Our children’s education barely got a mention in the Budget. Yet it is surely one of the most important services the government is responsible for – especially when we want to improve productivity and create better jobs.
Schools and nurseries across High Peak have been contacting me to say they are struggling and don’t see how they can carry on.
Three nurseries in High Peak have closed this year, another owner – who has been running ‘Good’ rated nurseries for 14 years – told me she doesn’t feel she can carry on, working 14-hour days but making no money because government funding for its promised 30 hours of ‘Free’ childcare is so low.
Childcare is essential for most parents – with housing costs so high, most families need both parents to work. And most children love making friends, starting to learn, and getting ready for starting school.
We are lucky in High Peak to have very good nurseries and schools. But better quality education costs more – above all you need well qualified, experienced staff with not too many children per staff member.
In High Peak almost all of our schools are still Local Authority schools; that means that teachers must be fully qualified and paid at the nationally negotiated rates.
Academies are not bound by these rules – they can use staff who are not qualified teachers, and pay them different rates. There is a far higher proportion of unqualified teachers in Manchester – where almost all secondary schools are Academies – than in Derbyshire, and overall pay rates are lower.
With schools facing overall cuts of 5% to their funding to 2020, schools in High Peak are set to lose over £2 million a year.
But if pupil numbers fall then schools will still struggle. And it is far harder in rural areas like ours, with smaller schools, to get consistent pupil numbers.
In previous years, schools had the funding to see them through ‘lean years’, and to have one or two classes with fewer pupils, but now one or two low year groups can be disastrous. As one teacher told me, “Our school is sinking”.
I would like to be more upbeat in my columns – to talk about all the brilliant things happening in High Peak – the lovely Lantern Parades, the fun at the school Christmas Fairs I visit, and the excitement at nurseries as decorations go up.
All these things are true, and our schools and nurseries do a brilliant job to nurture, enthral – and teach – our children. When so many staff put a smile on their face while their hearts are sinking, it is my job to fight for them and our children, and that is what I am doing.
You can see a list of High Peak schools’ funding on my website: https://ruthforhighpeak.co.uk/