Skip to main content

School Places (Barking and Dagenham)

Volume 607: debated on Thursday 17 March 2016

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Guy Opperman.)

I want to make several points regarding school places and school funding in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham. I will not use all my allotted time so that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) can also contribute before the Minister responds.

From the outset, I should say that our local authority appreciates the work carried out between the Education Funding Agency and local authority officers and that the need to meet additional demand has been recognised by the Government. My concern today is to ensure that this recognition translates into genuine action and appropriate funding arrangements over the years that lie ahead. I want to go into some detail regarding the challenges we face that are difficult for national allocation formulae and systems fully to understand, in the hope of ensuring that the Treasury grants the Department for Education the money it needs.

To set this in context, there are obvious London-wide pressures on school places. London Councils’ “Do the Maths 2015” analysis shows that London’s pupil population is set to increase by a further 146,000 between 2015 and 2020; that London needs to create 113,000 new school places over the course of this Parliament; and that it needs £1.5 billion of basic need funding by 2020 to create the new places required. Even set against that capital-wide challenge, the challenges facing Barking and Dagenham are unique in terms of demographic change, pressure for school places and an ageing school estate.

When I was first elected, the borough would have been characterised as a relatively stable community with a slightly ageing population. This picture of stability was reflected in the school numbers: between 2000-01 and 2005-6, primary school numbers actually fell by 150. In contrast, over the last 10 years, the borough has become one of the fastest-changing communities in Britain. We have to deal with demographic changes the likes of which we could never have imagined back in 2001, let alone 2005, driven by the fact that we remain the cheapest housing market across Greater London.

We saw a 43% increase in primary pupil numbers between 2009-10 and 2014-15, and this is likely to rise to 48% by 2016-17. At 48%, this will be the highest increase in England. Between 2009 and 2013-14, the headcount rose by 7,421. Those areas with a higher headcount were Birmingham, Bradford, Hertfordshire, Manchester and Surrey—none comparable in terms of the size of the community. Barking and Dagenham remains a relatively small London borough. This year—in a single year—we saw a 12.7% increase in the number of year 6 children applying for secondary school places next year, which is the highest in London by over 3%. The proportion of children under 19 in the population is expected to reach at least 33% before 2020. This is 10% higher than the average for England and around 8% higher than the average for London.

All those increases are before the significant increases we expect owing to increased housing units across the borough. For example, we are looking at development sites across Castle Green, Barking Riverside, Barking town centre, Creekmouth, Thames road and Beam park and the old Ford stamping plant, which amount to some 29,300-plus units over the next decade or more.

Already, the borough has committed to support the London Mayor by providing 5% of the planned growth in housing for London—some 75% higher than we might have expected on a pro-rata basis. This will go a long way to meeting London’s housing crisis, but we must make sure that it does not fuel a deepening school places crisis locally. The latest estimates from the LEA are of a further 5,500 increase in the primary school population by 2021-22 and a 7,700 increase in the secondary school population. Overall, we are witnessing a unique population surge. Just after the 2020 election, the school population will be over 50,000—virtually double the headcount compared with when I was first elected in 2001.

Let us now consider some of the funding implications. Based on our place projections for up to 2021, a total of 20 additional forms of entry will be needed at primary level, which is equivalent to around seven new schools, costing approximately £63 million. At secondary level, we anticipate 41 extra forms of entry, which is about the size of four large secondary schools, costing about £100 million. We will also need to expand our special educational needs provision, while early years numbers are also rising.

I have just alluded to an awful lot of money, but we are talking about an awful lot of children. Within these estimates, and given the record of our borough, our capital costs per place are well below the median for the region—and below our immediate neighbours—for both expanding and new school places. To add to the picture, we cannot forget how we as a borough lost out badly with the end of both the Building Schools for the Future and the primary schools capital programmes.

