The funding pressures facing our schools
Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy writes for the Fishponds Voice
PARENTS often contact me about their children’s education, including concerns about a school’s resources, what school they’re placed in, or their child’s special needs. All parents want the best for their children, and they are understandably worried if they don’t feel that children are getting the education or additional support they need to thrive.
Since 2014/15, schools in east Bristol have sustained a 7% cut in funding and this had clearly had an impact on educational provision, with class sizes increasing, teaching assistants, school trips and extra-curricular activities being cut, and teachers forced to buy stationery out of their own pockets.
I have long been calling on the Government to increase school funding, so when the Prime Minister announced a funding boost worth £14 billion I (cautiously) welcomed this news. However, this new funding is distributed in such a way that schools in areas of higher need miss out.
In Bristol East, none of the three secondary schools and only seven out of the 22 primary state schools will benefit, which is deeply disappointing. It cannot be a coincidence that over 90% of this funding will go to schools in Tory constituencies.
Funding for children with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) is under particular pressure. The Commons Education Select Committee has released a damning report on this, which said that children are being failed. Their beleaguered families, meanwhile, were caught up in a nightmare of “bureaucracy, buck-passing and confusion” in a system which “breeds conflict and despair”. The report identified a shortfall of funding and a lack of accountability as major concerns, and called for radical change across the system.
Bristol City Council is under pressure too. Problems have included a major backlog in handling applications for Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and a shortage of specialist school places. Councillor Anna Keen, the Cabinet lead for Education, commissioned an independent review into SEND, which now means there is more transparency around numbers of children receiving – or not receiving - their statutory rights to EHCPs and Annual Reviews. As Councillor Keen has said, the data is worse than expected, but knowing this is a critical step in getting things right.
I welcome the news that the Council is investing £1.575 million into this area over the next two years, has put more senior leadership in place so that there is more accountability, and has increased EHCP caseworker and SEND casework team capacity, including hiring 19 new caseworkers. But it is also imperative upon the Government to ensure that adequate funding and support is in place for the Council to meet its aim of “delivering statutorily compliant and sustainable SEND services”.
I have also been corresponding with the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) about the future of the Steiner Academy in Fishponds. Years 10 and 11 have already been closed, and it is expected that Years 7-9 will close too. Parents have also raised with me concerns about changes to the curriculum. The school is currently consulting parents, but please do get in touch with me if you are a parent with a child at the school and you feel it would be helpful for me to intervene on your behalf.