Last week, at my regular meeting with Ipswich’s Police Superintendent, we discussed knife crime. Knife crime in Ipswich is still far higher than any of us would wish, although not as high as has been reported in some cases. We agreed that education was key to preventing young people from getting involved in gangs that use knives, and getting through to them that carrying a knife made them – and everyone around them – less safe, not more. The Police bring the issue to schools at Year 6, through Crucial Crew, and also at Year 9 with a new drama-discussion, so that they can help the children work out for themselves that knives are a really bad idea.
I also met the new head of the Norfolk & Suffolk Foundation Trust for mental health last week. Many long-term mental health problems start at an early age. The right help at the right time can prevent some people’s entire lives from being undermined. And the level of suicide amongst young people is also a terrible tragedy which we must do more to prevent.
This week, Parliament has been debating the misuse of social media. Again, education is the key to helping young people recognise the difference between having a friendly chat with others, or getting involved in inappropriate sexual images and vicious bullying.
This week I have also discussed how to encourage more young people to go into nursing – we are desperately short of nurses of all sorts. The moral rewards are wonderful even if the financial rewards are not as great as they should be. Choosing the right career is one of the most important decisions any person ever makes, and I am not convinced that all our schools have enough time or expertise to give children the best possible help to make those choices.
Young people’s time at school is precious. At their age they are able and, for the most part, willing to learn. They are in a place where society can provide information and support to them. Every issue we want citizens to understand, to equip them for a better life, is most effectively taught in school. Of course the most important role of school is to enable young people to learn, but we must also enable them to live.
None of this is possible if schools do not have the resources they need. Investment in education is key to overcoming our problems and building a better Britain. Which is why the current real terms per-pupil cut is not just unfair, it is a waste. It is a waste of the efforts of our hard-pressed heads and teachers trying to improve education in Suffolk. It is a waste of the goodwill and enthusiasm of the young people in our schools. And it is a waste of all our country’s potential achievements.
It is no surprise that this government is making the biggest cuts at schools where the children have the greatest need of help. The worst affected, Chantry Academy and Ipswich Academy, with 40% and 46% of free school meals respectively, face cuts of over £300,000 per year each. Third highest is Ormiston Denes in Lowestoft. Eight out of the top ten affected primary schools are also in Ipswich, from Piper’s Vale, losing over £146,000, to Ravenswood, losing almost £169,000.
There is no plan to ensure all children get the education they need. Last week, the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star reported the chronic lack of places in Pupil Referral Units, with children as young as four on the waiting list. There is an argument for educating more children with special needs in mainstream schools, but to do that we need specially trained staff and appropriate units within the schools. The County Council is not doing that, and the government has not given them the powers or the finances to enable them to do it. And those children who really cannot attend a mainstream school need more specialist provision in Suffolk to avoid sending any of them away to other counties.
Along with all of Suffolk’s MPs, I have received a letter from Suffolk Labour County Councillors urging me to write to the Secretary of State about our schools’ funding cuts. I will certainly do so. It would be wonderful if Mr Hinds replied that he will revise the funding formula, so that no schools in Ipswich or the rest of Suffolk get a real-terms per-pupil funding cut. I will let readers know what response I actually get.