LETTER: talkback

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The Independent Online
From Janet Lash

Madam: On Thursday we received a letter from the principal of my son's school informing us that next year there will be a cut of pounds 200,000 in the school's budget. On Friday, at the Conservative Party Conference, the Prime Minister, flanked by the Cabinet, announced a doubling of the assisted places to be offered to bright children to attend private schools.

Chesterton Community College, which my son attends, last year achieved a 44 per cent A-C GCSE pass rate (compared with 27 per cent nationally). Of the 200 Year 11 students, 54 per cent achieved five-plus A-C grades .This is not a selected intake. Chesterton has a significant number of statemented children, and its catchment area includes a large council estate. By any standards, it must be considered a highly successful school.

And yet, at a recent parent-teacher meeting, the principal reported that the ongoing redecoration had been put on hold because a choice had to be made between curriculum development and plant. A loss of four teachers is inevitable because of this year's cuts. Already over-extended teachers will have to teach even larger classes, with a consequent increase in non-contact time work as more books have to be marked and more assessments made.

The staff at my son's school are every bit as well qualified as those at the private schools in the city (Cambridge is full of highly qualified graduates with energy, ideas and dedication). The difference is that they have to teach classes of 30-plus, in inadequately funded schools, on overloaded timetables that leave no space for proper preparation or reflection.

In such circumstances pounds 200,000 - pounds 20 per pupil - makes a great deal of difference.It simply will not wash for the Government to pretend that it cares about education, to insist that class sizes do not matter, to state grandly that it is not plant that really matters but quality of teaching, and then to announce an increase in assisted places because "poor people should have choice, too".

Whatever the Prime Minister might think, the choice most people want is not to have what others haven't got. What I choose is an education system that offers the best to every child. I choose a properly funded state education system. And that is what this government is denying me.



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