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Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 5:34 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Thelma Walker Thelma Walker Labour, Colne Valley 5:34 pm, 16th October 2019

My speech is short, but after 34 years as a teacher and headteacher, it comes from the heart.

The “I have a Dream” speech has already been owned by someone far greater than me, but what about beginning by asking everyone to imagine—with thanks to John Lennon? Imagine a future national education service whose central aim is to reduce inequality and which delivers Sure Start Plus and gives every child and their family proper support in the critical early years. What about no formal education until the age of seven so that children can play and explore, which we know enables them to become powerful learners and problem solvers while doing wonders for their wellbeing and resilience? Imagine adequately funding education and training at all ages and all levels. Imagine if that education and training was free at the point of use and throughout life.

Imagine ensuring learners with special educational needs and their families were adequately supported throughout their lives. Imagine a curriculum that is rich, exciting and prepares every child for work and relationships. Imagine ending high-stakes testing in early years and primary schools, ending selection through the 11-plus and removing charitable status and other tax perks for private schools. Imagine ending the academy and free schools programmes and restoring local, democratic accountability in education. Imagine school and college buildings that are purpose built, low carbon and energy efficient. Imagine reforming the current accountability system, including the current Ofsted inspection regime. Imagine how much happier and less stressed teachers and children would be. Imagine if teachers’ professional opinions were respected. Imagine if they were trusted to be the professionals they are.

Instead, what do we have? The Queen’s Speech reduced the Government’s plans for education to a single line:

“Ministers will ensure that all young people have access to an excellent education, unlocking their full potential and preparing them for the world of work.”

Great—but how? How will the Government achieve this, when they are unwilling to spend the money, unwilling to listen to professionals and unwilling to reform the failing system? In my constituency, only two schools have not experienced a shortfall in funding since 2015. Over two thirds of schools have seen a funding cut of more than £150 per pupil since 2015, with seven schools having lost over £400. These schools need funding urgently.

In the spending review a few weeks ago the Government promised a £7 billion funding increase. Of course I welcome this increase, or any increase, quite frankly—we’ll take what we can—but it is not enough. Not every school will see a real-terms rise, and even with the extra cash, the School Cuts coalition has found that four in five state schools will still be financially worse off next year than they were in 2015. So forgive my scepticism. The Government are not doing enough to make a difference.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope others will join me so that our education can be free and equal for everyone, as part of a truly comprehensive future—a national education service that we do not just imagine but which under a Labour Government we deliver.