The core issue for our education system is underfunding. There have been so many cuts to funding in real terms in recent years. In my role as a school governor in a local school, I have seen how budgets have been cut substantially whilst costs are going up. Schools have no funds left anymore. They have been forced to cut so many valuable things. My school no longer offers swimming lessons because they can’t afford them. Parents are having to contribute increased amounts for school trips or for external specialists to visit the school. Many schools are now so underfunded that they have got to the point of having four-and-a-half-day weeks, and the children are no longer taught on Friday afternoons. There is nothing left to cut. I think that it’s completely wrong that there just isn’t enough money for the basics for our children. It’s disastrous, and we have got to rectify the school funding system.
The Lib Dems are looking at increasing funding back to 2015 levels in real terms, which is what campaigners have been asking for. We will give a cash injection to put funding back to a reasonable level. We will recruit 20,000 more teachers, and increase teachers’ pay, and that pay increase must be funded; it can’t just come out of schools’ budgets. We are committed to doing that. In the coalition, the Lib Dems introduced pupil premium to help children in need. We want to build on that achievement by tripling the early years pupil premium to give the most disadvantaged pupils a boost. We also introduced free school meals for infant stage children and we will roll that out to all primary school children.
The Lib Dems are committed to abolishing OFSTED. At the moment, the system of inspections is putting so much pressure on schools, on teachers and pupils alike. That is not what teachers should be worrying about. They should be able to focus on educating children.
I am very concerned that teachers at the moment are having to try to compensate for cuts to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and cuts to Social Services. So many vulnerable children are being let down because crucial services have been cut back. Teachers have been forced to try to step into the gap. They have done an amazing job in difficult circumstances, but they don’t have the training and resources to make good the gaps in provision. We need to put resources into CAMHS and social services so that children have the specialist resources they need, and so that teachers can focus on educating them. We can’t continue to let children down.