CANDIDATES hoping to be the next MP for the Cotswolds today spoke to Cirencester College students about the future of young people and education, among other topics.
Four Cotswold MP hopefuls - Labour’s Mark Huband, the Green Party’s Sabrina Poole, the Liberal Democrat’s Andrew Gant, and UKIP’s Chris Harlow - helped answer some of the burning questions on students' minds.
Incumbent Conservative Stroud MP Neil Carmichael took the place of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, incumbent Cotswold MP, who was not able to make the debate.
A question about the proposed National School Funding Formula, which plans to reduce government funding for secondary schools and larger primary schools in the county, led Mr Carmichael to clarify that the Conservative government were not going to reduce the amount of money spent on schools.
He added that the Conservatives had ‘never spent as much as they were spending’ on education and pointed to achievements like the pupil premium.
But he admitted that the funding formula could be improved, suggesting that there should be a funding floor for all schools.
Mr Huband of the Labour party however said that if the formula goes ahead, there will be cuts to every single school in Gloucestershire up until 2019.
He said that Labour would “transform education in this country”, one of the ways to do this was to make sure there were no new grammar schools.
The Lib Dems’ Mr Gant also refuted the idea that there will not be cuts to education under the Conservatives: “Tell that to the teachers. On the ground, it does not feel like there are no cuts.”
He agreed that the pupil premium was “one of the best policies of recent times” but that it was a Lib Dem policy under the coalition. Moving forward with the pupil premium, he said that the Lib Dems are proposing to triple the pupil premium in early years education.
Ms Poole of the Greens said that one of her priorities was education: “It does not matter what the financial situation you are in, education is one of the things that is going to improve the economy. It should be one of the things you should be investing in.”
UKIP’s Mr Harlow was also critical of the Conservative’s claim that cuts were not being made, saying that while the education budget is increasing, per capita, it is decreasing.
Cirencester College students also challenged candidates to explain how ‘prestigious’ universities could be made more accessible to students from state schools.
Speaking for the Conservatives, Mr Carmichael said that “huge progress is already being made”.
He said that the problem could be addressed by making it easier for pupils at all schools to be “enthused by the idea of going to university”.
He said: “We have to improve all of our schools. We need to make sure all schools are well supported and well led. I do not think any secondary school should be allowed to be less than ‘good’.”
Ms Poole, who is 26, spoke of her experiences of going to university as a state school student. Though tuition fees then (£3,000) were a third of what fees are today (£9,000+), she said that she still had to work alongside her studies.
She said: “I’m going to be honest, it is about money.
“We do not just need to get state school students to university, we need to keep them there. We need to make sure they do not cut disabled students allowance and that they keep the Erasmus scheme.
“There is no point having great institutions when only some people can access it. It is about getting more investment.”
Mr Huband, representing Labour who are promising to abolish university tuition fees if they come into power, suggested that the way forward way to improve state schools to be able to give pupils the right confidence to succeed and get through university admissions interviews.
Lib Dem representative Mr Gant clarified the party’s stance on abolishing fees, giving a nod to Labour’s manifesto: “We do not think it is responsible to make that promise when it cannot be delivered.”
UKIP’s Mr Harlow said that it was unfair for universities to ask for £9,000 per year from students when “what they present is not as good as better institutions”.
He said there should be a better way to measure teaching standards at universities, similar to Ofsted inspections at schools.
Among other topics discussed were Brexit, the rights of EU citizens residing in the UK and Theresa May's relationship with Donald Trump.