The following was my contribution to the Barnsley Chronicle's Education Supplement on 21st September:
As a former teacher, I’ve been lucky enough to see for myself the positive impact that education has.
I’ve seen children inspired and empowered, and adults with too few choices or chances able to re-train and take their next steps.
And I’ve seen just how much communities like ours in Barnsley can benefit from an education system that serves us all.
In fact, it doesn’t take experience in a classroom to know just how important education is. For many, it’s the difference between having the chance to get on rather than be left behind.
Unfortunately, it also doesn’t take that experience to know that our current education system is also facing serious challenges.
Here in Barnsley, for example, we have one of the lowest levels of social mobility in the entire country, meaning a child born here has fewer opportunities in life than someone born elsewhere.
In areas of London like Kensington and Chelsea, for example, half of disadvantaged young people go on to university.
In Barnsley, it is just one in ten.
Secondary schools in, Hackney, for example, spend £7,840 per child on average.
In Barnsley it is just £4,729.
It’s just not right that young people here are denied opportunities simply by being born in the wrong postcode.
But this is part of a bigger problem; a system suffering under the strain of relentless cuts.
A report by the IFS think-thank this week revealed a system buckling under the strain.
Sure Start children’s centres have lost more than two thirds of their funding.
Per-pupil funding for schools has been cut by nearly a tenth – and more than a fifth for teenagers in sixth-forms.
Further education colleges have been badly hit, there are a million fewer adult learners, and spending on skills is down by almost half.
We’ve seen increasing class sizes, teachers leaving the profession in their droves, and letters to parents from schools asking for donations.
We must do so much better if we want to prevent a disaster for both society and the economy.
I want investment in every aspect of education, with a cradle-to-grave system so learners of all ages get the opportunities they deserve – something the Labour Party has promised with our National Education Service.
We should ensure from their earliest years that every child and parent is given support and none slip through the cracks.
Our schools need the funding and resources to make sure every pupil reaches their potential, regardless of where they were born.
Further education, technical education, vocational skills, and apprenticeships should be accessible to all so that each person can get on and get by.
It’s not just the teaching in our classrooms that counts, either. A key part of the education system is ensuring pupils of all ages are provided with the services and support they need both in and out of schools.
I recently paid visits to FareShare Yorkshire, for instance, whose ‘Healthy Holidays’ scheme provided meals and activities over the summer holidays, and Netherwood Academy to see how important Barnsley CCG’s MindSpace Initiative that focuses on improving children and young people’s mental health is for young people.
Back in those days I spent in a classroom, I saw how a good education can truly open doors for anyone – and everyone deserves that chance.