That, for the year ending with 31 March 2019, for expenditure by the Department for Education:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £34,065,501,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 957 of Session 2017–19,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £14,429,588,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £46,841,694,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Andrew Stephenson.)
It is a pleasure to open this debate on the spending of the Department for Education in my capacity as Chair of the Select Committee on Education. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate and particularly my colleagues on the Committee who are here in the Chamber for all the work they do alongside the Committee officials.
If we regard the NHS as the guardian of our health, we should regard education as the guardian of our future. Almost every citizen is affected by education. I welcome the positive announcements made by the Department recently, and there certainly seems to be no lack of initiatives from within the Sanctuary Buildings. However, I have some concerns that, across the Department’s remit, funding might be too atomised to be coherent and effective. There is an initiative here and an initiative there.
I am concerned that the Department’s estimate is not strategic enough to deliver the outcomes we need. Let me take, for example, the recent announcement on grammar schools. I am not against grammar schools—I believe in parental choice—but I am not sure why spending up to £200 million over the next two years on expanding grammar schools is more important than spending £200 million on looking after the most vulnerable pupils. We could look after hundreds of thousands of vulnerable pupils with tuition for 12 weeks a year and transform their life opportunities.
Surely we have to do both. Expanding grammar schools provides opportunities, and this expansion will particularly target those from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is a great idea in support of it, but we also need to do what my right hon. Friend says for other children. I hope that he, like me, would welcome more rapid progress on better and fairer funding for all our schools, because it is still very low in areas such as mine.
As I said, I am not against grammar schools, but the problem is whether they are providing opportunities for the most disadvantaged pupils. Only 3% of pupils in grammar schools get free school meals, and I would rather the Government increase that proportion of pupils before giving grammar schools extra funding. That extra £200 million of funding will benefit only a few thousand pupils, but I have shown how it could benefit a lot more. I have huge respect for my right hon. Friend. He often campaigns for more funding in his constituency, but it is because such funding has been spent in this way that schools in his area and others do not get as much money as they need.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that in the last two years, funding per pupil fell by just over 4%, at a time when other costs have increased. The recent reallocation to school funding from other budgets still leaves schools in my constituency worse off by more than £300 per pupil, something about which a great many parents and teachers have written to me in recent weeks. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need to see new funding, so that our schools can improve standards and our pupils can reach their full potential?
While I accept that funding is much higher than it was in 2010—no doubt the Minister for School Standards will set that out—I also agree that there are increasing cost pressures, but I will make that argument in a moment.
I am full of admiration for my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, who has successfully made the case for a longer-term vision for health and social care. I am convinced that his longevity has been a significant contributing factor and can only regret the fact that we have had a higher turnover in Education Secretaries in recent years. However, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) will, given the opportunity, prove to be an advocate for the public services that his Department oversees and funds.
Without wanting to stretch the scope of the debate too far, I would like to talk a little about the financial health of the school system, of nurseries and of further education and skills. While all the evidence tells us that over the long term, in comparison with relevant international comparators, schools in England are relatively well funded, it is unarguably the case that rising cost pressures have not been matched by the sort of investment that would allow them to be met without impacting upon the quality and delivery of education in our schools. My right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) was absolutely right last autumn to redirect £1.3 billion of public funds from her own Department’s budget to the frontline and raise the so-called floor in the national funding formula.
Despite what the right hon. Gentleman says about the Government’s claim to have put £1.5 billion back into the system through the new formula, I have gone around schools in Coventry, and they are still just under £300 per head short—in other words, they are still facing cuts. He talks about further education, which has seen cuts of about 27%. How does that affect the quality of apprenticeships, for example?
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will come on to those points later, and if he does not feel that I have responded to them, I would be happy for him to intervene again.
In truth, the £1.3 billion should never have been necessary. While the introduction of a national funding formula is an entirely logical and necessary process of structural reform, for many schools the question is one of sufficiency just as much as of equity. The concept of fair funding may, I fear, be just too subjective to be delivered, so I want to see a change in the debate in this Chamber and elsewhere about school funding. The two supposedly competing accounts—one from the Conservative side of the House about record levels of overall investment going into schools, and the counter-argument that schools face real-terms reductions in per pupil funding—are both true, partly because there are simply more pupils in the system. We badly need to accept that reality, and move towards a practical solution not just for schools, but for further education, which has, without any sense or logic, been chronically underfunded for many years.
