I would like to start this week’s article by congratulating all the students in East Durham who have yet again delivered another year of fantastic GCSE results. Schools across East Durham broke their own records for the number of GCSE passes, including Maths and English, despite a national trend that saw a sharp fall in the number of GCSE English passes.
This may be my last opportunity to mention the offensive comments by former Education Secretary Michael Gove who said there was a smell of defeatism and a lack of ambition in East Durham Schools. I was appalled by these comments, and my anger is yet to subside, as he insulted all the parents, students and teachers in East Durham who are striving year after year to consistently achieve improved results, often in the most challenging circumstances. This is despite not only Michael Gove’s comments attacking the teaching profession, but a Government assault on the pensions, pay and conditions of teachers.
Improving educational standards will only occur while we continue to train and employ world class teachers. Unfortunately, even this statement which you might think is common sense has no place in this Government’s education policy which seeks to extend the number of non-qualified teachers in state schools.
While the vast majority of the teaching profession gave a huge sigh of relief when Michael Gove was moved out of the Department for Education, his successor Nicky Morgan has pledged to persist with the failing free school policy and there will be no respite from the attacks on the teaching profession.
Free Schools continue to divert much needed resources from state schools, with estimates suggesting as much as £400 million has been cut from school budgets to pay for new free schools. This has certainly affected East Durham as the Government ended the Building Schools for the Future Programme and cancelled the new build for Seaham School of Technology. It has been a four year fight, but Seaham School of Technology has been included in the Priority Schools Building Programme. Despite a number of delays, the Government have indicated that they expect all building programmes to be complete by 2017. However, the new school will not include a replacement swimming pool despite a huge lobbying effort and a petition signed by thousands of local residents.
While state schools are operating under strict budgets there seems to be endless money for Free School projects. The Durham Free School in our region has cost the taxpayer nearly £1 million in its first term, the equivalent of £25,000 per pupil. It has been reported the free school is set to triple in size, but at the start of the new school year, it will teach fewer than 100 pupils. While the Government enforces an age of austerity across the UK and nearly all Government Departments they allowed Michael Gove a £1 billion overspend for his Free School pet project.
The free market philosophy of Free Schools is causing chaos in education, and is failing to meet the needs of the school population. The Tories are now wedded to this failing policy. It is time for a real alternative, with a Government policy which focuses on supporting all our schools and not prioritising pupils attending Free Schools.