Hackney North and Stoke Newington candidates debate education – after school funding cuts protest

Kids protest before the hustings. Picture: Tom Horton

Kids protest before the hustings. Picture: Tom Horton - Credit: Archant

Hackney North and Stoke Newington candidates locked horns at a packed hustings to debate the unprecedented challenges currently being faced by schools.

Hackney North and Stoke Newington education hustings at the Old Church, Stoke Newington

Posted by Hackney Gazette on Thursday, 25 May 2017

The borough’s schools are set to see large portions of their income diverted to other parts of the country, with some set to lose £1,200 per pupil, per year – on top of wider education cuts.

More than 100 parents, teachers and pupils turned up to The Old Church to grill the politicians, but not before staging a large protest against the cuts.

Some 50 people, young and old, marched around Clissold Park before descending on the hustings in Church Street.

Labour’s incumbent Diane Abbott, Green Party candidate Alastair Binnie-Lubbock, Lib Dem Joe Richards and Tory Amy Gray fielded questions on funding, teacher retention and pupil literacy. They were joined on the panel by teacher Kiri Tunks and Alison Kriel, head of Northwold Primary School.

Education was the topic for debate at The Old Church hustings. Picture: Tom Horton

Education was the topic for debate at The Old Church hustings. Picture: Tom Horton - Credit: Archant

London schools have historically had disproportionately high funding because of the challenges they typically face, such as large numbers of pupils having English as a second language and high levels crime and deprivation.

In spite of this, the “London Effect”, whereby pupils from the capital dramatically outperform their counterparts elsewhere in the country, is well documented.

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And Ms Abbott was belligerent on the topic of altering the hugely successful model of schooling in the capital: “Rather than destroying what we have got in London, wouldn’t it be better to spread that out to other parts of the country?” she asked.

Ms Gray, a former English teacher at Skinners’ Company’s School, denied there would be budget cuts to Hackney schools and quoted a line from her party’s manifesto: “We will make sure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula.”

Protesters in Clissold Park. Picture: Tom Horton

Protesters in Clissold Park. Picture: Tom Horton - Credit: Archant

This was strongly disputed by all, including Ms Tunks, who said: “Don’t believe this nonsense about funding not being cut because it absolutely is”.

Mr Binnie-Lubbock questioned why we couldn’t be increasing the overall investment in funding, given “we’re the 5th richest country in the world”.

Mr Richards agreed and defended his party’s record in the last parliament, arguing they helped safeguard school funding from Tory ideologues. Ms Abbott also argued for increased funding and made a point of explaining how she would pay for this, announcing: “I’m not getting caught out again!”

One of her suggestions for raising money was getting rid of the charitable status of private schools and making them pay VAT – something she seemed to have written on the reverse of a flashcard she pulled from a sizeable wedge presumably detailing the finer points of costings for Labour’s manifesto.

The candidates painted a bleak picture of schooling in the borough. Mr Binnie-Lubbock, who spoke of his time on the picket line with those working in early years education, summed up the mood: “We’re at the thick end of the wedge – we’ve passed the thin end.”

However Ms Gray believed Labour’s model did not work, citing personal experience of trying to teach English to pupils who were unable to read.

She claimed it was this experience that drove her to the Tories, arguing standards and expectations needed to be higher.

Ms Kriel was concerned with the way teachers are treated and the knock on effect on students. She argued teachers are “not respected” and aren’t paid enough to persuade enough people to do it.

She said the large turnover in staff and difficulties with recruitment were driving down standards.

Parent and event organiser Emma Griffith was pleased with some of the things she heard, but wasn’t convinced.

Speaking to the Gazette after the hustings, she said: “Labour and the Greens said some good things I agreed with and it’s great that we’ve got people talking about this issue, but as far as I’m concerned if we end up with a Tory government then I don’t see this problem going away.

“However it’s important we show our opposition and make our voice heard.”

Polls were conducted at the start of the evening about who the crowd intended on voting for in the upcoming election.

The crowd was asked who they voted for, or would have voted for, in the 2015 general election. The results were:

Labour 66pc, Liberal Democrats 21pc, Greens 10pc and Conservatives 3pc.

At the end of the hustings, the results were: Labour 54pc, Greens 38pc, Liberal Democrats 6pc and Conservatives 2pc.