Yesterday I led a delegation of head teachers from Stoke-on-Trent to go and meet with the Schools Minister Nick Gibb. This meeting came about on the back of a study undertaken by my office which highlighted the huge financial challenges facing schools and colleges in our City.
Ask any MP and they will tell you that visiting schools is one of the best parts of the job. Seeing happy faces playing in reception classes and the colourful displays the children have made highlighting their work can be a real delight on any working day.
The questions you get asked by engaged eight year olds can be as challenging as those by the local media, not least because the eight year old will always as the question that grown ups would like to ask but daren’t.
But increasingly, I leave schools feeling angry and upset as another head teacher shows me their finances or show me the bit of the school they can’t use anymore because of disrepair.
Cuts to extra-curricular activities; cut backs on school trips; slightly older books and equipment and fewer teaching assistants and support staff are an all too common discussion. And it is the children who suffer.
I’ve been to schools which are held up by scaffolding where the long-awaited council investment and promises from cabinet members for new roofs, new windows, new hall floors have never materialised.
I’ve seen the letters sent to parents asking for a small donation here and the odd couple of quid there to help with purchasing equipment and keeping the lights on. This is not how we inspire our children to dream and it sends a message to pupils and teachers that their education is not valued, and they are not valued.
I raised this is the House of Commons and was told by the Minister that more money than ever was being put into the school system. This may be true, but we also have more children in the school system and the costs of running a school are higher than they ever have been.
Add to that the additional burdens that Government place on schools through academy costs and pensions and you don’t need an a-level in advanced maths to figure out that there simply isn’t enough money.
That’s what the Minister heard, first hand from the staff in our city’s schools on the challenges they face and what they expect from the Government. I hope the minister has listened, I hope he will act – but my assessment of the support that Stoke-on-Trent gets from the Department of Education is most definitely, “must try harder.”