Boris Johnson doesn’t understand the urgency of the schools-funding crisis.
Given all the rumours about a general election, you would think he would want schools to feel the benefit of this weekend’s schools-funding news sooner rather than later.
But no. We’ll have to wait until next year.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted the campaigning is starting to pay off. This money has been hard to come by. Teachers and parents have taken to the streets to demand funding for their children’s schools. All credit is due to them.
But the Conservatives are keeping them waiting. Some schools will get some money in the spring. Academies – which include most secondary schools – will have to wait until September 2020.
For schools worried that they will have to cut the number of teaching assistants this term, this doesn’t help.
Schools are in crisis now. Teachers need resources this week, not next year. One year in a young child’s life can make all the difference for their life chances. This isn’t about grabbing pre-election headlines. This is about changing children’s futures.
We won’t know the full picture for a while yet, but it looks like this announcement might – just might – get per-pupil funding back to 2015 levels in real terms.
Hooray! Only seven years late, then. And it’s the schools in the richest areas, which take fewer children from disadvantaged backgrounds, that will get more of the money.
Teachers and parents expect better than this. The reversing of school cuts cannot wait. That’s why Liberal Democrats are campaigning for an emergency funding boost of more than £2 billion for this school year.
There’s more to be done, too. The number of children with special educational needs and disabilities who get support from their council has skyrocketed. The government only announced £700 million extra for these children: about half of what is needed.
And our colleges need certainty. Sixth forms and further education colleges need more specialist equipment, teach a wider range of subjects and often have smaller class sizes than schools. So why are they paid less per pupil?
My party wants to correct this injustice. At our party conference, Liberal Democrats will reveal an investment package worth more than £1bn for 16-19 education. It includes giving colleges more money to support disadvantaged students, by extending the pupil premium to young people aged 17 and 18.
But the problems in our education system run much deeper.
The high-stakes testing culture in our schools has become toxic. Hundreds of hours of teaching time is spent preparing our Year 6 children for Sats – a week of tests that mean nothing to their life chances. Yet, for teachers and headteachers, it’s one of the few publicly available measures of their school’s performance, published on league tables and factored into Ofsted inspections for all to see.
Teachers’ reputations – and often their jobs – depend on those numbers. Seven years of a child’s primary school education are reduced to seven numbers on a screen.
This isn’t a way to run a school. We must lower the stakes of education and trust teachers to get on with the job. Instead of wasting time and energy on unnecessary tests and narrow curriculums, we should let teachers focus on what it takes to support their pupils.
Liberal Democrats want to axe Sats, replace Ofsted and scrap league tables. But this will mean more transparency for parents, not less. Teachers will use a range of methods – formal and informal – to work out where a class is at. We want reviews from nearby teachers and survey feedback from parents to be published online, so that parents searching for a new school get the whole picture. And we would create a new watchdog to support schools to succeed, not punish them for failure.
I want every child to come home from school happy, healthy and with the skills they need to thrive in the modern world. I don’t want children who just know how to be tested.
But we can only succeed when our schools are fully funded. Boris Johnson doesn’t think the crisis is urgent. You and I know that it is. We cannot let our children down for another year.
Layla Moran MP is the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson