Schools should get five per cent more money each year, says Hitchin MP

Priory School head Geraint Edwards with Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami. Picture: JP Asher

Priory School head Geraint Edwards with Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami. Picture: JP Asher - Credit: Archant

Five per cent a year – that’s the sort of funding rise Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami says he would give our schools if he were in charge.

Mr Afolami made the point during an hour-long question-and-answer session at Hitchin’s Priory School last night, which was attended by about 100 people.

One questioner asked how much he would give to education if he were education secretary or Prime Minister – and he said he would like to see a rise of roughly five per cent every year.

Asked what he would do to get this, former school governor Mr Afolami said politics was “about making arguments and trying to win them”. He said he could not commit to voting against a budget with a rise of under five per cent.

Mr Afolami volunteered to come answer questions after the six secondary school heads in North Herts wrote to parents in May, criticising the government’s education funding policy and warning of a “crisis”.

One Hitchin Girls’ School governor told Mr Afolami the government “can dress up the figures however you like but it’s just not true. We’re sick to death of the government spinning lies.”

The 32-year-old Conservative MP said costs for schools had risen for reasons including new technology, rising staff costs and the move to the academy model.

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He defended the new national funding formula, which he said aims to rectify discrepancies between similar schools in different areas. Across the constituency, he said, schools will get 1.9 per cent more funding.

He then said it was important to consider these things in the medium or long term, prompting Hitchin Parents Against School Cuts campaigner Kay Tart to say there was a real-terms loss of £1.4 million per year in Hitchin alone. “We need money now,” she said.

Mr Afolami replied by saying the projected 2020 data she cited was incorrect. Challenged to prove this, he said there was a spending review in the autumn.

Told of schools lacking exercise books, he said: “That is a complete disgrace” – but insisted that shouldn’t be taken as “indicative of funding levels”.

He said he would be pleased to come back for another meeting after the autumn budget review.

Afterwards, Priory School head Geraint Edwards told the Comet: “I’d like to thank Bim for coming and for his openness and honesty regarding the education provision. But we want him to take back to parliament and the education department our concerns and push for fair funding that takes into consideration the inflationary costs that we’re all facing.”

Hitchin Parents Against School Cuts will hold an action day in Market Place on Saturday, July 14.

• Comet chief reporter JP Asher was tweeting live from the meeting last night. See to see more of what was said.

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