I strongly support the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making. Do not the Government figures released last week—an extra 137,000 pupils in England’s schools, but a loss of 5,400 teachers and almost 3,000 teaching assistants—further underline and support his point about the insufficiency of the total quantum going into schools budgets every year?
I think those are mixed figures, because if we look at this in the round, the number of teachers has gone up by a significant amount since 2010. Again, this is part of the argument I have been making.
Such arguments are why the Education Committee has launched an inquiry into school and college funding. We have no intention of unpicking the huge public consultation on the national funding formula or its sister consultation on high needs, but we must talk about the long-term sustainability of education. This is about delivering the outcomes we need as a nation and how we can move towards a longer-term vision, with a 10-year plan coupled with a future-proof five-year funding settlement.
The right hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. Does he accept—I hope the Education Committee will look at this—that there are particular problems with the national funding formula for special schools? Those schools are hit in two ways. First, the special schools budget has been conflated with the overall budget, which is causing some difficulties. Secondly, they are also taking students with much more profound difficulties, for which they are not necessarily being funded in the way they need to be. Will he look into that?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are doing a separate inquiry into children with special educational needs and disabilities, which I hope will reflect the issues he has raised.
We began our inquiry on 19 June, with a scene-setting session featuring the National Foundation for Educational Research, the Education Policy Institute and Institute for Fiscal Studies. In our future sessions, we will be hearing directly from teachers, governors and parents about the way forward, and seeking to strengthen the Department’s hand as it enters negotiations with the Treasury in the spending review.
One important matter is how public money actually reaches schools. Part of the original motivation of a national formula was to bypass the various byzantine means by which local authorities disbursed funds to schools. This is sensible, but there is a problem concerning the role of multi-academy trusts in top-slicing and allocating money received from the DFE, a matter on which my Committee colleague, the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), has tabled a number of parliamentary questions.
According to the Education Policy Institute, there is little measurable difference between the performance of schools in MATs and those in local authorities. There is good and bad to be found in both, and we must not let the reforms of the past eight years or so be lost through a failure to attack underperformance in academy trusts, as has occurred in a number of high-profile cases recently, including WCAT—the Wakefield City Academies Trust—and Bright Tribe. Having said that, I recognise that there are many good and outstanding academy schools and the difference they have made to the lives of thousands of pupils.
I wish to add that the £1.3 billion top-up was an Elastoplast solution, as it were, for a longer-term problem that could become serious if not seen to. Members on both sides of the House will share my commitment to tackling social injustices—that is the aim of our Select Committee—and one of the most profound challenges we face on that front is the so-called attainment gap between the educational outcomes of children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those of their better-off peers. I appreciate that the Minister for School Standards and the Education Secretary have made progress on this, but it has been at quite a slow rate.
The Government and their predecessors have shown their commitment to tackling educational disadvantage through using the pupil premium to enable schools to provide additional support and opportunities to the children who deserve and need it most, but however well-intentioned and generously resourced the pupil premium is, it is not without its flaws. The first flaw is that schools are increasingly dipping into their pupil premium money to shore up their overall budget. This is most unlikely to be a measure of first resort, as it involves simultaneously further disadvantaging already disadvantaged pupils. There is also the ethical problem of publishing information about how pupil premium money is spent while knowingly doing something else with it.
The second flaw is that many children eligible for the pupil premium fail to receive it because they are not registered to receive free school meals. I understand that this figure could be as high as 200,000. This can happen because parents are unaware or unwilling to make a claim, perhaps in some areas through a sense of social stigma.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. I passionately support the pupil premium—it was a great reform by the Government—but we need to make sure that all children who should be entitled to it get it. We need to look at suggestions like the one made by the hon. Lady.
The third flaw is that the pupil premium may not be effective enough. At current rates of progress, it will simply take too long for the attainment gap between children in receipt of free school meals and their better-off counterparts to close.
