Opinion

Paul McNamee: Education, education, education. Now

Now the Brexit fog has cleared, it is a good time to do something about schools – and watch Line of Duty

School child

I know you’re all drawing breath finally. The Brexit fog has cleared, for now. And you’d like to kick back, relax, get obsessed by Line of Duty, maybe eat some early Easter eggs.

Tough. I’m here to rain on your relaxing, sunny parade.

As the fog clears, we can see the issues that have been obscured. Let’s start with schools.

Last week, schools in Wales announced plans to close early on a Friday. Neyland Community School in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire said that from September, they’d shut at 12.25pm on Fridays rather than 3.20pm. This, they said, was because at that point in the week, “pupils often suffer from a greater lack of attention”.

Perhaps there is something to be said in reviewing and revising the school week. It’s more or less a Victorian system, tweaked for a very different age

And in a piece of classic doublespeak, they added they hoped that closing the school early, thereby preventing lessons, would “further raise standards and improve outcomes for learners across the school”.

Cuts to budgets are making early Friday closures increasingly the norm. Also in Wales, schools in Penarth warned similarly early Friday closures were likely. They’re a little more straight about the reason.

There isn’t enough money. In a letter to parents, they pointed the finger of blame at the political leaders. The children’s education was being “compromised by the Welsh Government’s failure to fund schools properly”.

In Scotland, just a few weeks ago, Clackmannanshire Council said they were going to cut secondary school teaching and close primary schools in order to make up a £29m shortfall in funding.

Jess Phillips MP, a contender for future leader of the Labour Party, slammed her own local authority in Birmingham after they said they’d close schools early on Fridays. Her anger is understandable, her example far from isolated.

Beyond the early closures, stories of teachers having to buy stationery are legion. There are reports of teachers also having to clean their schools.

The Westminster government will claim that more is being spent than ever before on education. Not in REAL terms. In real terms, in England, it’s lower than 2015 levels. This is a similar picture across Britain.

We can trace the cause of this to austerity cuts and council tax freezes – and how they have meant funding holes have to be met by across-the-board cuts.

That said, money clearly exists. Up to £4bn was spent preparing for a No-Deal Brexit. Chris Grayling himself blew millions on a ferry service with no ferries and then on compensation to Eurotunnel over commissioning ferry companies, including the one with no ferries.

Perhaps there is something to be said in reviewing and revising the school week. It’s more or less a Victorian system, tweaked for a very different age.

But if we’re going to do that, let’s really look at it seriously. Let’s look at the entire thing – from pre-school to university, primary to private.

At how the best education for all, rather than a postcode-selected one, can be delivered.

I suspect there won’t be a great appetite for that. And it’s a national shame. The early years provide a vital, formative, and transformative foundation for children. And we’re getting it wrong for them. Through cuts, through lack of focus, through a lack of concern for teachers.

I don’t know how far things have to fall before this becomes recognised as a national crisis. This feels very like one. And given the breather we have from Brexit, it is a good time to do something.

It doesn’t mean we miss Line of Duty, just do this as well.

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