Angela Rayner: 'Is education in crisis? The answer is undoubtedly yes'

21st April 2017 at 17:18
Time and time again the Conservatives have broken their manifesto pledges on schools – and it is our children who have paid the price for their failure, writes Labour’s shadow education secretary

Since taking office in 2010, the Conservatives have offered much in the way of rhetoric on education, but have consistently failed to make it a reality.

They promised us that they would recruit and keep the best teachers, yet our schools are facing both a recruitment crisis and a retention crisis, with teachers leaving the profession in record numbers and more planning to follow them.

They also promised in their manifesto that the money following our children into schools would be protected, and that funding would rise in line with pupil numbers. But what have we seen on this? Per-pupil funding is actually falling and the National Audit Office has confirmed that schools are required to make £3 billion in efficiency savings. But the Department for Education does not know where it expects schools to make these savings.

As we head towards a general election, it should serve as a worrying reminder that this government has continually broken promises it made to the British people.

It is clear the Tories cannot be trusted on anything they say on education. Back in their 2010 manifesto, it was promised that they would create “small schools with smaller class sizes”. The former prime minister, David Cameron, felt strongly enough to clearly state that “the more we can get class sizes down the better”.

In fact, when Theresa May was in my role as shadow education secretary, her thoughts were that large class sizes indicated that a school was reaching crisis point.

Well, my question to the prime minister now is, are our schools reaching crisis point?

I think this is a question I have an answer to myself: yes, they are and all the evidence shows it. But as we know, our prime minister and the education secretary are certainly not fans of evidence.

Super-size classes

Analysis by the Department for Education itself has revealed that over half a million children are now in super-size classes over 30 in primary schools, and this number is continuing to rise. Of these, 40,000 are in classes over 36, and more than 16,000 are in class sizes of at least 40.

The same story now applies to secondary schools. More than 300,000 pupils are taught in classes of over 30, with over 18,000 of these being in classes of 36 or more.

It is a damning verdict indeed when your own department’s figures show that you are failing to keep yet another manifesto promise.

Back in January 2010, there were only 16 primary schools that had more than 800 pupils in them. Looking at the trends, I think we can all guess what has happened to that figure. It has shot up to 109 schools – an increase of some 581 per cent. I don’t know about you but these do not appear to be the “small schools with smaller class sizes” that we were promised by David Cameron, nor does it appear that Theresa May can keep this promise and stop our schools reaching crisis point.

Without any long-term plan from this chaotic government, this crisis is simply going to continue. Figures from the Department for Education estimated that between 2015-16 and 2019-20 there is to be an increase of 3.9 per cent in primary school pupils and an increase of 10.3 per cent in secondary school pupils.

Also, as we have seen over recent months, the crisis in schools funding being created by this government will only exacerbate the problem. This argument was recently confirmed by the Public Accounts Committee in its report into the financial sustainability of schools. It concluded that to reduce staff costs to make ends meet with the budget cuts schools face, they will have to increase both teachers' contact time and class sizes. The report suggested that the DfE does not have the necessary arrangements in place to identify, and therefore act, when the actions schools take to make savings will threaten the quality of education and educational outcomes.

The government has all this information laid out in front of it, yet is still incapable of acting to fix this crisis. This should be of grave concern to all parents: this is not about political point scoring but about securing the best education possible for all our children.

Time and time again the Tories have broken their manifesto pledges on education, and time and time again it is our children who have had to pay the price for their failure, and it is the hundreds of thousands of children in super-sized classes who will not get the education they deserve. Only a Labour government will ensure that every child is given the opportunity to reach their full potential.

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