I was really pleased to bring MPs from all the political parties who sit on the Public Accounts Committee which I chair in Westminster to visit two schools in Barking and Dagenham recently. We were looking at how the Government funds new school places. We have a real problem in the borough with having enough places for all our children.
Barking & Dagenham is expanding. The birth rate has risen more than anywhere else in the country. We need money from Government to provide the extra places our children need and are entitled to.
A report by the public spending watchdog the National Audit Office found that, across the country, the Government needs to create 250,000 new school places by 2014 if they are to meet the rising demand, particularly for primary places.
We visited Gascoigne Primary and Barking Abbey School and despite the obvious overcrowding the MPs on my Committee were extremely impressed with the staff and pupils of both schools. For some MPs from the Tory shires it was a wake-up call for them to see lessons being taught in temporary buildings.
After the visits we moved to Barking Town Hall to quiz the head of the Department of Education, Chris Wormald, on what he was going to do about the crisis in school places.
If the Government’s answer is to teach more children in temporary classrooms that is simply not good enough. Playgrounds and playing fields are under threat as schools struggle to make room. Facilities like music rooms get closed as heads struggle to find more classrooms for our children. It is not right that the Government is putting huge amounts of money into their pet projects with academies and free schools whilst councils like ours aren’t getting the money we need to create more school places.
I ran a successful campaign with the Council last year to get more money from Mr Gove for our borough. I will go back again with the Council this year to fight for more money. Our children deserve the best start in life and that means decent buildings where they can sit and learn. Nothing less will do.