Bridget Phillipson: Our children deserve better than this

Pupils sitting exams. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Pupils sitting exams. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
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It’s been a huge privilege to have served on the cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) since 2015.

This influential committee makes sure every penny of your taxes is well spent.

This week the committee has been working flat out to make sure all our reports are published before Parliament dissolves for the General Election on June 8.

One such report concerns the inquiry we held into capital funding for schools last month, when the committee heard evidence from the former and acting headteachers of Hetton School.

They told us that delays to the Priority Schools Building Programme led to children being hosed down when suspected asbestos dust fell from their crumbling old building.

After hearing this shocking story, I raised serious concerns that the Government was allocating more money to build free schools at a time when existing schools are falling into disrepair.

The Government itself estimates that £7billion is needed to bring the existing school estate up to a satisfactory standard, and a further £7billion to bring them up to good condition.

This week’s PAC report echoes my concerns and condemns the Government’s free schools policy as incoherent and poor value for money.

It said the Government is spending well over the odds in its bid to create 500 more free schools, many of which are also in inadequate premises and without on-site playgrounds or sports facilities. In short, it’s clear that the Government is failing our children.

Some 420,000 new school places are needed by 2021 to cater for the growing school-age population, but ministers have completely failed to provide places where they are needed.

Instead, they’ve wasted billions of pounds in the rush to build new free schools where there is no need. Developers can see them coming, so prices for new school sites are going up as a result.

Schools are already under significant financial pressure due to Government demands for £3billion of savings by 2020. Figures compiled by the National Union of Teachers show that every primary and secondary school in my area will lose money, and every school will lose teachers.

I’ve warned time and again that these demands risk plunging schools into an NHS-style funding crisis – schools are already so short of cash they’ve had to send out begging letters to parents. Ministers simply won’t listen.

The Government’s record on education is clear: less choice, less funding, fewer teachers, and a crumbling schools estate.

Our children deserve better. They need a Labour government.