I want to talk about something that we shouldn’t have to talk about in 2019.
It should be a given that our schools have the funding they need to give our children the best start in life.
But that’s not the case. The Conservatives repeatedly tell us that schools have never had more money. That they’ve never had it as good.
The real terms figures tell the real story. One in which school income is not keeping up with pupil numbers.
Our education system has been reduced to a meat processor.
In my own constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon, 89% of schools are facing a funding shortfall, the cumulative size of the shortfall since 2015/16 being almost £5 million across the constituency.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that so many stories are emerging of teachers cutting back their hours and parents being asked for donations because our schools cannot afford the very basics, like textbooks and stationery.
Children with special educational needs, a disability or a mental health condition are the first to suffer from such brutal funding cuts. My inbox and postbags have been filled by correspondence from constituents who see this every day in our schools, and in many cases are experiencing it in their own families.
This being the allocation of central government funding, surely the causes of the current crisis are really complex?
Nope. There are two main causes for the current blight on our schools.
The first is that education policy is being done at the profession, not with it. I’m very concerned that Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Education, has refused calls from head teachers across the country to meet with him to vocalise their concerns. Who else can give him a realistic picture of what’s happening in our schools, if not front-line staff?
Our education system is a victim of politics, specifically the whims of the Education Secretary of the day. Rote learning historical dates? Of course! Times tables over everything else mathematical? Sure!
The dual burdens of real-terms cuts and excessive workloads are driving teachers from the profession in droves.
The second problem is that the money just isn’t there, at a time when pupil numbers are rising quickly. Whilst the Government committed to increasing the core schools budget in line with inflation until 2020, the number of secondary school pupils will rise by more than 10%. The new National Funding Formula didn’t fix this.
Neither did the extra £1.3 billion found for the core schools budget after the 2017 snap election, in which 750,000 people switched their vote due to concerns about school funding (Survation). Put simply, the money wasn’t new. Shuffling existing budgets around is no substitute for a real injection of cash when our schools are at breaking point.
The numbers speak for themselves: 91% of schools will still have less money per pupil in real terms in 2020 than they did in 2015.
I want to see real change. These damaging cuts have exposed the dark underbelly of our education system, and we can do so much better.
But we can’t completely overhaul our school system, as I want to do, working cross-party, if our schools cannot afford basic resources and enough teachers.
Yes, I want to see the replacement of Ofsted, and yes, I want to put an end to our culture of teaching to the test.
The Liberal Democrats want to reverse the schools cuts since 2015; that would mean an extra £2.2 billion to our schools – new money from the Treasury. Add to that £7 billion of capital investment to maintain our schools and increase the number of school places, plus extra funding for Education, Health and Care Plans for those children most in need, and we’re on our way.
And we need to stop teachers leaving what can still be an inspiring profession to be a part of. That means proper pay. Teachers should be paid directly from the Treasury, not from existing local budgets.
Every teacher and head teacher I meet when campaigning against these disastrous cuts tells me the same story: our education system has been reduced to a meat processor, where performance data and spreadsheet cells matter more than giving our children the best start in life. Teachers are left feeling like over-worked cogs in the machine, and our kids miss out on a truly twenty-first-century education.
So yes, I want to see the replacement of Ofsted, and yes, I want to put an end to our culture of teaching to the test.
But we cannot do that without adequate funding. It’s really that simple.
I’m going to continue to fight this and thank you for your support as we work to get our schools the money they desperately need.