It is perhaps understandable that MPs from different parties fail to pay much attention to one another when they are trying to make a point, but when the Government and its fellow MPs speak about the same issues and MPs whose constituencies are a few miles apart do so, it raises all sorts of concerning questions about the capacity of Parliament to change society for the better. On 26th February a debate took place on the educational budgets for this year. One of the speakers was Tim Loughton who stated:
“Turning to schools, the big figures that we talk about in these reports—the big percentage increases—are meaningless until we translate them into their impact on the frontline. I have spent the past couple of years getting all the heads from all the schools in my constituency and all the chairs of governors together to ask them about the impact of funding challenges on their schools. I asked not what might happen, but what is happening now. I wrote a seven-page letter to the Secretary of State for Education with the findings from all those schools, which included impacts as a result of not replacing staff or replacing them with less expensive and therefore less qualified staff, of having to remove things from the curriculum, and of doing away with out-of-school visits. Alarmingly, counselling services have also been reduced—almost to zero in some cases—at a time when we all know the effect of mental health stresses on the younger generation. The Government have recognised that, and work is ongoing, but if people are not on hand in schools to help with the stresses and strains that lead to mental health problems, that will just store up expensive problems, both financially and socially, for children in those schools…. While I appreciate the additional money that the Government have been putting in, I am afraid that the estimates that we are looking at today, when they are factored down to the impact that they will have in authorities such as mine in West Sussex, which has had severe underfunding for so many years, will have a detrimental effect on the life chances of our children. Frankly, we have to do better, or we will be picking up a much more expensive and complicated bill further down the line.”
Yet a few days later on 1st March Tim’s neighbour, Nick Gibb who also resides in West Sussex and is the Minister responsible for Schools stated in response to a question from my MP, Caroline Lucas:
“The Department is investing £26 million in a national network of English hubs to support schools to teach early reading, with a focus on synthetic phonics. Schools in Brighton and Hove will receive an increase in funding of 2.4% per pupil by 2019/20, or £2.9 million in total, compared to 2017/18. Nationally, there is more money going into the schools system than ever before, but the Department recognises the budgeting challenges schools face and that they are being asked to do more. That is why the Govenernment is supporting schools to make the most of every pound. Schools decide how to spend their budgets in a way that best supports their pupils, and discussions are regularly held with with headteachers about their funding.”
What seems strange is that the work carried out by Tim Loughton in holding discussions with local Schools in his constituency, appears to have been missed despite the claims by Nick that “discussions are regularly held with with headteachers about their funding”. Perhaps we could persuade Nick and Tim to meet up and discuss these issues and then Nick could put right the problems that Tim is clearly very aware of! The whole point of Parliament is to ensure that the voices of all MPs are heard by the Government. It is vital that Parliamentary neighbours must listen to one another, or else the cost of a annual £2Bn Parliament is brought into deep question.