Leeds schools boss calls for massive education spending boost in spring budget
One of the most senior members of Leeds City Council has called on chancellor to use this week’s spring budget introduce a massive funding increase for school pupils in order to help bridge the “north-south gap” in education.
Coun Jonathan Pryor (Lab), the authority’s executive member for learning, added that a year of lockdowns will have created an uneven playing field between disadvantaged and more well-off school pupils, and warned more needed to be done to help offset the problems.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to announce the Government’s spring budget on Wednesday – thought to be one of the most significant fiscal announcements in modern times, following the economic damage caused by Covid-19.
But despite the expectations and previewed announcements, precious little has been said about the future of education. Coun Pryor wants that to change.
“The key thing is per-pupil funding,” he said. “Since 2010, per-pupil funding has dropped by eight per cent (in Leeds), and that has had a huge impact on schools and what they can do.
“The top priority would be a reversal of those cuts, given how much those schools are going to have to catch up now, as well as how differently schools have been affected in the north to the south because of Covid.
“As the country recovers, it’s about choices. When the government literally spent billions on things like a failed track and trace system, and giving out contracts to people they know, then saying ‘we don’t have that money for schools’.
“It shows the government does have this money and they’re making the wrong choices.”
He said he noticed a “north-south divide” in the way government responds to concerns around school safety during the pandemic, following a request he and other Leeds councillors made back in October 2020 to cancel the 2021 exams.
He added: “This was at a time when infections were really, really high in the north and really low in the south.
“At that stage, Government weren’t interested in looking at exams – they said they were going ahead, and the infection rate in the north wasn’t a factor.
“But when the infection rate rose in the south, that’s when they started taking notice and cancelled exams. Those attitudes shine a light on how the government views the north compared to the south.
“The government has now announced they are going down the teacher assessment route – it is probably the right option for this year.
“But we now need to be looking at the 2022 exams.”
So does he believe the lack of schooling during the lockdown will create a “lost generation” of individuals who missed out on months of important education?
“I don’t think so,” he said. “But I think some young people’s experience after a year of lockdowns is quite different to other young people’s.
“I’m concerned about some young people soaring ahead while others get left behind, and there will be more of those children in the north than in the south.”