There are a number of challenges facing the Department for Education. The first is social justice. We have to make sure that our enthusiasm and support for early years, where children’s life chances are determined, matches the level of attention that schools and colleges receive. While the Department is investing in early years, there are also creative things that could be done to make better use of existing funds—for example, by reducing the threshold of the tax allowance on the 30 hours from £100,000 to £60,000. This would raise approximately £150 million to extend the free entitlement, or possibly fund maintained nurseries for a longer period than currently set. We also need to make sure that the level of support for students with special educational needs and disabilities is right. We had the first of our oral evidence sessions for our SEND inquiry this morning, and in the autumn we will be holding a combined evidence session to bring together our funding and SEND inquiries.
The next challenge is dealing with the—unfunded—rising cost pressures on schools. We face a crunch point if a recommendation to raise teachers’ pay is not funded. Teacher retention is tough enough without their being told by heads that even a 1% increase would tip the school into deficit.
I now turn to further education, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham). A really important report by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has said that the gap in funding between FE and higher education is huge and damaging. In 2016-17, funding per head in FE was £3,000, while in HE it was more than three times higher, at £10,800. Although much of the last figure is borne—at least theoretically—by the individual rather than the state, it is totally inexplicable, especially when one considers that secondary schools are funded more generously than FE and when we know that many people from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from the FE ladder of opportunity.
The fourth industrial revolution and the ability of schools to equip students of today for the workplace of tomorrow will have a huge impact on our skills base and our need for stronger skills in our country. I am concerned that the Institute for Apprenticeships and the University of Oxford do not get it on vital subjects such as degree apprenticeships and T-levels. Unlike the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford has closed the door on degree apprenticeships, which is a huge shame, while the Institute for Apprenticeships said that it was “agnostic” about degree apprenticeships. But degree apprenticeships should be a strategic aim of the Government because they do so much to improve skills and to enable disadvantaged people to climb the apprenticeship ladder of opportunity.
The Government should look at the unsuccessful £800 million access fund, which is not producing great results given that the number of state school pupils going to university has remained pretty static over the past year. Perhaps some of that money could be put towards degree apprenticeships, to help those disadvantaged people benefit and climb that ladder of opportunity.
In conclusion, there has been huge and successful lobbying by the Department of Health and Social Care and significant lobbying by the Ministry of Defence. To be honest, I do not get many emails demanding more tanks in my constituency, but I do get hundreds asking about school funding. The truth is that we need textbooks, not tanks. I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State to do what the Health Secretary has done for the NHS: produce a 10-year plan for education. Go out there and battle for the right funding, so that our school, college and education system is fit for the 21st century.
Since I became the proud Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough two years ago, teachers and parents have contacted me about the severe challenges facing our local schools. I have listened to their stories about impossible teacher workloads, increasing class sizes and lack of provision for the least privileged children. I am extremely grateful for the input of those teachers and parents. On being re-elected last year, I vowed to renew my efforts to hold the Government to account for their shambolic approach to our children’s education.
I have spoken out about how the Government have cut school budgets by £2.8 billion in real terms since 2015; about how local schools have had to forgo residential trips, breakfast clubs, after-school activities and extra learning opportunities for underperforming pupils; and about how schools in Sheffield and across the UK are so cut to the bone that they are now having to let teachers go, as well as teaching assistants and support staff—people needed to support our most struggling students.
Now, as the national funding formula’s “redistribution” leaves Sheffield with the worst schools funding of all the major cities in England, I am outraged. Under the current Government budget, schools in the city will receive £743 per pupil less than Manchester in the next academic year. But this is not a matter of taking from Peter to pay Paul; it is one of fair funding for all—from Sheffield to Slough, from Manchester to Maidenhead. Headteachers in Sheffield have openly said that they will struggle to keep schools operating to their current standards.
I appreciate that there is a difference between Sheffield and Manchester, but does the hon. Lady accept the principle of being a national funding formula? If she does, she must accept that there will be differences between different cities in different parts of the country.
