Despite Government ministers endlessly trotting out the line that funding for schools in England is at a record high, concerns are still being expressed in Dewsbury, Mirfield, Denby Dale and Kirkburton about the sufficiency of overall school funding and cost pressures faced by schools.
I’m listening to those headteachers who have to face the realities of funding shortfalls and make tough decisions over school days, support staff and SEN provision.
Their concerns are backed up by the Institute for Fiscal Studies whose figures show that total school funding per pupil fell by eight per cent in real terms between 2010 and 2018.
Chronic underfunding is crippling our schools and forcing them to make decisions that cut corners. With fewer support staff our teachers are having to shift their workloads so they can take on caretaking, cleaning or catering duties, leaving less time to focus on what is academically best for the children.
I hear too often from parents who have a child with a disability or additional needs, who tell me of the difficulties they have faced in accessing essential services when they need them.
I’ve been concerned to see the latest research from the National Education Union, that special education needs and disabilities (SEND) provision has been cut by an enormous £1.2 billion since 2015.
It’s disgraceful that in one of the richest countries in the world, children with special educational needs are not receiving the support they need, and an absolute scandal that the most vulnerable children in our society are paying the price of these Tory cuts.
The catalogue of horror stories coming from our schools is undeniable.
Schools can’t afford the basic provision they want to provide, with relentless pressures of tests and inspections forcing the prioritisation of league tables, devastating teacher morale, and leading to a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.
It doesn’t have to be like this. As well as supporting those local heads in their calls for much needed funding and resources, I’m proud that Labour has pledged to scrap SATs testing for primary school children. SATs are another aspect of the current system that disadvantages children with special educational needs and disabilities.
They also put huge pressure on all children and divert from the rest of their education and life beyond a specific test.
Labour will encourage teaching and assessment that is fairer and more useful in helping children gain the knowledge and skills they will need throughout their lives, and support the teachers and staff in our schools with the investment and resources they need to do their jobs.
The damage being inflicted now to our education system will take decades to repair – and it is time that those responsible were held to account.