Prospective parliamentary candidates for Warwick and Leamington in the forthcoming general election have had their say on the state of and funding for education.
Bob Dhillon, for UKIP, recent Conservative MP for the area Chris White, Green Party candidate Jonathan Chilvers, Labour Party candidate Matt Western and Liberal Democrat candidate Nick Solman all took part in a hustings debate at Leamington Town Hall on Tuesday evening, which was well attended by teachers, support staff, governors, pupils, students and members of the public.
The debate had been organised by Our Schools Warwick and Leamington - a group set up by parents, teachers and others concerned about funding for schools in and around the two towns.
At the meeting, which was chaired by Emma Knights, who is the chief executive of the National Governors Association, and included former National Union of Teachers (NUT) president Philipa Harvey on the panel, each of the candidates were given three minutes at the start to put the case for their party across in regard to how they will maintain or improve the standard of education and school life both in Warwick District schools and nationally.
Mr Western, the son of a former primary school headteacher, referred to the success of early-years funding through the Sure Start programme which was introduced by Labour in the late 1990s but has since suffered “significant cuts”. He said he would like to see those cuts reversed and that, as a county councillor, had fought hard against them.
He said: “The Government wants to invest in grammar schools and to cream off £320 million pounds to do so at the same time we are seeing dramatic cuts of £31 million in Warwickshire to our education.
“Now, how can it be that we are cutting funds for our schools but then funding free schools on industrial estates like in Rugby?
“It doesn’t seem to make sense. I believe we have terrific schools in Warwick and Leamington that are exceptional, but by taking away the funding, that will damage our children’s futures. So I very much hope that when you come to vote on June 8 that education will be very much on the forefront of your mind. It is so critical for all of us and certainly for the future of our country.”
Mr Chilvers, whose two daughters are at primary school and is a governor of Kingsway School, said he was concerned that a recent survey showed that 72 per cent of headteachers believed that at their schools their budget would be unsustainable within two years.
He said the money pledged by the Conservative government for the education budget would still equate to a three per cent cut in real terms over the next two years.
He said: “We need to live within our economic means but we also have the fifth largest economy in the world and we can afford to invest in the services we care about if we choose to.”
He said that even though standards in education had improved hugely over the last ten years creativity was being drained out of the curriculum and at secondary schools children were being “set up to fail” by being asked to sit harder academic exams without technical options.
He added that teachers were being disrespected, with a recent example being confusion over new GCSE grading.
Mr White, a governor of Lillington School and patron for Myton, said he had the unique position of having visited every school and college in the constituency.
He said despite fears over cuts, education in the UK was going “in the right direction” under the Conservative government with 1.8 million more young people attending good or outstanding schools, 4,400 apprentice starts since 2010, unemployment falling for the age group from 18 to 24 by an “astonishing” 80 per cent in Warwickshire.
Mr White said: “Our schools do provide some of the best quality education in the country but there is the but. And the but is funding, and despite what I think about that sign ‘face the crisis, fight the cuts’ your schools do need more money.
“I’ve met headteachers and heard about their problems and I have written to the Prime Minister and the secretary of state and in our manifesto we are getting that £4 billion more that we need.
“My job as an MP or whoever is elected on this panel will be to fight for the biggest share of that for Warwick and Leamington that we can achieve.”
Later, when the candidates took questions regarding a number of topics surrounding education, Mr White again referred to having to find pockets of money for fairer funding for schools in the constituency over others, to which a man in the audience called out “The problem is there a no winners and all losers.”
Later, a woman also called out to state that “Mental health care for young people in the area is appalling.”
Mr Dhillon, a former Warwick District and Warwick Town councillor, said his children were at university and scared of the debt they are going to be burdened with after they finished their studies.
He added: “There is also pressure on the teachers who are the backbone of our mission to create a great society with our children.
“Yet they are leaving in droves because of the workload and stress that’s coming from this Tory government.
“A UGOV poll in February showed that a quarter of senior teachers across the nation said they expected to leave the education system in two years and at the same time an overwhelming majority, 79 per cent, said reduction in workload and a positive influence from the government might make them stay.
“Do you want an MP who says yes for children or one who puts his hand up and says ‘yes minister’?”
Mr Solman, whose wife is a primary school teacher, said he had seen the impact cuts to education have had.
He said the Liberal Democrats want to bring more stability to education by introducing an independent educational standards authority and that the party also wants to negate the cuts proposed by spending £6.9 billion over the next parliament.
He said they would increase the early years pupil premium to £1,000, end the one per cent pay cap for teachers and reform Ofsted so it have ‘longer-term’ considerations.
He said tuition fees for universities were actually a good source of funding and put establishments in a better place to help poorer students and allowed for more investment in education.
He added: “Our key aim is to stop using education as a political football so that when one government changes to the next, education policy does not change on a whim.”
Another hustings debate will be held at All Saints’ Church in Victoria Terrace, Leamington on Wednesday (May 31) from 7.30pm.
All five prospective parliamentary candidates will take part in this hustings, during which questions submitted by members of churches will be put to them.
Admission is free and a retiring collection will be taken at the end for church funds.