Advertisement

It's spend, spend, spend but are the main parties meeting Britain's education needs?

The morning we visit her school, Emily Proffitt is removing a cast-iron drain cover in the playground after a recent spate of heavy rain.

Then she’s on to a water heater that’s packed up. Sadly, it’s beyond her repair.

From caretaker to accountant. Next she’s pouring over the school balance sheet.

"We’re already looking at a £7,000 deficit in our budget, escalating very quickly to £84,000," she tells me.

Then she’s off to take a maths class.

Headteacher Emily Proffitt goes above and beyond (and below ground) at her school near Stoke. Credit: ITV News

Emily’s the headteacher at Tittensor First School near Stoke. Times are tight and even school maintenance is some way down the list of shortages that worry her.

"It’s very dire," she tells me. "Not just the buildings.

"There are basic things we need to run a school. The way budgets are going we’re not going to have the money to fund the teachers we desperately need."

This cash crisis is reckoned to have swung hundreds of thousands of votes in 2017. It’s a lesson the Tories have learnt.

Back in the classroom, Emily Proffitt delivers the maths lesson. Credit: ITV News

Ahead of their manifesto, they’d already announced £7.1 billion extra for schools; though that will also have to pay for a rise in teacher salaries to £30,000. How much better off schools will be – if at all – is bitterly contested.

That old election slogan; education, education, education, has been replaced by spend spend spend.

The Liberal Democrats promise an extra £10 billion and 20,000 more teachers.

Labour goes further; £10.5 billion – enough to more than wipe out the cuts of the past decade.

Boris Johnson's Tories have pledged to spend far more on education than in 2017. Credit: PA

We move on to Grace Academy in Solihull; one of the new generation of specialist secondaries, a product of the almost constant reform of England’s education system in recent decades.

In the secondary sector, classroom warfare is even more intense.

Leaving aside its plan to close the tax loopholes that benefit private schools, Labour wants to end what it calls the marketisation of education. That means returning the schools like the Grace Academy to "local control".

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats want to scrap Ofsted and replace it with what both believe would be more effective inspection regimes.

The Lib Dems say it should take account of the culture of a school and the well-being of pupils and staff.

Jeremy Corbyn's party is outspending his opponents on schools funding. Credit: PA

Under the headship of Darren Gelder, Grace Acadamy has steadily improved, but he’s sympathetic to the idea of reforming the inspection system.

"The thing we’ve got to look at is whether it’s actually leading to school improvements. Or are we just measuring things. That’s the critical part."

Down the road we meet young engineers at the Solihull College and University Centre. For years, and despite many warm words about vocational training, further education has been the Cinderella sector. No longer.

It forms a key plank of Labour’s big idea. A cradle to grave National Education Service which includes £3 billion for adult learning.

Jo Swinson's party and Labour have both pledged to replace Ofsted inspections. Credit: PA

The Lib Dems have their own pitch. A £10,000 ‘skills wallet’ that every English adult can use to sharpen their employment prospects.

The Tories talk about a big cash boost to further education colleges.

"I’ve been around long enough to be quite cynical about some of the promises that have been coming out," John Callaghan, the college principal, tells me.

"But I genuinely feel there’s a recognition that they’ve got to invest in this sector and if they do so it will pay dividends."

Engineering students learning as they go in Solihull. Credit: ITV News

Back at Tittensor, we drop in on a meeting of the Parent Staff Committee. They’re raising cash to help pay for music lessons and a French teacher.

Education has not been a big issue in an election dominated by Brexit. But to the parents here, it might yet be a deciding factor.

"The education system has been rebranded, different things dropped in and taken out. And really I wish they’d just let the teachers get on with the job of teaching our children," says Vicky Larkin.

Back to basics, you might say. Another old slogan that today’s politicians might do well to remember.

The Parent Staff Committee in Tittensor explores ways to add extra funding. Credit: ITV News

You can read more on the main parties' education pledges in our guides to the Labour manifesto and the Lib Dem manifesto.

Or you can read the full manifestos here for Labour and the Lib Dems.

A link to the Conservative manifesto and our simplified guide will be added once it has been published.