I could not agree more. The Select Committee on Education will be looking at that issue in its inquiry.
Sadly, many children across the country are not given the appropriate support. “Growing up North”, a report by the Children’s Commissioner for England, stated that
“it is also important to understand that a disproportionate number of children in the North are growing up in communities of entrenched disadvantage which have not enjoyed the financial growth or government energy and spotlight that have so boosted opportunities in other areas of the country—London and the South East in particular. As a result, too many disadvantaged children in the North are being left behind.”
That report, alongside work from other organisations such as the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, shows that children are being denied the same quality education and support based just on where they are born.
Furthermore, the Social Mobility Commission’s 2017 “state of the nation” report found that:
“Disadvantaged children are 14 percentage points less likely to be school-ready at age five in coldspots than hotspots: in 94 areas, under half of disadvantaged children reach a good level of development at age five.”
Those are shocking statistics. Both those reports highlight the devastating impact that the lack of social mobility has on children who go to school without having the best start in life—hungry, in dirty clothes, and potentially lacking social and emotional support. This has an impact on the child all the way through their educational journey and into adulthood; it is a cycle of deprivation. I have witnessed such deprivation at first hand throughout my teaching career.
An essential part of delivering this quality education to each child is a nurturing and supportive school environment. I know that teachers and headteachers across the country are working so hard to provide the best education for our children, but funding cuts over the past several years have made their job increasingly difficult.
Secondly, the Prime Minister said:
“For some children, that will be an education that is firmly based in learning practical and vocational skills.”
In addition to the schools system, our colleges and sixth forms are being starved of funding. Figures from the Sixth Form Colleges Association state that 50% of schools and colleges have dropped courses in modern foreign languages, 34% have dropped STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects, 67% have reduced student support services and extra-curricular support, and 77% are teaching students in larger classes. Since 2010, total expenditure on 16-to-18 education has fallen by an incredible 17.5% in real terms. This area of our education system has been hit hard by cuts.
I have heard personally from leaders in my constituency just how much pressure and stress this is placing on them. In 2017-18, funding for sixth-form colleges is £5,400 per student—the same as it was, in real terms, in 1990. How does supporting a young person by a quarter of what their peers receive demonstrate that the Government value all those who choose practical or vocational qualifications? As was said in one of our sessions at the Education Committee:
“If we were given £9,000 to train health workers, what an amazing system we would have!”
Each one of our young people deserves to have an education and career choices, and to be respected and valued. Is it too much to ask for a genuine and balanced commitment to the further education route?
“For others, it will be an education based on academic excellence.”
Cutting subjects, raising class sizes and forcing students to learn in dilapidated sheds will not allow academic excellence to be achieved to its fullest potential. Across the UK, £2.8 billion has been cut from school budgets since 2015. That breaks down to an average of £45,000 per primary school and £185,000 per secondary school. Academic excellence should not be open just to those who are wealthy and can afford to pay for private schools for tuition—it should be something that every child, in every classroom, in every school in the country can aspire to.