IN 2009, Sony sold the last floppy disks, and parents, pupils and teachers at Framwellgate School in Durham were promised by the Labour Government that their school would be rebuilt.

Sadly, 12 months later, the Conservatives entered office and Michael Gove scrapped the plan. With no new plan put forward since, I fear that in the Department for Education Framwellgate’s rebuild is spoken about as frequently as floppy disks are in 2022.

Few people in Durham would disagree that if we are to level up our region there is no better route to do so than providing everyone with access to an outstanding education. Whether that be academic or vocational, equipping people with skills is undeniably the way we can unlock opportunities to a better job, better pay and a better society.

But after 12 years of underfunding schools, the Conservatives have either run out of ideas or simply lack the will to make the ambitious investment necessary to make good on their levelling up pledge.

Over the past decade the Conservatives have cut education budgets, with the poorest areas losing the most funding. All the while the spending gap between state and privately educated pupils has been allowed to balloon. Opportunity through education but only for those who can afford it.

Nowhere is this lack of investment more noticeable than in the crumbling classrooms of many schools in Durham. The short-sightedness of axing school rebuilds has left a disgraceful number of pupils and teachers continually hindered by the condition of their own classrooms.

Cramped, outdated, and with hallways that flood in the rain, too many schools lack the modern facilities needed to equip children with the skills they need. That is a shameful record for any government.

Last week I led a Parliamentary debate to raise the disgraceful condition of some schools in my constituency and I was proud that the Shadow Minister for Schools, Stephen Morgan, lent his support to my campaign and expressed his own concern that the disgraceful condition of so many schools is nearing a “crisis”. These schools must be rebuilt if levelling up is to mean anything.

Gove, now repackaged as the minister responsible for levelling up, has recognised that closing the education gap between wealthy and poorer areas is vital for his department but the Institute for Fiscal Studies has concluded that the current approaches to funding education “run counter to the goal of levelling up”. Moreover, the pandemic has increased the attainment gap – who can forget the algorithm that gave children lower grades based on their postcode?

Faced with this challenge, I eagerly anticipated the Government’s new plan for schools released this week. But what was outlined lacked any ambition or investment to transform education in deprived areas – for 80 per cent of schools, it promised business as usual. Eventually, in 2024, funding per pupil will return to levels seen under the last Labour government. But this is a sad admission of a lost decade for many children.

Investment in education and skills must be central to levelling up. A collection of photo opportunities for the Prime Minister draped in hi-vis won’t improve children’s life chances. Sadly, the Government has offered a hollow plan which will continue to leave many children in Durham held back by a dilapidated school.

 

You can read Mary’s column in The Northern Echo.

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