Comment by Martyn Davis, Labour parliamentary candidate for Horsham

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This last week has seen the Head Teachers in West Sussex warn of the looming ‘crisis’ in funding of West Sussex schools; this situation has been a crisis waiting to happen, not just in West Sussex but across the country.

It has been the Conservative-led government’s intention and policy to reduce funding across the education sector, particularly within secondary and further education. In the past five years public spending on education in the UK has fallen by 3.5% per year in real terms between 2010–11 and 2014–15. This represents the largest cut in education spending over any four-year period since at least the 1950s, and would return education spending as a share of national income back to 4.6% by 2014–15. Spending on the early years and youth services has been cut in total by over 20% in real terms. in total. The cuts to age 16–19 education spending are of a similar magnitude.

Over the period covered by the 2010 Spending Review, the state-funded school population in England was expected to grow from 6.95 million in 2010–11 to 7.14 million children by 2014–15. Furthermore, the education leaving age will be gradually increased from 16 to 18 starting in 2013. Once phased in, this will eventually require students to stay in some form of full-time or part-time education or training until the age of 18 (instead of 17 as currently). As a result, the decline in education spending over the next few years will be spread over an increasing population, so that resources per head will probably decline by even more than total spending. The result is the average increase in funding across primary schools and secondary schools is below average inflation.

However, to reiterate spending on the education of 16- to 19-year-olds received a disproportionately large cut, as evidenced by real-terms cuts to all areas of spending in 2011–12 and additional cuts to sixth-form spending in 2014–15. These cuts take place at a time when the education leaving age is rising (from 16 to 18), which is likely to make the pressures on individual providers even greater.

In addition, during this Conservative-led government’s tenure, literacy and numeracy standards in the UK have fallen and show no improvement at all in the last three years with the result that our 15-year-olds are now three years behind those in the world’s best education system, in maths. This is the conclusion of the 2014 PISA tests - of 15-year-olds in 65 different countries in maths, reading and science. The figures show that the UK is 26th in maths out of 65 countries, 23rd in reading and 20th in science - remarkably similar positions to those in the tests in 2009 when we were 27th, 26th and 20th respectively.

Reasons for the failure to improve cited in the report includes not targeting spending effectively. It also points out that those countries which head the league tables target getting the best qualified teachers into deprived areas more strongly. Also, the report echoes earlier OECD findings that the current generation of young people in the UK are not as skilled in maths and reading as their grandparents’ generation. Comparing the UK with other major European countries or Australia/New Zealand they all do better than us.

Under the last Labour government education spending enjoyed healthy year-on-year increases. Labour has guaranteed that the Department for Education’s £58bn budget would be protected in real term whilst David Cameron said spending per pupil would be protected only in cash terms. It is clear that the Conservatives plan big cuts in spending on early-years education and further education; David Cameron failed to mention either in his promise to protect school spending in cash terms. Ed Miliband has said that: “If we do not give every young person the skills and knowledge they need we will lock in a two-tier economy.” Ed Miliband also promised that a Labour government would protect not only school spending in England but also early-years provision, childcare, special education services, the pupil premium, grants for Sure Start centres and spending on further education, sixth forms and apprenticeships for 16- to 19-year-olds.

In addition, Labour will block new free schools in areas where there is already adequate provision while ensuring over-subscribed schools can expand their intake. Under the party’s plans, every school will be “locally accountable” to a new director of standards, while all head teachers will be given the freedoms currently available to those running academies, which include finance. Labour would also look to attract many of the 200,000 qualified teachers who have left the profession in recent years back into schools, while also bringing in compulsory work experience for all young people between 14 and 16 and guaranteeing all children in state schools two hours of organised sport a week.

It must be remembered that education is the only investment that government makes that will guarantee a return in that investment through income tax and corporation tax, which is based upon increased earning potential. Only Labour has robust plans and policies to ensure this happens. The conservatives do not seem to realise or care that eventually if all your plans are about cutting you run the risk of cutting the very life blood out of the economy. Investment into the longer term economy begins with education

Yours sincerely,

Martyn Davis

Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Horsham