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I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The Government’s priority is an obsession with the educational policy of the 1950s and bringing back grammar schools. All of the evidence shows that those schools favour the wealthy. A child from a private prep school is 10 times as likely to get into a grammar school as a child on free school meals.
It is becoming crystal clear that the Government are not interested in the views of the profession, but I wonder whether they are interested in the views of children and parents. After all, it is their lives, hopes and dreams that the Government are playing with. Nathaniel Smithies is a year 9 pupil at Whitburn Academy in my constituency. He wanted me to say to the Minister:
“I feel worried when a school like mine with an Ofsted Outstanding is so worried that it has so little money in the coffers that it has to ask our parents to pay to try and give us the level of education I know my teachers want to give us. I’ve noticed extracurricular and enrichment activities are diminishing, and we have to pay for little extras for art or for materials like Corriflute or balsa wood for graphics lessons or modelling. And we have a set limit on printing—like if you need to print your homework out at school. I didn’t have to do this when I was in year 7.”
Nathaniel’s mam, Lisa, added:
“When I was asked to help fund my child’s education by contributing £10 per month I felt myself torn. As a mother who wants to provide my child with the best chances possible to fully realise his wonderful, as yet unrestricted potential, I will do whatever I can afford to make this happen…But by contributing to my school do I help create a two-tier education, whereby children whose parents can afford to contribute get a better education than those children whose parents are not able to contribute? Does it mean that later on I will be told by the Government that school budgets are adequate because I have helped bridge the funding gap and will now have to continue to do so to maintain the status quo?”
She went on to say:
“I often hear politicians say we need to invest in the future. Surely there is no sounder investment in the future than for a Government to invest in educating children and providing all children the opportunity to be the best they can be, so that all our futures are the best they can be. Somewhere out there among today’s schoolchildren there are future Prime Ministers and the next generation of innovators, artists, writers, athletes, engineers, soldiers, scientists, leaders, doctors, nurses and educators. A good education for all leads to a more tolerant, fairer and integrated society. We should be saying what more is needed—not how little can we spend on our schools before we break them!”
The coming election is a real chance for parents to make a choice for the future of our education system. I know what Labour’s response is to Lisa questions. We want an education system that works for all of our children, not just the lucky few, and we will invest to ensure the highest standards in schools, where every single child is cherished and supported. Will the Minister answer Lisa’s questions? I am sure that parents up and down the country want, and are fully entitled to, all of the answers.