Across Yorkshire these hard pressed MPs are facing headlines in the local press about the real impact on schools of funding changes. School Heads are desperately trying to cope with severe budget cuts, whilst Conservative MPs are busy trying to tell us that it isn't really so bad or that it isn't really their fault. The reality is that these cuts really are having a severe impact and there isn't anyone else to blame.
For example The Yorkshire Post reported this week that the Head Teacher of Settle Primary School will be forced to cut one of his classes in a desperate attempt to keep his school solvent.
Settle is part of a Constituency that has voted Conservative for many years. The reward for local parents is that their child will no longer be taught in a group of other children of the same age. The Head is now forced to ask his teachers to put more children of different ages into larger classes and then to try and interest all of them. Anyone who has ever spent any time with young children will know that this isn't easy and that it is bound to have a negative impact on the success and the happiness of those children. And of course the stress levels of the teacher and the Head.
Curiously parents don't like it if their child is the youngest in a large class and comes home exhausted and unhappy at not being able to keep up. Nor do they like it if the child is at the top of the age range and is regularly fed a diet of less interesting or challenging activities and comes home bored and frustrated. Astonishingly parents notice these things.
Equally astonishingly teachers also notice. They haven't had a real term pay cut every year for 10 years. Now they are being asked to maintain enthusiastic motivation whilst teaching bigger classes of less content children with a much wider ability range. Whilst they try their honest best to do so they can wait confidently for the next set of performance measures and 'expert' inspectors to come along and tell them that they aren't doing it very well and need to fill out some more forms. Curiously that tends to take quite a lot of the creativity and fun out of teaching.
So the Head of Settle Primary felt it necessary to write to local parents and advise them of the expected change, warning them in the politest of diplomatic language that the school would do its best to limit the damage.
The local MP, Julian Smith, felt it more appropriate to tell him that he hadn't properly understood the situation and to repeat some government propaganda about funding being at the highest level ever.
There is a simple reason for the difference in viewpoint. The MP is repeating the very best spin that can be put onto the school funding figures by the government for which he is a Whip. The School Head is looking at the reality of an actual budget sheet.
What looks to a propagandist like a tiny increase in funding gets utterly wiped out by other changes that the Conservative government has made. Funding for schools is up by just 0.7% in total. But there are more children in the age cohort so funding per child is down. Then the school has to pay for increases in pension and National Insurance contributions brought in by the same government which is telling schools they have plenty enough cash. When all such changes are taken into account the budget per child turns horribly negative. Then there is the slight problem that inflation is increasing because of Brexit. Electricity bills, repair bills, equipment and supplies are all going up. And staff will get a tiny pay award which is not remotely equal to inflation but will also add to costs.
The average cut of funding for a school in North Yorkshire is £394 per pupil and just in this one county 770 fewer teachers are likely to be employed. In nearby Bradford the cut is even worse because of the new "fairer" funding system. There schools lose £569 per head and 1,224 teachers will be lost.
Julian Smith's statements amount to telling a School Head that he doesn't understand funding realities that are staring him in the face on a balance sheet and that instead of worrying about pesky little things like money he should cheer himself up by listening to government propaganda campaigns. Not exactly the most sensitive of messages.
In line with the extra severity of the Bradford cuts, David Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley (in the Bradford suburbs) is responding with even more astonishing lack of sensitivity. He is one of the MPs who has cheered loudest and longest for austerity and for tax cuts. Now when the reality of his own choice to go for tax cuts instead of investment starts to really bite he has begun to worry that there might be unpleasant consequences.
Let's be charitable and assume that his chances of losing a marginal seat at the next election are not the consequences he is worrying about. Let's be even more charitable and give him some credit for finally asking the right question about his own government's new "fairer" funding system. After voting for the cuts he now wants to know why Bradford is facing some of the most severe education cuts in the whole country. He says:
"it seems bizarre to take money from schools near the bottom of the education league table and give money to those nearer the top. Why on earth would you want to do that?"
I think his voters may be tempted to offer him a short and simple explanation. The new funding system takes money away from inner city areas that don't normally vote Conservative and gives it to shire counties that do. The intent of the government was to cushion the blow of austerity for middle class voters in Conservative constituencies and not to worry over much about how schools in the inner city coped. Put more bluntly Conservative MPs voted to cut the education budget and at the same time to transfer money from the education of poor children to those better off in the hope that things would be alright in their own neighbourhood.
What has happened instead is that the average funding cut is so severe that it is having an impact up and down the country that goes way beyond what Conservative MPs thought would happen when they loyally voted for it. If Head Teachers in areas like Settle, that were expected to win out, are telling us that there are severe problems then imagine what it is going to be like in sink schools in the toughest parts of our inner cities.
So, as I say, spare a thought for those unfortunate Conservative MPs. They thought they could just inflict austerity on poor kids but they have got it wrong and inflicted it much more widely. Times are going to be hard back in the constituencies. For children, for parents, for teachers, for Heads and of course for those unfortunate Conservative MPs who voted for all this.