Stephen Twigg and Marvin Rees talk schools and childcare on the Bristol campaign trail

by Amanda Ramsay

The UK is facing a schools places crisis, particularly in cities such as Bradford, Bristol, Leeds, London, Reading and Southampton. Areas such as Barking in east London are facing the prospect of a ‘shift system’, splitting the school day in two with some children attending the morning and others the afternoon shift.

Visiting Bristol yesterday as part of Labour’s city conversation, to help elect Marvin Rees as city mayor, shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg highlighted the government’s swingeing cuts with  new build funding for schools slashed by a massive 57%, against a general 30% cut in most other spending areas.

Rees and Twigg met with parents and representatives of a variety of community groups, to discuss children and families as part of Labour’s childcare commission consultation. Main concerns included current government changes to working tax credits and how little help parents felt was on offer, especially to help single mothers or fathers to be able to work.

Twigg has hinted that better and more childcare will be a key focus for the party’s 2015 manifesto. This will be music to the ears of parents and employers alike, given the intrinsic link between jobs and childcare. More flexibility from employers around part-time working arrangements and more workplace childcare were among ideas put forward in Bristol yesterday.

Speaking as chair of Labour’s childcare commission, Twigg has talked about “switch spending”. That is, reducing spending in one area to fund more in another. Substantial spending cuts would be needed to fund a big improvement in childcare.

On top of the nursery and primary place shortage, these 21st century baby boom children across the UK will all need secondary school places too within a few years. Are local authorities planning for these ? Efficient forward planning and then lobbying the Treasury for money years in advance, is what is needed in Bristol at least, to be ready with adequate space and teachers, in anticipation of rising need.

Rees said: ‘There was common agreement at this city conversation event that Bristol could do much better by its children. For primary school places, high quality buildings, down to the people who work with children and young people, to high quality support services.’

I addressed the pressing issue of school places with Twigg, particularly in south Bristol where at least two extra classes are needed next year; local parents fear this will not be in place by September 2013.

An influx of young families has seen population rises of 20% in some parts. Twigg called on community campaigners and local politicians to question and challenge the funding going to Free Schools, if they don’t reflect real need in an area. He pointed out they are often under-subscribed and sometimes “pet projects” as he calls them.

I was shocked when one local mother with two children at a local south Bristol primary recently told me council officers explained the shortage away by admitting they don’t look at numbers due in the September intake, until the March of the same year. If this is true, this is nothing short of institutional ineptitude.

When I investigated why the City Council does not forecast the extra need well in advance, by analysing data from the time of the actual increase in registered births, my research hit a brick wall.

I was told they’d tried and it was too difficult. But the registration of births locally must enable intelligent guestimates of future need, presumably at least four years in advance.

And that’s just south Bristol. There are capacity issues across the city.

Rees said:

“Looking forward, the really important focus must be bringing well-being and resilience into the lives of our children from the get go; so they have the ability to overcome failure and become fully rounded human beings that go on to make good citizens and become part of a productive work force.”

Amanda Ramsay is a development officer for Bristol South Labour party and a former council cabinet member for equalities and social inclusion

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One Response to “Stephen Twigg and Marvin Rees talk schools and childcare on the Bristol campaign trail”

  1. swatantra says:

    I was in Bristol last week and passed by Clifton College a Public School; its directly next to Bristol’s Zoo, which says someting. Moored in the Avon is Brunel’s Gt Britain, and you’ve also got his brilliant Suspension Bridge. The Water Front has a fantastic nightlife. The St Paul’s precinct is noted for its riots of 20 years ago. Which reminded me of the flare up in Tottenham last year. The lessons and the causes of civil disorder have still not been learned. And they won’t be if we continue with the absurd programme of Free Schools and Faith Schools, which divide societies instead of bringing them together. All Schools should be inclusive.

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