school staff ever undertaken by the National Education Union, 97% of its primary members supported the abolition of Key Stage 2 SATs. (Details here) I support them.

I trust our teachers to know best. That’s why I’m campaigning for:

  • The abolition of SATs in primary schools.

Finally, the impact of funding cuts has been felt disproportionately by some of the most vulnerable within our schools system. There is a gaping hole in the Special Educational Needs (SEN) budget: the Education Select Committee’s report projected a deficit of between £1.2-£1.6bn, much of this a result of the brutal cuts by central Government to Local Authority budgets at the same time as the statutory provision was extended to include 19-25 year olds. The Government’s funding announcement, even if it delivers on it, promises £700m SEN provision, leaving a shortfall of up to £900m that can’t be filled through other means. Surrey’s SEN services are in a particularly bad state, experiencing a 55% increase in demand between 2015 and 2019 with no extra funding. (County Councils Network, July 2019).

Meanwhile, the social and emotional pressures on our children have never been greater: 8 out of 10 teachers say that children’s mental health has deteriorated in the last two years (Guardian report), while mental health referrals for primary school children have increased by 50% in 3 years (BBC News report).

That’s why my promises on education also include:

  • Protecting the mental health of children with a mental health pathway beginning in schools and reducing mental health waiting times in the NHS.

  • Better provision for Special Educational Needs

All our children deserve the best possible education as a basic right, and extra support and help when they need it. Our teachers deserve a pay rise, and the opportunity to teach, free from stressful SATs. Nearly a decade of funding cuts has done untold damage to schools and local authority services. This Government’s promises can’t be trusted and our public finances will be in a much worse state if we do, as they intend, crash out of the EU in October without a Deal.

Our children deserve better. Join me - and let’s provide an education system that our children will thank us for.