Ash pearce - Labour Church Ward Councillor
Church's Labour Team, led by our Councillor Ashley Pearce

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Education Funding Crisis

There is a crisis in Education. Ours schools are being starved of cash from this Tory Government. Recently Michael Gove a Tory leadership candidate, promised an “extra” £1bn for education if he is selected as leader. This “extra” would not even come close to making up for all of the money this Government has already cut. The equivalent of someone burgling all of your belongings but then offering to hand back your alarm clock.

A recent briefing from the Local Government Association, which remember is a body made up of local Councillors from ALL parties set a damning picture for the education scene in the UK. Some of its key findings were:

“Schools will see a real terms cut of 4.6% in schools funding between 2015-2019”. This means less equipment for pupils, this means fewer teaching assistants, and this means fewer staff. This means our kids not getting the education they deserve. In Reading last year we passed a motion calling on Education Secretary Damian Hinds to at least halt these cuts, a motion shamefully not backed by our Tory colleagues. They need to answer, if they are not even willing to call for a halt to the cuts, what do they want? More severe cuts!?

“We remain concerned the National Funding Formula will not address the significant budgetary pressures schools are currently experiencing. The current local flexibility allowed under the soft implementation of the new NFF must continue beyond 2020”. At the moment Central Government funds schools from different pots of money in different ways. Some money goes directly to the schools and some to the local Council who can allocate to areas and schools in higher need. This will soon stop. Soon Councils will be by passed all together, leaving a Whitehall department making these decisions, taking all local accountability and over sight away. The new funding formula will also hit some areas much harder than others.

“Since 2014 the number of children and young people with Education Health and Care plans increased by 21.1% (or over 50,000). From 5.6% to 8.8%. The proportion of pupils with SEND who attend special schools has increased from 5.6% to 8.5%. Councils are particularly concerned about the proposed changes to high needs funding which will reduce Council and school flexibility”. Students with SEND have been hit the hardest by this Governments cuts. It is harder to get an EHCP, it is harder to find and see any specialist help and it is harder to get a suitable school place. Since 2010 all pupils have seen funding cuts of 8% per head but this figure more than doubles when we look at pupils with SEND. These students are also more likely to face exclusion. In Reading we are taking steps to increase capacity with The Avenue expanding, Blessed Hugh Faringdon opening its new ASC unit next month, we have approval for a new SEN school with a focus on helping our autistic students and 2 new Primary ASC units to open next year. But we are running just to stand still. The number of students that need help is rising but our funding is falling. We as a local authority are also not allowed by law to run and govern any of these new schools.

The Government’s Early intervention Grant has been cut by almost £60million since 2013 and is projected to drop by a further £183m by 2020”. Sure Start centres were one of the Labour Government’s greatest creations in my view. They were universal, helped those that needed it most at a time in a child’s development when it mattered most. They helped decrease inequality and boosted young people’s life chances. This Government’s destruction of these is a disgrace and shows what the Tory party really means, the party of inequality. It has no desire to help the many, just the few.

Since 2010 Council’s have created an extra 80,000 new school places. If we are to meet the demand for school places, councils should be given back the powers to open maintained schools”. Legally Councils MUST provide a school place for every child, and quite rightly. But we are unable to build and run new schools. If we need new school places or expansions, we must go to academy schools and ask them for help. What a strange system. It used to be that locally elected Councillors decided if a new school was needed, if, when and where it would be opened. That decision is now made from a faceless suit in Whitehall. No local accountability, no local democracy, no devolution. Surely local MP’s, Councillors and Governors would be better placed to do this?

Councils have an excellent track record in improving school, and should be given necessary powers to intervene and support schools”. It is a local Council’s job to maintain standards in ALL schools, but our powers are extremely limited in the case of academies. We can offer help, and have happily done so in many cases, but we have to wait to be invited in if a school requires help. It is down to the School and the regional schools commissioner (who for our area oversees all academies from Milton Keynes to Swindon) to check standards. One person for hundreds and hundreds of schools.

I am an Economics teacher and one of the greatest concepts in my subject is Opportunity Cost, basically consequences of choices. If I go to the Cinema one night I can’t go to the football on the same night. It is worth noting what this Government says we can afford: an income tax cut for millionaires, an inheritance tax cut for those lucky enough to inherit over £1m, a tax cut for the UK’s biggest companies, millions on the failure of Universal credit, billions on no deal Brexit preparations, even millions this week on a state visit from Donal Trump. Things we can’t afford according to them – adequately funding the education of our future. I know which I would prefer to happen.

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