bristol

OPINION: Karin Smyth MP focus on education in Bristol South

(Newspaper column as seen in The Pigeon in January 2020)

I hope you all had a good Christmas and New Year. Thank you for re-electing me as your MP. I’m looking forward to continuing the work I’ve been doing around local education – particularly post-16 education and apprenticeships, healthcare and transport.

The general election campaign offered a good opportunity to talk to people across Bristol South. I spoke to a lot of people at the school gates in Totterdown, Windmill Hill, Southville, Bedminster and Ashton Gate; parents and grandparents concerned about the underfunding in our primary schools among other concerns around parking and Brexit.

These conversations with local families have re-confirmed my focus on education as one of the key issues here in Bristol South.

£15 million has been taken out of South Bristol schools since 2015. Once again, Bristol South is among the constituencies hit the hardest –with funding cuts of over £500 per pupil per year in recent years. I do not think it’s a coincidence that this constituency also sends such a low percentage – around 16 per cent – of school leavers on to university. Post-16 education has a crucial role to play in addressing this, yet it has seen the biggest cuts and is in dire need of investment.

I challenged one of the Tory candidates (now MP for Devizes) on Sunday Politics Live in the run up to the election on this. He parroted the line about the government’s commitment to education and ongoing investment into the country’s schools, but as with most of their rebuttals, the figures just don’t add up.

I’ve met with headteachers and staff at most of Bristol South’s schools and while there are some shared issues – such as staff recruitment and retention – it’s clear that the challenges are varied. Some schools struggle with absence and anti-social behaviour, other schools with rising class sizes rise (from 30 up to 35) and most schools have been hit by the backlog in EHCP assessments for children with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND).

I’ve spoken to parents who’ve been asked to contribute financially to their child’s school to plug funding gaps and to those parents unable to access the SEND support they need for their child.

I think that people here in Bristol South recognise, as demonstrated by the election result here, that myself and the Labour Party are the best hope of addressing the dire situation in our local schools. While I’m disappointed that we’re not in government and able to implement the changes needed, I will continue to work with local schools, parents and the local authority to try and secure improvements. And I will not stop raising this in parliament until the government takes the action so desperately needed.