Lib Dem leader launches schools pledge in North Devon
LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg announced a �2.5bn education pledge during a visit to North Devon yesterday (Thursday). The party leader called in at South Molton, Ilfracombe and Barnstaple during the whistle stop tour with North Devon Lib Dem MP Nick
LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg announced a �2.5bn education pledge during a visit to North Devon yesterday (Thursday).
The party leader called in at South Molton, Ilfracombe and Barnstaple during the whistle stop tour with North Devon Lib Dem MP Nick Harvey.
In South Molton, Mr Clegg chatted with market traders in the town's pannier market and sampled some of the local produce, including locally pressed apple juice and a Devon pasty.
After lunch, the politician was grilled by politics students in a question and answer session at Petroc in Barnstaple. Youngsters asked Mr Clegg about a number of wide-ranging issues such as his view on the monarchy and power-sharing in Northern Ireland; his take on the current Government's handling of the recession; and his party's stance on defence budgets, Europe and university tuition fees.
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But it was while at the My Start Children's Centre, in Ilfracombe, that talk turned to the Lib Dem's Pupil Premium commitment, a manifesto promise of around �27.3m of extra cash for Devon schools, part of �85m South West education package.
Recent figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats show that Devon is in the bottom 10 authorities for school funding and that pupils in the county attract 10 per cent less funding than the national average.
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They show only 23 per cent of the poorest pupils in Devon achieved five good GCSEs, including English and maths, compared with more than half of their better-off classmates. Last year, fewer than a quarter of those children entitled to free school meals achieved five decent GCSEs including English and maths.
Mr Clegg said: "It's nothing short of a scandal that children in the South West continue to lose out under Labour. Schools in the South West receive significantly less money than the national average.
"With this unfairness in funding it's no surprise there is such a gap in achievement between children from the poorest backgrounds and those families who are better off.
"Under our plans, schools in the South West would get a further �85m which they could use to cut class sizes and provide more individual support. Only when we get education funding back on track will be able to give all our children the fair start they deserve."
And as no visit to the county would have been complete without a traditional Devon tea, the North Devon Gazette invited the leader to stop by for some refreshments, complete with freshly made scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream.