Education is at the heart of everything. Without a decent education system economies weaken, public services lack the skills to function and future generations see their life chances decline.
Yet, catching up with news after Christmas I noticed a number of worrying articles about recent education reforms.
Our schools contain some of the finest teachers in the world but outside of schools there are problems in the education system which undermine the efforts of teachers and parents to give kids a good start in life.
In Crawley the lack of school places, particularly at primary level, is a huge issue. The Tory-controlled county council has repeatedly failed to plan for the spaces we need, leaving parents to search increasingly far afield outside Crawley to find places. I’ve spoken to many parents whose children of a similar age are bring educated in different schools across the town.
Yet recent government initiatives have only made the problem worse. Instead of building schools and creating places where they’re needed they’ve opted for free schools, leaving it up to the public to create the schools themselves, without guarantees over where they will go or what quality of education the kids will receive.
The result: school places in the wrong places with a fifth of last year’s new free schools failing to fill their classes and a quarter based in office blocks, lacking proper school facilities. Crawley’s own headline-making experience of free schools aside, more than £1m of public money has already been wasted on free schools that have never opened. That’s during a time of austerity.
On top of that, the Government’s Priority School Building Programme has only started work on a quarter of the schools they announced three years ago, at the time they claimed work on the schools could start “immediately”. At the current rate work is now unlikely to start on over half of the schools before the programme’s planned 2017 end date.
We can’t go on like this, with ideological experiments taking priority over providing school places in the right places for the kids who need them. It’s time the Government lived up to their responsibilities, delivering the schools England needs to meet the challenges of coming decades.