I work closely with teachers across the North East. They are committed to the principle that education makes an enormous difference to children’s lives. But they also know it’s not the only factor.
They tell me about how poverty has a significant impact on the education and attainment of many children.
Across the UK 30% of children live in poverty. But in Newcastle Central it is much higher, with 44% of children growing up below the poverty line.
Our schools and teachers alone cannot address society-wide inequity and the effects of poverty on educational achievement. It is the responsibility of Government to create the conditions in which all children can thrive.
Our education system is in crisis, and with no significant increase in funding on the horizon, it’s unlikely this will change anytime soon.
Government claims that school funding has been protected are simply not true. In fact, when looked at in real terms, £2.8bn has been cut from school budgets since 2015. Spending per pupil has declined by 8% and capital funding has been cut by a third.
In our region the reductions in funding per-pupil between 2015/16 and 2020/21 are:
Middlesbrough - £574.00
Sunderland Central - £387.00
Redcar - £363.00
Hartlepool - £313
Gateshead - £322
Newcastle Central - £294.00
What do these cuts mean for our schools? Not only a funding crisis, but subsequently a recruitment and retention crisis too.
Years of pay settlements below inflation and excessive workloads are driving teachers away and deterring new recruits. And teachers are being asked to do more, with less, for less, for longer.
Research by the School Cuts coalition of unions shows that 62% of state secondary schools had larger classes in 2017 than two years before. Bigger classes result in less individual support for children and the potential for lessons to revert to the Victorian era of ‘one size fits all’.
I also regularly hear about schools are struggling to afford basic supplies. It means hard-pressed parents are frequently called on to pay for things like textbooks and art materials.
And what is the inevitable consequence of all of this? That the quality and safety of our education system deteriorates and the life chances of our children and young people erode.
We are standing side by side with our unions and sending a message to all the parties in the election. We need a new approach to education.
Instead of cuts, we need investment. Instead of driving teachers into the ground, we need decency and dignity for staff. Instead of real-terms pay cuts, we need fair pay rises.
We need a transformative national education service that will support us from primary school to adult education and lifelong learning.
Only with these changes can we end the crisis and give our children the education system they deserve.
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