BSF covered all nine secondary schools in the borough. In the event, only two schools, Sydney Russell in the Barking constituency and Dagenham Park in my Dagenham and Rainham constituency, were covered by the residual BSF programme. Those two schools cost roughly £50 million. The BSF programme was valued at some £250 million, so the investment gap stands at about £200 million. Since BSF, capital spending on Eastbury, Eastbrook and the Riverside schools has reduced this investment shortfall to about £105 million, according to the latest estimate. Given that the primary capital programme never happened in any significant way, money to improve the structure of existing buildings has had to be spent on addressing our primary places shortfall. Obviously, things do not stand still, and programme cancellations have contributed to a growing need for capital repairs and minor works to keep the school estate functioning.

Basically, we receive £4 million from the Government for this, but estimate that we need £32.5 million for secondary school condition improvement and £40 million for primary school condition improvement. Why? Well, unlike much of the London schools estate, many of our schools were built during the 1921-1935 period and now require major infrastructure repairs.

Two of our largest and most popular secondary schools, Barking Abbey and Robert Clack, missed out on both the Building Schools for the Future programme and the more recent bid rounds for the priority schools building programme. We also have some schools that require significant investment to make them 100% accessible—with the growth in pupil numbers, our schools are serving many more children with special education needs and disabilities. Cumulatively, given the exceptional demographic growth, the investment shortfall and deteriorating estate, we face extraordinary funding problems.

Barking and Dagenham has been allocated £162 million between 2011-12 and 2017-18, yet we need to expand our primary provision at the same time as needing to meet the growth in demand reaching our secondary schools. This is simply not enough to build the quality of schools that our children deserve. Overall, we need to use revenue funding to supplement capital costs and maintenance—vital money that is needed to improve outcomes and meet the needs of a very mobile community.

We also have to factor in how the Government wish to create a national funding formula, but we hope this will not further disadvantage students in our borough. We will obviously respond in detail to the national funding formula consultation, but fear it will impact on the revenue available to support our schools in meeting this huge population increase.

On a more positive note, I can say that, despite all those challenges, Barking and Dagenham has a strong track record of delivering sufficient places. We have opened, on time, a higher number of school places than any other borough in the country, but if we are to continue to achieve that, we shall need sufficient long-term funding commitments. We have invited Lord Nash to visit the borough so that he can see at first hand the state of the buildings and the pressures on space. He has acknowledged that the borough has taken a pragmatic approach to securing school places, working with the EFA. We should like to extend, again, that invitation to view schools and meet headteachers, officers and local politicians to discuss the issues.

Despite needing to manage a huge increase in population, our schools are improving. Over the past five years, we have closed the gap between ourselves and others in good Ofsted outcomes by some 30% at primary level. In November 2014, Ofsted said:

“A good quality education for all and improving academic standards are at the heart of Barking and Dagenham’s ambitious vision. The local authority is facing significant demographic changes and challenges, such as an increasing population, increasing population mobility, greater ethnic diversity and increasing poverty. None of these is accepted by officers and elected members as a barrier to educational achievement.

Senior officers and elected members provide strong leadership. The impact of the local strategy is fewer schools causing concern and rising standards across all phases of education that now match or exceed national averages.”

As I have said, we appreciate that we are recognised as a special case by the Government, but that is not enough. During the Budget debates yesterday and today, we have heard a lot about school structures, but very little about the kinds of pressures we are facing locally.

Literally within the last hour, the Department has sent LEAs the 2018-19 allocations. We welcome the allocations of some £5 million in 2018-19 and £17 million in 2017-18, which increase our capacity to start planning in advance of some of the changes to which I have referred. We hope that longer-term allocations will be available, as secondary schools cannot be built bit by bit, and need to be planned several years in advance. The figure is lower than we hoped, given the cost of building a new secondary school, but it is a contribution, along with the allocation of free school places to the borough.

I assume that the Minister’s response will be to acknowledge the pressures and challenges that I have described. May I suggest it is now time to move beyond mere acceptance, and towards detailed discussions of the actions and funding that are required to secure continued school expansion and improvement in the years that lie ahead?

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) on securing the debate, and on selecting this issue.

I will not give all the figures, but Barking and Dagenham has experienced the greatest increase in school numbers in the country over the last five years, a massive increase of 48%. Although the increase will slow down a bit over the next five years, it is still huge. The growth in primary school figures is now hitting the secondary school estate, which will experience a 57% increase over the next five years. It is predicted that a third of the borough’s population will be under the age of 19. I think that we face a problem of huge proportions, and I hope that the Government will accept that.

