Whitehaven News column – 21st August 2014

At the time of going to print, there are many nervous 16 year olds throughout the country eagerly awaiting their GCSE results.  This is the culmination of years of hard work and commitment and I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone who receives their results this week the best of luck for the future.  Remember, whatever your results, with continued effort and application, no door will be closed to you.
This week is a bit calmer for those who received their AS and A-Levels results last week.  They have already had their nerves wracked and, hopefully, experienced the elation that comes with seeing your hard work pay off.  Across Cumbria, we saw around 99% of students achieving passes at A-Level and a big increase in the number achieving the top grades. A big well done to those students.
That this success in the education of our young people is continued should be the priority for every Government regardless of which party is in office.  The reality, however, is that due to political choice and experiment by the previous Education Secretary the educational attainment of our youngest is at risk.  Teachers, teaching assistants and other support staff do all they can in the face of continued and increasing pressure.  They do fantastic work in trying conditions and the Government must do more to support them.
In 2008, David Cameron said “the more we can get class sizes down the better”, but these have been shown to be hollow words.  Almost 40,000 primary school pupils in England are taught in large classes with over a third of these in classes with over 40 pupils. Almost 6,000 children are in classes of 50 or more and there are even examples of classes with over 70 pupils in them.
The number of infants taught in large classes has increased by 200% since 2010 and it is the result of a political choice.  The Government have prioritised diverting funding and other resources from the creation of new primary school places in areas of need in favour of Free Schools.  There are areas where surplus primary school places are being created with no children to fill them, yet there are other places where classrooms are overflowing.  Classes of this size aren’t conducive to learning, especially as teaching assistants are being cut: in Copeland, there are fewer teaching assistants supporting classroom teachers than there were in 2010
Time and again, instead of creating a positive working relationship with the teaching profession, the Government have created confrontation and division.  Teachers have long warned that the Government’s attitude to reform and their riding roughshod over advice from professionals would harm the education of our children. 

Last week, I wrote about the threat to early intervention and Sure Start centres and the damage that the Government’s policies are inflicting.  If Government doesn’t arrest the significant growth in class sizes by diverting funding to where it is needed the situation will only get worse.

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