Last week, Parliament was packed full of teachers, parents and their children, so committed to the cause of education that they travelled to Westminster during their half-term break to lobby their MPs about school funding cuts. This was a key doorstep issue for all candidates during the General Election campaign and five months on our constituents’ concerns have not faded. Many are deeply worried that cutting funds for children’s education is short-sighted and deeply damaging to their life chances.
The School Cuts campaign website (www.schoolcuts.org.uk) calculates that 88% of schools in England are being cut in real terms compared with 2015 and that present and future levels of financial commitment fall well short of what is needed to maintain real terms funding. These figures haven’t been plucked out of the air, they are based on projections by the Government’s own Department for Education and the independent Office for Budget Responsibility.
Across Gateshead Borough the figures are bleak. We expect to see a total loss of £3.2 million for our schools by 2020. 64 of 76 schools will face cuts despite the Government’s so-called “fair funding” formula, announced earlier this autumn. Cuts to Gateshead schools are the equivalent of losing 72 teachers at the top of the main pay scale.
With record numbers of children in our schools, £2.8 billion has been cut from school budgets since 2015 and school funding is £2bn a year less than it was. But rather than tackling the problem head on, the Education Secretary Justine Greening has simply moved £1.3 billion from other areas of education spending to core school funding, robbing Peter to pay Paul. The Government recognises there is a problem, but they are so ideologically pinned to austerity that they are unwilling to provide a real solution.
School funding is in crisis. My constituents expect to see a response from Government that responds to the magnitude of the problem, and invests accordingly in the country’s future. They look forward to commitments in this month’s Autumn Budget to reinvest at least £2bn a year to end the underfunding of our schools. But this hapless government is unlikely to give them the answers they are looking for.
Genuine fair funding for all schools is something that the public expect all parties to agree on, yet once again we have a Tory government who are unwilling to invest properly in our children. Education cuts never heal. South of the Tyne, our Gateshead schools have progressed from being amongst the lowest attaining schools in the 1980s to some of the best performing in the country. Decent funding was a key element in delivering this success, as running good schools costs money. Tory austerity and the belief that public services can be run on a shoestring budget threatens that progress.
Heads in my constituency, Blaydon, believe their schools are now at a tipping point because of the cash shortage. They report being increasingly unable to retain good teachers and teaching assistants. Many teachers are paying hundreds of pounds from their own pockets to buy classroom materials, their classroom contact-time is on the up and schools simply don’t have the funds to undertake building repairs.
In our popular election manifesto my party set out our own priorities for building a world-class education system. In stark contrast to the Tories, Labour are not ashamed to commit to funding every school and every child fairly, so that no child is left behind.
Since 2010 the Tories have savaged our flagship Sure Start programme. We know that the early years of childhood are the most important for reducing inequalities so we’ll reverse their cuts to nursery funding to give every child the best start in life.
And we’ll make sure that education doesn’t end in your late teens or early twenties. Under the leadership of Angela Rayner, the next Labour government will build a cradle-to-grave National Education Service, so that every person can reach their full potential in life, with learning opportunities for everyone, regardless of their age. We know that investing in education is the right way to build a better, more prosperous Britain for the many, not the few.