I want to add two comments to what my hon. Friend has said. First, the current estate, especially the secondary estate, is horrific in some instances. Barking Abbey, a secondary school in my constituency, teaches to really high standards in atrocious buildings, all of which are portakabins. When I took the Public Accounts Committee down to see the borough during our an inquiry into school places, we saw dangerous wires coming out of some parts of the building. There are not enough science classrooms, and the entire sixth form is being taught in portakabins; yet the school has been asked to accept more young people. That is an impossible ask when the current conditions are so atrocious.

Gascoigne primary school, which is also in my constituency, is the largest primary school in the country. We are constructing a new building for it some distance away. I am always very sceptical about the ability of a headteacher to manage two buildings that are not on the same site. When I last visited that school, it had lost practically all its playground space. In a week when the Government are talking about encouraging school sports, I have to tell the Minister that the places are simply not there. It has also had to lose its library, which has moved into a portakabin, and it will be impossible for it to meet the aims of the anti-obesity strategy that the Government have spelled out. I just want to draw to the Minister’s attention the reality of people’s lives as they try to manage, given the insufficient number of school places.

I get endless cases of this nature, and I am sure that my hon. Friend does as well. One involves a young girl who is looking for a secondary school place. She has not been given a place at either of her first two choices of school. She wanted to go to Sydney Russell school, where her older sibling is, but she is being sent instead to a school right in the east of my hon. Friend’s constituency, a 45-minute bus ride from where she lives. Another involves a young boy who has also not been given a place at either of the schools he wanted to go to. He wanted to go to the new school, Riverside school, which is a 15-minute walk from his home, and we should be able to cater for his needs. However, he has been given a place at Eastbrook school, which involves a 40-minute journey on two buses. I hope that the Minister agrees that that is unacceptable. It is not what any responsible Government should be providing, which is the very best start in life for our young children.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) on securing this debate. I also congratulate him and the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) on speaking so passionately about the educational opportunities available to young children in their constituencies. This debate is timely as it allows me the opportunity to set out clearly the Government’s position on the provision of sufficient quality school places across the country as well as, more specifically, in Barking and Dagenham. I agree with the right hon. Member for Barking that this is about not just the availability of places but the quality of the school buildings.

First, I want to take the opportunity to reiterate that ensuring that every child is able to attend a good or outstanding school in their local area is at the heart of the Government’s comprehensive programme of reform of the school system. We know that our growing population means that new school places are needed in many parts of the country, so the Government are absolutely committed to providing capital investment to ensure that every child has a place at a school.

We have already shown the strength of our commitment to ensuring that good quality places are available, and we are investing a further £7 billion to create new school places between 2015 and 2021. We are also investing £23 billion in school buildings to create 600,000 new school places, open at least 500 new schools and address essential maintenance needs. This is on top of the £5 billion we allocated to local authorities to invest in school places in the last Parliament, which was over double the amount spent in the equivalent four-year period between 2007 and 2011. Today, we released new data showing that nearly 600,000 additional pupil places were created between May 2010 and May 2015, with many more delivered since then and in the pipeline; 150,000 places were delivered between 2014 and 2015 alone.

The hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham mentioned the Budget, and referred to the absence of commentary on school places. I want to draw his attention to an announcement that we have made today. We are announcing £1.1 billion of funding for local authorities in 2018-19 to create the school places needed by the 2019-20 academic year. I know that he is concerned about that matter. This is part of the £7 billion that I referred to earlier and, alongside our investment in 500 new free schools, we expect this to deliver a further 600,000 new places by 2021. In making these allocations, the Government are continuing to target funding effectively, based on local needs, using data we have collected from local authorities about the capacity of schools and forecast pupil projections. Those are the announcements that we have made today, and I will definitely ask the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Lady to look at the detail.

Returning to the central point of the debate, ensuring that every child has access to the benefits of a good-quality education is a fundamental responsibility of everyone across the education system. As the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham knows, the statutory duty for providing school places rests with local authorities. Our financial commitment is therefore a concrete demonstration of the level of importance that the Government attach to the provision of places and of our wider commitment.

