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Angela Rayner: 'The outlook for schools is bleak – but teachers are battling on, and we must salute them for it'

At the start of a new term, Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, has multiple concerns about funding cuts, teacher supply and the government’s commitment to new grammar schools

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At the start of a new term, Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, has multiple concerns about funding cuts, teacher supply and the government’s commitment to new grammar schools

As teachers go back to work in the classroom this week, the future for our schools looks bleak.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the schools budget will not be protected in real terms nor will it rise over the course of this parliament.  

Increased costs, including inflation and a rise in pupil numbers, mean that the schools budget will be facing real terms cuts for the first time in a generation.

Already there has been a sharp rise in the number of secondary schools which are in deficit - nearly 60 per cent of them are in the red, according to the independent National Audit Office (NAO).

Its recent report confirmed that, due to a failure to increase per pupil funding in line with inflation, there will be a “real terms reduction” in funding per pupil. 

The Department for Education (DfE) estimates that schools will need to find savings, or cuts, of £3 billion, equivalent to an 8 per cent real-terms reduction in per-pupil funding between 2014-15 and 2019-20.

Worse, the DfE has failed to communicate to schools the scale and pace of the savings that will be needed. 

And the government’s new funding formula will not address any of the challenges or cost pressures facing schools.

According to new analysis by the NUT and the ATL, the looming cuts will be even worse than predicted, with 98 per cent of schools hit.

For primary schools, that could add up to a cut, per pupil, of £447 a year, and for secondary schools, it could reach £658 a year, per pupil.

You don’t need to be an intellectual giant to understand that cuts on this scale will have an impact on the day to day running of our schools – and the quality of education that can be provided to our children.

I fear that the cuts will fall most on staff and inevitably have a knock on impact on every child.

Recruitment crisis

This at a time when, under the Tories, we have already seen the highest rate of teachers leaving the profession in a decade. The Tories have failed for the fifth year in a row to reach their own target for new recruits

And it is subjects which are key to boosting our country’s competitiveness, such as maths and science, which are among the worst hit. 

The number of teacher trainees without the training to teach maths A-level in secondary schools rose from 27 per cent to 38 per cent between 2013 and 2014. 

Meanwhile, more than half a million children are now in classes which are too big in primary school – more than 40,000 primary children are in classes of over 36 pupils. 

SureStart, which gave so many children and families the chance to get on life, has been hit hard since the Tories came into office, with more than 1 in 5 children’s centres being lost. 

The gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers remains significant, with four out of five disadvantaged pupils failing to achieve a world-class standard at secondary and more than half not reaching our primary benchmark.

The attainment gap between pupils who are eligible for free school meals and their peers is now wider than it was in 2010.

The grammar school diversion

And with all this, the Tories only answer is to bring back an old fashioned and discredited schools system which selects children at the age of 11. 

Only a tiny minority of children will qualify for places in Theresa May’s new grammar schools, relegating the vast majority to a new generation of secondary moderns in everything but name. 

There is not a single piece of evidence that supports the Tory view that grammar schools will aid social mobility – in fact, they entrench disadvantaged and leave the majority of children behind. 

Yet this is the Tory focus in 2017.

What a legacy they are leaving for our children.

We all know how important education is for every child – and for the future of our country.

It is the great liberator, the engine for progress, the vehicle to bring opportunity for all.

That’s why the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 school girls in Nigeria in 2014, to deny them that chance.

That’s why brave young girls risk death and torture in Afghanistan every day, simply for going to school. 

We should never forget those children and the importance of education in making the world a better place. 

At home, we should celebrate the hard work being done in our own schools to educate our own children.  

Despite the difficulties they face, our teachers are making real progress in enabling the next generation to fulfil their potential. We should be proud of their efforts, working in partnership with parents, support staff, governors and with the wider education community, to give all our children the chance to get on in life. 

That’s why, as we enter this New Year, I will continue to campaign for the best education possible for every child.

Angela Rayner is member of parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne and Labour’s shadow education secretary

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