Last Saturday saw Crawley’s largest public demonstration in 20 years, as teachers, parents, pupils and community members came together to protest planned cuts to Thomas Bennett Community College.
Crawley’s schools have been struggling financially for years and, despite the commitments from our MP, eight years into Conservative Government the funding situation is only getting worse. Nevertheless, the cuts proposed at Thomas Bennett go further than anything so far proposed by the town’s other schools, including those saddled with the same PFI debt our MP landed them with when he ran West Sussex County Council.
For years Thomas Bennett was the best value added school in the county and it continues to play a pivotal role in Crawley’s Special Educational Needs provision. These cuts effectively end that role, a vital one in a town which already has the worst social mobility in the region. Yet, as an academy, the chain running the school remains unaccountable to anyone outside of central government, free to do what they like with taxpayer money.
This isn’t only about Thomas Bennett. The chain which runs the school runs many others in Crawley; if we allow these cuts to happen don’t be surprised when other schools and other chains follow suit. This fight is about whether our town’s children will get access to the decent education they deserve or if we will allow a generation of our country to grow up without the skills necessary to compete in the global economy. This isn’t just about their lives, it’s about all of our futures.
Our Conservative MP may have washed his hands of this issue, the Conservative County Council too, but Labour councillors were proud to stand side-by-side with teachers and parents in demanding that Crawley’s children have at least the same opportunities succeed in life that we had.