Wearside MP warns of a 'perfect storm' in education

MP Sharon Hodgson speaking at a recent meeting with headteachers over funding cuts.
MP Sharon Hodgson speaking at a recent meeting with headteachers over funding cuts.
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A Sunderland MP said the region is seeing 'complete mismanagement' of the education system.

MP for Washington and Sunderland West, Sharon Hodgson, managed to secure a debate in the House of Commons today about the funding crisis facing the region's schools.

Mrs Hodgson, who was joined by several MPs from the region, including South Tyneside's Emma Lewel-Buck and Hartlepool's Iain Wright, called on ministers to explain why the North East is facing massive funding problems.

The Government has frozen the funding that schools receive per pupil - which means the money is actually cut in real terms, after inflation is taken into account.

Ministers claim that total school funding is increasing, because pupil numbers are going up, but schools are saying they face a series of cost increases they cannot control.

The NAHT, National Association of Headteachers, says schools across the North East face a shortfall of £119 million, with Sunderland set to lose £14million and South Tyneside, £4.8million.

Mrs Hodgson told the debate she had met with more than 30 Wearside headteachers and she had never, in her 12 years as a minister, experienced so many expressing such concerns at the gravity of the situation.

She said: "We might easily come to the conclusion that what we are seeing is the complete mismanagement and neglect of our education system—a perfect storm, if you like.

"This sorry state of affairs that our schools find themselves in is nothing to do with efficiencies; it is all about impoverishing our schools.

"Shamefully, this approach will hit children living in the poorest areas the most, such as in parts of my constituency and those of my fellow North East MPs from across the House. We all have deprived communities in our constituencies. That means that more and more children will be held back in life, when we should be supporting them to achieve social mobility and to achieve their full potential."

The MP went on to say that under the current funding system the worst hit school in her constituency will be Rickleton Primary School, which could lose £150,000 in real terms by 2020.

Last month all secondary heads on Wearside wrote a joint letter to families warning of the dire consequences if the proposed Government funding plans go ahead.

They urged parents to back them in the fight for fairer funding for schools.

Mrs Hodgson told the Commons: "I for one am proud to stand with my local headteachers, school governors and parents who are deeply concerned about this issue and urge the minister to rethink his disastrous plans, which will negatively affect the lives of children and young people not only in my constituency, but across the North East and in other parts of England.

"Investing in education is investing in our children’s and Britain’s future. Those children in the classroom today are our future workforce. They will take our country on to greater things if we only give them the chance. Failing to support them now will be disastrous for our nation’s future and will only store up problems in later years for society as a whole. "

The MP said she hoped the Minister for School, Nick Gibb, would listen to the debate and seriously reconsider his approach to school funding.

Following the debate, Coun Robert Oliver, a member of the Conservative party in Sunderland, said: "The national formula for school funding is a proposal which is open for debate and aims to provide equal funding for all schools in the country.

"To talk about ‘cuts’ is misleading as school funding is at its highest level on record at more than £40 billion in 2016-17. This is set to rise, as pupil numbers rise over the next two years, to £42 billion for 2019-20 and is especially targeted at the poorest pupils.

"As important as funding, the number of pupils being taught in good or outstanding schools has increased by 1.8 million since 2010. Free school and academies are driving these improvements with most secondary school in Sunderland having already converted."