What is happening in our schools?

The last few days have seen a number of stories appearing in the press about our schools. Not a great surprise as this is the time of year when the teaching unions hold their annual conferences. However, taken together they paint a picture of a system falling apart at the seams.

• £130m wasted on setting up new schools that have already closed

• Large numbers of teachers leaving their posts due to pressures in the classroom and on work/life balance

• Inability to recruit enough new teachers

• Cuts to school budgets meaning some teachers are losing the jobs in schools up and down the country

• Headteachers sending round begging letters to parents to fill in the holes left by underfunding

The Government’s answer to the crisis in our schools is to build more socially divisive grammar schools despite just about every shred of evidence pointing to their failings in social mobility and deleterious effects on other schools in their neighbourhoods.

How pig-headed can an ideologically driven Tory government be?

Does Mrs May really believe that grammar schools are the answer to an education system in crisis? An answer that will benefit the poorer sections of our society?

Coalition and Tuition Fees

The last week or two has seen tuition fees making all the headlines. Let us be clear on this issue, Lib Dems opposed them when Labour introduced them and we continue to oppose them. The explanation for the decision to raise tuition fees by so much is quite simple, we did not win the election. As the junior partners in a coalition we cannot expect to get all of the policies we put forward in our manifesto. In order to create a government that can deal with an economic crisis left behind by a discredited Labour administration, we have had to compromise on several key issues, including raising VAT instead of income tax, the promotion of free schools and yes, tuition fees

But we are making sure that we have a say in every decision and that our values play an important role in government. And just look at what we have already achieved:

  • Raising the starting threshold for income tax which will take 900,000 low earning people out of the tax bracket from 1 April.
  • A £2.5bn pupil premium targeted at children in greatest need
  • A big programme of constitutional reform including a referendum on fairer votes

These are real achievements that we can be proud of. They would not be in the government’s programme if the Lib Dems were not partners. And as the coalition continues people will see what a positive force we are in government. The Coalition Agreement setting out the plans for the next five years can be seen in full at: http://www.libdems.org.uk/coalition_agreement.aspx

The fact that we are in a coalition does mean that some of our policies, on which we fought an election, are on hold is a consequence of the election results which no party won outright. The same is true for our coalition partners, they have not got all their manifesto pledges written into the Coalition Agreement.

Services for Vulnerable People or Tax Cuts

Tonight’s Council meeting really set out the difference in approach to running council services. The Tories attacked Labour for not sticking to their budgets. Labour accusd the Tories of not caring for vulnerable people. The spat arose over what to do with a windfall of £3.6m that Reading BC has been given from the government as a result of overpaid VAT. The Tories want to use it to keep next year’s Council Tax increase down to 0%. Labour want to use part of it to to pay off some iof the extra sopending incurred by Childrens Services and Adult Social Care in catering for a huge increase in demand for these services which has affected almost all local councils this year (as a result of some highly publicised abuse cases).

The Lib Dems sided with Labour in the votes and opposed the Tory idea of cuts across the board to pay for these overspends this year in order to have their0% council tax rise next year. They were never specific about where they would cut the money other than calling for ‘across the board cuts.’ This, from the party that could not even produce a budget last March and insists on being the party that knows how to run government.

I told the Tories that they could not run services for vulnerable people as though they were running a corner shop and that they could not simply ignore the increased demand this year, or slash other front line services to pay for it  when this windfall was available.

I also pointed out that the Labour Government knew exactly the level of demand currently being experienced by both Childrens and Adults Social Care Services up and dowm the country but had chosen not to provide councils with any more funds. They had been quite happy to spend billions to prop up broken banks but would not spend a few millions to support broken humans.

Ruheman Resigns

So its the end of Cllr Ruheman as the Chair of Childrens Services in Reading. Having been in post for more than 10 years he still refuses to take any blame for the findings of the Ofsted JAR report which found that child protection was inadequate in Reading. In spite of all the press cases over the last several years it was on his watch that one poor child died from methodone poisoning after the council failed to intervene. It was on his watch that he ‘suddenly discovered’ that 10 social workers were seriously underperforming. It was on his watch that the turnover of social workers became a crisis. Worst of all, it was on his watch that the council budget was set perilously low last year, starving frontline services like Child Proctection of funds in order to bribe the voters of Reading with a low council tax rise at last May’s local elections.

According to Cllr Ruheman, he was in control of the situation and working hard to improve it – which must be why the government sent its hit squad in !

The arrogance of this Labour councillor knows no bounds. If it was not for their defeat in last May’s elections he would still be in post. He resigned before a motion backed by the Lib Dems and the Tories called for his dismissal.