Ensuring a high quality education for every child in our community and across the United Kingdom is one of the most important duties of any Government and a responsibility I take extremely seriously - not least as someone who was educated at a comprehensive school locally, and who has benefited enormously from inspirational teachers and everything they did to encourage and support me in those formative years. That is why education funding and standards in our schools have been a key focus of my work as your local Member of Parliament in Corby & East Northamptonshire.
In recent months, as ever, I have been meeting with headteachers, staff, pupils and parents at a number of our local schools, listening to their concerns and campaigning on the issues that matter most to them, and working with them to help tackle some of the specific challenges they face on a school-by-school basis.
I have also been working alongside parents on the all important issue of school places, which is an issue of real concern for many in our area, not least because Corby is the fastest growing town in the country! Nationally, the Government has already created 921,000 new school places since 2010 - including here in North Northamptonshire - meaning we are on track to deliver an extra one million school places nationwide in the decade to 2020. It is clear, therefore, that welcome progress has been made on this priority issue, but there is undoubtedly more to do and I will continue to argue that our infrastructure must keep pace with the new homes that are built.
Regardless of anybody’s politics, I think we all recognise that in order for our schools to provide the high quality education that we all want for the next generation, they must be properly funded. That’s why I was delighted by the Government’s recent exciting announcement as part of the spending review to boost schools with a record £14 billion of funding, providing the vital financial support they need. This cash boost will mean that every secondary school in Corby & East Northamptonshire will receive a minimum of £5,000 per pupil next year and every primary school in our area will get a minimum of £4,000 per pupil from 2021-22, rising at least in line with inflation. This is really exciting news for the whole country, but especially for our local schools in Corby & East Northamptonshire that I know are working so hard to provide a great education for every child, and all possible because we have a strong economy, which allows us to invest.
Having been pressing for it and having secured other small funding boosts in the past, I am delighted by this latest significant commitment and am particularly pleased that the Prime Minister has ensured that this funding reaches across the education system, with more funding also for further education for 16 to 19 year olds, to focus on skills and training opportunities. Furthermore, not only is the Government boosting funding for mainstream education, but this new funding announcement also provides a boost of £700 million extra for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), ensuring that every pupil in our area can access the education that is right for them, and none are held back from reaching their potential. I know how important this is from the conversations I have at my weekly advice surgeries with parents and I look forward to this funding improving the provision available to these young people in our county.
Quite rightly, teachers are also set to benefit directly from this announcement too, as the Prime Minister has pledged to meet the £4.5 billion requirement for teachers’ pensions from outside the education budget. This means that every penny of the extra £14 billion will go straight to schools on the frontline and delivering better educational outcomes for our area. This is really welcome news, as is the increase to starting salaries, with the aim of attracting more bright and inspirational leaders into the classroom.
And that really matters because education funding should always be discussed with a close eye on outcomes and the goal of equipping our young people with the skills they need for the world of work ahead of them. Many more children are now taught in ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ schools compared to the past, and I pay tribute to the hard work of our dedicated teachers in their efforts to drive up standards. Without them, this simply wouldn’t have been possible. One of the great privileges of my role is to meet so many passionate teachers and educational professionals going about their work during my many visits to our local schools and I am proud that we have so many committed and hardworking educators in our area, who really do change lives and inspire the next generation, by consistently going the extra mile. It is through their unstinting dedication, supported by Government reforms, that England rose to joint eighth place in the 2016 ‘Progress in International Reading Literacy Study’, up from joint tenth in 2011 and the historic low of 19th under the last Labour Government. Thanks to the phonics reforms introduced in recent years, 163,000 more six year olds in the United Kingdom are on track to become fluent readers compared to 2012; the importance of which cannot be underestimated, as being able to read is key to everything.
Greater investment in our schools, the rollout of more school places and improving educational standards are really important to me, as I firmly believe that children and young people in our area and across the country as a whole, deserve the very best start in life. Having lived that state school experience growing up, I know just how important it is that we get this right. Whilst Brexit all too often dominates the headlines, there is so much good work going on in our schools and in Westminster to support them and to provide school leaders with the tools they need to inspire the next generation - whatever else is going on, we must never lose sight of how important delivering for that generation is.