There is much that I could say about last week’s Budget, but given the time constraints I will limit my remarks to the specific topic of today’s debate, education and skills.
In recent weeks there have been protests in my constituency, as there have been across the country, against cuts to school budgets. Parents have taken to the streets, concerned about fewer teachers and support staff, reduced curriculums and fewer opportunities for their children. So what good news did last week’s Budget contain for those concerned mums and dads? The answer is, very little. Ministers ramped up their grammar school rhetoric and made a lot of noise about being on the side of aspiration, and they hoped no one would notice that they have no real solutions for the schools that are struggling most.
The Government’s education policy is nothing more than an aspirational mirage, with £320 million allocated for up to 140 new free schools, 30 of which will be open by September 2020, some of which could be grammars. That sum of £320 million may sound like a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of things it is not. In Lewisham, Building Schools for the Future, under which nine secondary schools and two special schools were rebuilt, was a £285 million programme. That was in just one borough in one city.