On Wednesday 17th March, Devon Labour welcomed Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Kate Green MP to a listening event about the quality of education in Devon. Chaired by Lisa Robillard Webb, Chair of Devon County Labour Party Forum, the panel also included local Labour Councillor Su Aves and National Education Union Regional Secretary Hannah Packham.
Over 40 attendees from across Devon, including educators and parents were present. Questions from participants covered a wide variety of topics such as provision for pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN), forced academisation of schools, mental health support in schools and lack of local authority funding.
Kate Green began the event by paying tribute to everybody who works in the education system over the last 12 months as well as parents and families dealing with homeschooling. Green reiterated the importance of education for ‘children and young people, adult learners as well as for our country, for our economy and future prosperity’ at a ‘really challenging time in education.’
Green outlined Labour’s priorities for education at the moment as getting children safely back into the classroom, providing resources to support children’s mental and emotional well-being and helping children catch up with lost learning.
Devon residents then questioned the Shadow Secretary on local issues in education. Many questions focused on pupil well-being. Kate argued that well-being needs to become a properly resourced ‘political no brainer’ in the future and well-being support should be offered in all schools.
Panellist Hannah Packham added that locally education staff retention is an issue due to lack of support of well-being of staff.
Another question addressed by the panel was how to reconcile a high number of pupils in Devon with an education, health and care (EHC) plan with many years of funding cuts resulting in a deficit over the last month of £7 million in the high needs block. Kate answered that this problem arose from the fact that reforms in this area have not been underpinned by funding and that a conversation needs to happen around funding.
Other topics discussed include around school structures, university fees and career services.
Cllr Su Aves, a Labour member of the Devon County Council Children’s Scrutiny Committee, shared some insights into the challenges of working in opposition within the Council. Aves shared how her fight for more SEND funding in the council resulted in more staff being employed by the council. NEU rep Hannah Packham encouraged participants to make their voices heard in the upcoming May elections.