There were passionate exchanges at Wednesday night’s meeting of South Gloucestershire Council as councillors debated a Lib Dem motion calling on the Conservatives to do more to tackle the funding crisis in South Gloucestershire schools. Conservative Council Leader and Education Executive Member Toby Savage dismissed the recent BBC Documentary series “School” as showing a misleading picture of South Gloucestershire’s schools, leading to angry cries and derision from the public gallery and opposition councillors.
Local Lib Dem education spokesperson Cllr Ian Blair said: “Cllr Savage claims that he understands the pressures that local schools are under, but his attitude suggests otherwise. Rather than accept our motion calling for more action, he watered it down and made self-congratulatory comments about the amount of money the Conservatives have spent on school buildings and his reintroduction of an education awards ceremony. He doesn’t seem to get it. Our schools are at breaking point. Two out of three of our primary schools have had to cut class room assistants due to budget cuts. Half have had to cut teaching hours. This is not the time for the Cllr Savage to pat himself on the back. He and our three Conservative MPs need to increase the pressure on the Government for urgent extra funding – otherwise residents may begin to wonder what the point of them is.”
Lib Dem Group Leader Cllr Claire Young said: “As a parent with children in local schools I found it deeply frustrating to hear Cllr Savage try to downplay the problems our teachers face. Under his leadership South Gloucestershire has become the national poster-child for schools in crisis as a result of the BBC’s School documentary series. Yet Cllr Savage accused the documentary-makers of selectively editing the program to make the situation in our schools seem worse than it really is. Having heard from dozens of local parents and teachers, I can assure him that the documentary painted an all-too-familiar and accurate picture of the state of our schools.
“My worry is that if Cllr Savage doesn’t really believe that things are all that bad in our schools then that will be the message he reflects back to Government. He claims that he and our local MPs are already lobbying Government for more funding, yet there is little sign of it. Since he has been in charge of education at South Gloucestershire we have slipped down the league table to become the worst funded authority in the country for education. If his performance was graded in the same way that our schools are he would be found “requires improvement.” The situation in our schools is nothing short of an outrage. The Government needs to be shamed into action before it is too late.”