I was disturbed to be given a copy of a letter from the Head of Saffron Walden County High School. In the letter the Head draws attention to the issue of inadequate school funding, and asks for it to be a cornerstone of the election campaign. In my experience it is unprecedented for a Head Teacher to write to parents in this manner, and indicates the seriousness of the crisis facing our schools.
The letter states that £3 billion is being withdrawn from school budgets in England, pupil funding is decreasing by 8% at a time when pupil numbers are increasing significantly, and recruitment, particularly of specialist teachers, is becoming difficult. The letter includes a list of questions for parents to ask candidates in the General Election.
For the record, the questions and my answers are as follows:
What are your priorities with regard to the allocation of funding to all schools and to each pupil? We would invest £7 billion extra in children’s education, so that no school loses money per pupil in cash terms.
How will you ensure that school budgets are protected in real terms for the duration of the next parliament? Please avoid telling me that more is being spent on schools; we have more children of school age than ever and costs are rising. We will reverse all cuts to frontline school and college budgets, protecting per pupil funding in real terms; and introduce a fairer National Funding System with protection for all schools.
Some schools are looking to create classes of 60 – 100 children in the school hall because they cannot afford enough teachers. What are you going to do to prevent that? Liberal Democrats will ensure state-funded schools are not run for a profit, and schools are built only where there is demand. We will tackle recruitment and retention issues, ending the 1% cap on teachers’ pay rises, introducing professional development entitlement and tackling unnecessary workloads by properly phasing in all new policies.
Our children should be provided with a broad curriculum, great support and enriching activities. How will you ensure my child has the educational experience they deserve? Liberal Democrats will scrap proposals to create new divisive selective schools or expand existing selective schools within the state sector and repeal the ban on new local authority maintained schools.
How will you ensure education for children with Special Educational Needs is adequately resourced? A large funding gap in this area is detracting much needed funds from all schools. We will triple the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1000 – giving children from disadvantaged backgrounds the best start in life, and ensuring that special educational needs are identified early.