A PACKED crowd at Hexham’s Trinity Methodist Church watched Hexham’s prospective parliamentary candidates battle it out over education and politics.

As well as being grilled again on issues such as food bank use, social care and the NHS, Monday night’s event also raised some new issues.

One question was asked about the number of teachers leaving the profession.

Conservative candidate Guy Opperman pointed to new school buildings in Hexham, Prudhoe, Ponteland and improvements at Haydon Bridge. He added: “We have finally managed to increase per pupil funding up to the £4,000 or £5,000 levels.”

Labour candidate Penny Grennan commented on the “fragmented” education system in the west of Northumberland and said the party would create a national education service. “We are now in a situation where there are academies, there are trusts, there is a three-tier system, there’s a two-tier system and all the time the funding is being cut,” she said.

“Guy might be responsible for building nice, shiny buildings but actually, it’s the revenue funding, the per child funding that’s important.”

Liberal Democrat Stephen Howse agreed with Dr Grennan on the need for funding, and added: “At the moment, teachers are stressed out, they are overworked and they’re teaching to the test.”

He said the party would bring in 20,000 teachers over the lifespan of the next parliament.

Nick Morphet of the Green Party said the party would “release schools from the burden of league tables”. He added: “Teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers because of inadequate staffing levels, low wages and even lower morale.”

Candidates also answered a question on whether they would support reform of the electoral system, after it was claimed many people feel Hexham is a “safe seat” and their votes do not count. Mr Howse and Mr Morphet said they would support electoral reform and both urged people to vote with their hearts and their morals.

Mr Opperman said he would not support reform, as he believed the issue had been settled during a referendum on the issue, but encouraged people to vote according to their principles and beliefs. Dr Grennan said: “The power that you have is to be a tactical voter in this constituency.”