Funding storm: Education Secretary Justine Greening visits area where schools face deep cuts
Conservatives face wrath of unions as they put education back to the top of local agenda in final days of general election campaign
01 June, 2017 — By Tom Foot
Justine Greening meets the Tory election team – and candidate Claire-Louise Leyland – in West Hampstead
EDUCATION secretary Justine Greening was branded “shameful” after she told teachers and parents they had never had it so good in terms of investment in schools.
Critics of government policy were astonished that the Conservatives had chosen to bring Ms Greening to the Hampstead and Kilburn election battlefront where anger over school funding is already at boiling point. Over the last three weeks, the New Journal has detailed the desperate methods Camden’s primary and secondary schools have had to adopt to make ends meet, including asking families to fill Smarties tubes with 20p pieces, sending begging letters and asking parents to sponsor chairs and cupboards.
But when the New Journal asked Ms Greening why schools were acting this way across the borough, she insisted: “Schools have never been better funded. Schools have more money invested in them. We are also planning to make sure funding is fairly spread across the country and no school will lose as part of the change.”
This argument is not accepted by cuts campaigners, however, who say new attempts to even out budgets across all the country’s schools will be at the expense of pupils in large classes in underprivileged urban areas. Some headteachers have already warned that cuts are already likely to lead to classroom jobs being lost, while spending on school trips and equipment will be slashed.
The timing of Ms Greening’s arrival for an election campaign session in West Hampstead meant the subject of education cuts was forced to the front of the local agenda with the general election now just a week away. It came after weeks of lengthy New Journal coverage detailing the worries of school staff. Last month, 20 Conservative politicians, including former Deputy Speaker of the House Nigel Evans and Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, called for funding strategy to be reviewed.
The New Journal asked Ms Greening three times whether she thought schools sending pupils home with Smarties tubes to fill with money was a cause for alarm, but she said she could not comment on individual cases, adding only: “Schools have always reached out to parents in terms of getting them involved in the school and in fundraising.”
She had been meeting Conservative activists in West End Lane before the latest round of doorknocking. The National Union of Teachers said that, even with new manifesto funding pledges, schools in the immediate area were destined to face stinging cuts to budgets. Emmanuel School, in Mill Lane, will lose £142,228 a year by 2022, the union said, while Beckford School, in Dornfell Street, faces a £255,000 cut – the equivalent of six teacher salaries.
Last week, parents from some of the schools in the area joined an anti-school cuts demo in nearby Queen’s Park. History teacher Eddie Crust, from Hampstead Secondary School, said: “Every school in our area faces huge cuts thanks to this government and this education secretary. Our children are facing larger class sizes and their teachers are being made redundant. While local parents are being asked to fundraise to keep schools running, how can it be right that she visits and dodges any questions over her cuts? It is shameful.”
Campaigners wondered aloud about the timing of her visit, which coincided with half-term week. The new NUT figures show Camden primaries losing on average £150,000 a year – between five and 10 per cent of the annual budget – while some secondaries could face budget cuts of more than £1million a year. UCL Academy is said to be the worst-affected school in the country, while several headteachers claim the rising cost of running a school has not been properly considered.
Gerald Clark, from Camden NUT, said: “It’s a great shame to hear that Justine Greening visited Camden during half-term and didn’t come to talk to any teachers or schools about the cash crisis Camden schools are currently facing, or the nightmare funding scenarios they are trying to plan for in the future. “Her plan for school funding is set to have a huge impact on our schools. This is the record she has to defend, and her lack of willingness to engage with those most affected on a visit to Camden betrays that she probably knows the effect of this.”
Tulip Siddiq joins a school cuts protest on Friday
Conservative candidate Claire-Louise Leyland is looking to overturn Labour’s Tulip Siddiq’s 1,138 majority at next week’s election, making it one of the most unpredictable constituencies in the country and a prime target for the Tories.
“I can’t believe the nerve of Justine Greening,” said Ms Siddiq. “How dare she tell our local schools that they’ve never had it so good? What an insult to hard-working teachers and local parents who are worried about what the future holds. “Headteachers have been clear about the scale of cuts to their budgets and how they will be forced to make redundancies. The Tories need to stop telling barefaced lies about school cuts.”
But Ms Greening told the New Journal: “Standards under the Conservative government have been going up. We now have nine out of 10 schools rated good or outstanding. That includes here in Camden. Yes, investment matters, but what is also important is standards, and quality of education.” She added: “If you want to know what education will be like under Labour in places like Camden, look at Wales. Labour in control for years, backwards on reading and maths. They are lagging behind every other part of the UK. We are seeing here in London that standards are getting better.”
Ms Leyland said: “I think they [headteachers] were concerned that progress made here in Camden would be lost. The figures people are talking about are from the unions, and are now old since the manifesto. “A lot of the campaign around school funding has been arranged by the trade unions, and it was about the consultation [on Fair Funding Formula]. The minister has been very clear: no school would lose funding.”