Our manifesto referred to the creation of 500 new free schools, and 40 applications have been approved since the election in May, with many more entering the process. We continue to encourage businesses, cultural and sporting bodies, charities, community groups and parents to come forward with their proposals for new schools, adding to the nearly 400 schools opened since 2010 and the more than 190 currently in the pipeline.

It is important that local authorities across the country seek to capitalise on the opportunities presented here. The free schools programme is working alongside local authorities to create the school places we need in order to provide a good education for all our children, and many authorities are choosing to work actively with the Government to meet the challenge. I pay tribute to all those in authorities and in schools who have helped to deliver the significant progress of recent years. The task is not yet done, however, as the increase in the number of pupils moving through the primary phase is now beginning to be felt at secondary level. Local authorities and schools must rise to that additional challenge. We should not pretend that that will be easy, which is why we are committed to helping through funding and through establishing new schools directly under the free schools programme.

London’s situation is unique, and the unsurprising surge in pupil numbers has been mentioned. As a thriving global city, London has a large part to play in meeting that challenge. Some 34% of new places delivered by 2015 were in London, and the capital will clearly have a big part to play in coming years. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the London borough of Barking and Dagenham has played its part in that regard. The local authority has effectively created places to meet demand, but it will face, as he pointed out, further challenges as pupil numbers continue to rise and larger primary cohorts transfer into the secondary sector. Rising pupil numbers in neighbouring local authorities will also reduce the number of pupils able to take up places outside Barking and Dagenham, further increasing the challenges to be managed.

The way we provide funding for new places is based on local authorities’ assessments of the number of pupils that they expect to have, taking local factors into account. That approach has helped the Government to allocate Barking and Dagenham a further £6 million, taking the total to £167 million in funding for school places from 2011 to 2019, on top of more than 3,300 places in free schools that we have funded centrally. The funding has been put to work. By May 2015, there were 7,450 more primary places and 4,450 more secondary places than there were in 2010, with plans to create many more when they are needed in the coming years. Barking and Dagenham has four open free schools, including an all-age special school. In addition, it has a university technical college and a further secondary school is due to open in 2017.

Of course, providing sufficient quality places is about not only capital investment, but ensuring that revenue money for schools gets to where it is needed most. The hon. Gentleman was bang on the money when he talked about the likely consequences of the national funding formula for Barking and Dagenham. In the spending review, we delivered on our manifesto pledge to maintain per pupil funding for the core schools budget for the duration of the Parliament, providing an overall real-terms protection. That includes protecting the extra funding for our most disadvantaged children through the pupil premium, worth over £2.5 billion this year. Next year, we will be providing over £40 billion of schools funding, the highest ever level of any Government.

We also committed in the spending review to introduce a national funding formula for schools and for pupils with high needs from 2017 to ensure that funding reaches the places where it is needed. I believe these reforms will be transformative and the biggest step towards fairer funding in more than a decade.

The current funding system is unfair and out of date. It means that a primary pupil with low prior attainment in Barking and Dagenham attracts £800 to his or her school, but in neighbouring Newham the same child would attract nearly £1,800. The situation is similar for pupils with high needs—funding is not correlated to need and there is wide local variation in the way children’s needs are assessed. Earlier this month, we launched the first stage of our consultation on proposals to end this postcode lottery and to put in its place a funding system that gives every pupil the same opportunities in education; where children with the same characteristics and the same needs are funded at the same rate, wherever they live; and where there is one, consistent, fair formula, instead of 152 local variations.

Across all our proposals for a national funding formula, we want to deliver three key priorities: to allocate funding fairly and get it straight to the frontline; to match funding to need, so that the higher the need, the greater the funding; and to make sure that the transition for such significant reforms is smooth. The proposals in our consultation include arrangements for funding schools with significant growth in their pupil numbers, and I look forward to the response to the consultation from the Barking and Dagenham local authority. This Government are committed to long-term investment in education. We have already protected revenue funding for this Parliament and we are acting now to make sure this money is allocated equitably for all pupils, wherever they are in the country. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham for raising this important issue today.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.