Welcome to my blog as a local councillor for Harrow Road in Westminster! I’ve started this blog as a way to let people know what myself and your other ward councillors (Ruth Bush & Guthrie McKie) are doing to represent our community.
To start off I want to talk about Education in Westminster.
This is because it’s an important issue and there are some serious challenges facing our Schools. I spoke about these and Westminster’s response at a debate on Wednesday night at full council.
The first of these challenges is about money. Sadly, budget cuts are on there way and by some estimates spending reductions of £500 per pupil will hit Westminster Schools in the coming years. That’s a total of 8.9%. Education spending has only been cut in real terms on two occasions in the past: in 1994 (3%) and 1982 (4%). I’ll leave others to point out who was in power then…
Needless to say difficult times are on the way.
These budget cuts are coming at the same moment that Westminster Schools (mainly Primary Schools) face having to convert into ‘academies’. Now, take aside that “there is no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools” – not my words but the conclusion of the House of Commons Education Select Committee. Just think of the upheaval the change is going to cause.
The average time for a school to convert to become an academy is 7 months, meaning that for two thirds of the School year Westminster school leaders will be spending time, money and energy on the government’s obsession with academies, instead of standards. What makes it particularly barmy here in Westminster is that the vast majority of our Schools are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.
One of the big criticisms of academies is that there is not enough accountability of ‘Academy chains’. Yet to make matters worse the plans include removing parent governors. All of this is happening during a national crisis in teaching, with recruitment targets missed and teachers leaving the profession in droves (an 11% increase between 2011 and 2014).
The Labour Group on Westminster Council has challenged the Tory administration to join other Councils in opposing the Government’s plans. There was some indication on Wednesday that they will finally speak out on at least some of the problems I mentioned above.
My concern is that as ever the Council’s response is too slow, and Westminster is at the back of the class, hands down, coasting as it does on so many issues. I’ll write more in coming weeks about this issue, but please do write to me with your views on this or comment below.