We need to talk about this idea of best/worst schools

July 17, 2019 1:40 PM
By Zoe Franklin

School ChildrenThis week saw the release of the Real Schools Guide 2019 and meant the publication of the annual 'best' and 'worst' performing schools in Surrey by local media. It's all too easy to read the reports of the 'worst' schools and label them and/or their pupils as failures, to blame their teachers and judge their leadership teams. Doing so is targeting the wrong people - we should be turning our eyes and judgement on the Conservative government.

The Conservatives have repeatedly told us that schools have never had more money. The real terms figures tell a very different story. One in which school income is simply not keeping up with pupil needs.

Here in Guildford constituency (which includes Cranleigh and the surrounding villages) two thirds of schools are facing a funding shortfall and the cumulative size of the total shortfall across all Guildford schools since 2015/16 is almost £6 million. The hardest hit are frequently our secondary schools and also primary schools in the poorest communities.

Schools are being asked to provide the education our children and young people need on an ever-decreasing budget. They are also being asked to take on greater responsibilities alongside their teaching roles, such as watching for signs of child sexual abuse and being trained to help support children and young people with mental health problems. As a parent and former school governor I have seen the inspiring work of school leaders and teachers as they seek to educate the next generation. I have witnessed the deeply challenging conversations that school leaders across our country are having to have as they are forced to decide what to cut next. No decision is taken lightly, and pupils are always front and centre of that decision-making process.

We should not be putting head teachers in the position of having to choose between building repairs and school textbooks, or heating bills and another teacher or teaching assistant's salary. We've even started to see stories of schools closing early on a Friday - sounds great if you're a pupil but this is damaging to children's educational prospects and unworkable for any working parent.

Only this week I received a message from a parent sharing with me how at a meeting for parents of children moving up to secondary school in September they were asked apologetically by the head teacher for funding for essential school resources. My son is also moving up to secondary in September and families at my son's future school have been asked same.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

The Liberal Democrats and I want to reverse the real-terms schools cuts that have been in place 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 children with special educational and behavioural needs.

On top of that we need to stop talented teachers leaving a profession they are passionate about. That means proper pay. Teachers should be paid directly from the Treasury, not from existing local budgets.

Children and young people are our future. Their education today sets them up for a positive future tomorrow and for our society's continued success.

We need real, urgent change now to ensure schools have the funding they need.