By Morag Warren / Education / / 0 Comments
I met with the headteacher of Swalecliffe School, Mr Cooper, yesterday to discuss his concerns on the issue of school funding. All of Whitstable’s schools share his concern and as a teacher and parent myself, I do too. I am meeting with our MP, Rosie Duffield later this week to discuss how we can support Swalecliffe and all of our local schools.
Last September, over 2000 headteachers from across the country including many of our Whitstable heads, took the unprecedented step of protesting outside Parliament. They have seen budgets slashed, and are finding themselves unable to plan properly due to uncertainty. How have so many headlines been dedicated to how Brexit will affect British business, and so few about the millions of children whose life chances are impacted negatively by the Tory government’s slashing of school budgets? The government claim that school funding is higher than ever – a brilliant example of misuse of statistics. In real terms, schools’ budgets have been cut by 8% since 2010. For over 16s, 20% has been sliced away from investing in their futures. So when Worth Less, the campaign group set up to represent thousands of headteachers have written 3 times to our government since September, pleading for an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State for Education, to have a request answered by a junior civil servant: “I am afraid that, on this occasion, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State must decline your offer to meet. I hope you will understand that their time is heavily pressurised and their diaries need to be prioritised according to ministerial, Parliamentary and constituency business.” headteachers are rightly furious at the clear lack of care shown by the government. What could be more important than our children’s futures?
Mr Cooper spoke passionately and knowledgably about the financial issues that schools in the Coastal Alliance are facing. This includes not just Whitstable, but Herne Bay and surrounding areas too. He appreciates that austerity has affected schools’ budgets, and he and his headteacher colleagues have made many, many cuts over the past few years. He says that the shift from fairly easy decisions which will have minimal impact on the running of the school like perhaps not replacing support staff who leave, limiting disposable resources and changing suppliers has progressed rapidly to having to make serious financial decisions which will directly affect children’s education. This fills him and his colleagues with horror, and has driven his involvement with the Worth Less campaign. All of the schools in the Coastal Alliance are currently assessed by Ofsted as being Good or Outstanding. Mr Cooper was very clear that these gradings are hard won and well deserved, and that they are placing their excellent reputations in jeopardy by being forced to make cuts which will now directly affect children’s education.
Mr Cooper also spoke about the requirement for schools to have 3 year financial plans, despite only knowing what their budgets will be for the next academic year alone. He has to plan for an unknown budget. And of course is assessed by Ofsted on his ability to do so. All the ‘business managers’ now necessarily employed by schools to make head or tail of such legislation up and down the country face an impossible task. Frequent changes to funding for children with SEND make the job harder still, and headteachers are pleading for the flexibility they need to provide for the children they have a legal obligation to care for. Mr Cooper is very clear that it is these most vulnerable children who are beating the brunt of the cuts. Schools need to be able to plan long-term, and to not be subject to the political whims of Parliament. A 5 or better still, 10 year budget would allow schools to run more efficiently. I wonder why schools are treated like businesses when it suits our Tory government, and yet are also treated like children given pocket money?
Let’s be clear on this – austerity is a political choice. If our amazing local schools like Swalecliffe are placed at risk by this government’s lack of care for our children, parents of Whitstable will not stand for it. This is no longer about not buying branded glue sticks or not having the newest whiteboard in town – it’s about our teaching staff, the lessons our children learn and their experience of school. Our children deserve to be treated as the highest priority of this government – please support our headteachers and the teaching unions when they say enough is enough. Your local Labour MP, councillors, candidates and activists are passionate campaigners for schools, and we will support them wherever we can.
By Gill Gower / Education / / 0 Comments

Canterbury’s two big Universities, Kent and Canterbury Christ Church, face growing financial stress because of the Tory Government’s massive reduction in funding for universities and students.  A review of University finances is planning cuts in the fees payable by students, which will fall from £9,250 a year to £6,500, and stopping at least 20,000 students from going to University.

These new plans by the Tories mean big gaps between the income Universities get from fees and the actual cost of running courses and campuses. It may also mean a cap on student numbers, which in turn will result in job losses across the board.

Canterbury Christ Church has already cut some courses and jobs, and there are many other Universities across Britain on the edge.

With the national shortage of nurses, midwives and healthcare professionals, this should be a time of expansion for our universities. But the loss of bursaries and the increase in the cost of training means that they are struggling to recruit.

The consequences of the slash and burn Tory policy will be to lower student numbers, courses abolished, jobs cut, all of which will have a big knock on negative effect on our local economy.

This is really bad news for Canterbury, and we have to stop it.

By Emma Slater / Education / 0 Comments

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture given by Melissa Benn at Canterbury Christ Church University. She presented the case for a National Education Service which is of course part of the Labour manifesto, although she pointed out that it has the potential for universal cross party appeal.

Her talk was excellent- she gave an overview of the history of our education system with a comparison to the NHS. She addressed the issues facing our broken education system, including: the bewildering amount of different school types, leading parents to focus on consumer choice as opposed to expecting all schools to be of a decent standard; the unnecessary high stakes testing of pupils from the age of 4 and the related narrowing of the curriculum into ‘measurable’ subjects; and the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. There was also talk about the accountability of academies, the problem of independent schools and of course the thorny and emotional local issue of selective education.

A National Education Service would be a cradle to grave service- truly free and inclusive education for life. Schools would be put back in the hands of local authorities and would be comprehensive. Teachers and practitioners would be highly skilled and highly qualified and would be trusted to understand child development and to do their jobs. There would be proper investment in all education sectors including, crucially, the early years. She cited the education systems of Finland and Canada as examples that our country could do well to emulate. The discussion that followed the lecture was illuminating as the room was full of a variety of interesting people who knew their stuff.

The B word was largely avoided, but when a woman who had been educated in Canada pointed out that our system is seen as one of the most fragmented and insular systems in the world, I immediately thought of Gove and his arrogant disdain for ‘experts’ during his leave campaigning and the utter destruction he caused prior to that during his four years as Education Secretary. As a parent and former teacher I am keen to get the topic of education back on the table and start to reverse some of Gove’s damage. So many children are currently missing out on quality early years education, falling through the cracks because of a lack of early intervention or excluded due to lack of SEN funding or suitable provision and this all needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

While I acknowledge Melissa Benn’s assertion that the full aims of a National Education Service will take decades to achieve, I can also see the rapid improvements that could be made at both local and national level once Labour are in charge. Her new book ‘Life Lessons: The Case for a National Education Service’ is available now.