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David Ellesmere: We need a different approach to education

A sure sign that the General Election is fast approaching is the number of hustings events that Ive been invited to. Up to the end of April there will be at least twelve opportunities for Ipswich voters to put their questions to the candidates.

On Friday I attended a hustings at Suffolk One. I think its important to go to events like this because this will be the first time most of their students will be eligible to vote and so many young people dont bother.

It was a very well organised event. The auditorium was packed and there were some really good questions. Hopefully it will have encouraged many of those present to vote.

Every time I go to Suffolk One I still find it a stunning building. Its a real testament to the investment the last Labour Government made in education in Ipswich. As well as this building there was also the re-build of Suffolk New College and the creation of the University.

However its clear that across the board in Ipswich and Suffolk the education system is currently in real trouble.

At the hustings the issue of the financial problems facing Suffolk One was inevitably raised.  Also, this week Suffolk New College announced that it was going to stop running A-level courses. FE Colleges like Suffolk College have also been hit with the news that their funding for adult skills is to be cut by a quarter from April.

Some of Ipswichs academies seem to be on a constant merry-go-round of changing their headteachers and sponsors, with performance spiralling downwards.

Teachers are leaving the profession in droves, ground down by constant changes being introduced by the Government without evidence or testing and at extremely short notice.

Suffolk County Councils ability to provide support to schools has been comprehensively hollowed out. The only action they can take now is to send out letters to 88 schools - we dont know which ones - telling them that their performance isnt good enough.

On top of this the Government is wasting money hand-over-fist on its Free School programme. At a time when every penny should count, the Government is allowing Free Schools to open in areas which already have surplus places. They are funded unfairly, being paid on the basis of how many places they have, not how many pupils, like other schools.

Some of the Free Schools have been a disaster. One third are performing badly. The head teacher of one school has been charged with multiple fraud. The IES Breckland Free School is so bad that some pupils English performance actually got worse after they started at the school.

Michael Gove and the Tories have spent the last five years telling us that their Free Schools and forced academisation programme would raise standards. They havent. Theyve wasted millions and, if anything, have made things worse.

We need a different approach. I brought Shadow Secretary of State for Education Tristram Hunt to Ipswich last week to outline Labours plans for education.

We would scrap the wasteful Free School programme. We would stop the constant tinkering which is driving teachers to distraction and let them get on with teaching. There would be a relentless focus on improving the quality of senior staff. Ive seen how a poor school can be turned round by a good headteacher and how a good school can be taken down by a bad one. We would maintain education funding, unlike the Tories.

We owe this to our children. Too many of them are being let down at the moment.



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