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ELECTION candidates clashed over education after West Dorset’s current MP dismissed a question from a headteacher that schools are facing a “funding crisis”.

Politicians who are campaigning to be elected as MP for West Dorset next month had their say at a packed hustings at Bridport United Church on Tuesday.

Conservative candidate, Sir Oliver Letwin, who is defending his seat, was heckled by voters for “not answering the question” after being asked about school funding by Kay Taylor, executive head of the Minerva Learning Trust, which includes the Sir John Colfox Academy and three primary schools.

Mrs Taylor asked: “What do you intend to do to deal with the funding crisis in schools?

“What do they think schools should cut? I know the government is saying it has put more money into education but it is not matching the increase in the number of children in the system - so the amount of money going into schools has been cut by £7.27 per primary child and almost £15 per secondary child.”

Labour candidate Lee Rhodes was first to respond to the question.

He said: “It’s not good enough our children have a second rate education.

“It has got to come down to basic funding. We cannot have school classrooms packed to the rafters. We have got to fund the thing properly.”

Sir Oliver refuted Mrs Taylor’s claim that schools were in crisis and said the previous Labour government had “led the nation into total crisis”.

He added: “I don’t think it’s true that Dorset schools are having a substandard education.

“I don’t think it’s true that there’s some kind of crisis going on in our schools. I go into schools a lot and speak to teachers and headteachers and that is not the case.”

Sir Oliver was interrupted by the Dorset secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Ali Chown, who told Sir Oliver that “teachers in Dorset are being made redundant as we speak” and called on him to answer the question.

Liberal Democrat candidate Andy Canning used the hustings to tell voters he is “the only one” who can oust Sir Oliver from his seat.

In addressing education funding, he said: “The cuts coming down in the next few years means that teachers are going to be made redundant.

“Three out of the four of the candidates here are pretty clear it has to stop. If the number of pupils is going up, the funding has to increase.”

Green Party candidate Kelvin Clayton said: “Can we honestly say our economy is working?

“We need to completely rethink the way we do it.”

Candidates were also asked about Brexit and Sir Oliver called on voters to give Theresa May “a strong hand” in negotiations with the European Union by voting Conservative.

Mr Rhodes said parliament should have the final say on a Brexit deal, while both Mr Clayton and Mr Canning argued that a second referendum should be held on the deal to leave the union.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News:

THE head of a Bridport academy trust believes schools have "little left to cut" amid a government funding squeeze.

Speaking after Tuesday's election hustings, Kay Taylor, executive head of the Minerva Learning Trust, said: "The government funding is not taking into account increased costs due to pay rises, higher employer pension contributions and higher National Insurance contributions.

"With inflation also rising, the National Audit Office reports that the real terms gap in funding for schools is eight per cent. This follows substantial cuts in sixth form funding a few years ago which schools needed to adapt to. Sir John Colfox lost £127,000 in sixth form funding per year because of this."

She added: "Schools have had to make substantial cuts over the last five years and there is little left to cut now if this funding continues to decrease. While some may not yet be at crisis point in Dorset schools, three year projections show a crisis is coming as schools use their reserves to keep going."