I said that there would be differences. The nub of the matter is the differences between northern areas where there is an educational divide: resources should be given to make up those differences. They should not be taken away from us, as we are now seeing.
Some of our headteachers are even warning of mass redundancies as a last resort to balance their budgets by 2020. This is not a war-torn country in 1945: this is Sheffield in 2018, and it is simply not fair. The Government’s national funding formula is not working. The Department for Education claimed it would redistribute funding from local authority control, focusing on historically deprived and isolated areas, but schools in pockets of some of the greatest deprivation, which have fought against the odds to improve their funding situation, are suffering the most. Now, after a continual uphill struggle to secure sufficient funding, Sheffield school budgets are being decimated once more.
Some schools in Brightside and Hillsborough are being pushed to the limit. One is predicted to lose a staggering £190,000 by 2020, meaning a reduction in teachers, teaching assistants and other crucial resources. At a time when the Sheffield school-age population has increased by 7% across the decade, which has also led to a greater demand for specialist services and special educational needs, the Government ought to be putting more much-needed resources into the system. They have consistently failed to do so. Instead, they are pumping money into grammar schools—so much for helping the “just about managing”. We need an alternative.
I have been listening patiently to the hon. Lady, but I must tell her that under the national funding formula, schools in Sheffield city will attract 6.6% more funding once the formula is fully implemented. By the way, that compares with a figure of 0.9% for Manchester.
Well, we have done our figures up north. I am telling the Minister the figures that we have got—and they do not match his.
We know that an alternative is possible. We, on this side of the House, have pledged to reverse the cuts and replace the national funding formula with a fairer funding system; to cap class sizes at 30; to give back control to local councils; to implement an effective accountability framework in schools; and to invest in comprehensive SEN training, ensuring that all staff are able to support the diverse needs of their students.
I am extremely proud of my city and its resilience. Teachers, parents, trade unions, councillors and even the local newspaper have come together to resist these changes; last week a petition was launched by The Star to demand that the Government deliver a fairer funding system for the city’s schools. I will support that and continue to campaign locally as well as nationally to make sure that the voices of my constituents are heard. It is time that the Government stopped imposing a postcode lottery on our children’s education and stopped taking the risk of destroying their chances of success.
Regardless of our background, upbringing, gender or religion, we should all have the same opportunities. Hard work and ambition should be the defining factors in social mobility, so I am encouraged by the Government’s commitment to a world-class education for everyone and by the introduction of a new national funding formula that gives every local authority more money for every pupil in every school.
Of course, increased education spending is only part of the story. There are now 1.9 million more children being taught in schools rated good or outstanding than in 2010. That is helping to ensure that every child will receive a good education and the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
Has the hon. Gentleman read the recent report that looked into the issue of there being more children in good and outstanding schools? It said that the number of children in such schools had increased because the number of children had increased. Actually, a high number of such schools have not seen an inspection since 2010. Does he agree that the figure could be at least a little misleading?
I have not seen the report that the hon. Lady has mentioned, but in my own constituency standards and exam results have been improving. From my own personal experience, that is happening on the ground. I will come back to that in a minute.
What is happening is helping ensure that every child will receive a good education and the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Locally in North Warwickshire and Bedworth there has been a significant improvement in school ratings. In fact, according to figures released in December, our local community was one of the best improved areas for pupils attending good or outstanding schools since 2010—an increase of nearly 8,000 children. Standards in our schools continue to rise because of the hard work of teachers, combined with the changes the Conservatives have made to the curriculum—something I have seen first-hand during my regular visits to local schools. That is a record that Conservatives, who in government have both protected and invested in education funding, can be proud of.
We are in a strong position, but there is one area that I would like to focus on and deserves our special attention: maintained nursery schools. Maintained nursery schools were set up in the 1940s to improve social mobility, with 64% based in areas of social deprivation. They also provide education and care for a large proportion of nursery aged children with special educational needs, which is a legal obligation not catered for by private providers. The issue they face is that in 2016, when the early years funding changed to universal base rate funding, they saw a dramatic reduction in the money they receive. The Department for Education was quick to act and agreed to provide supplementary funding of £55 million to top up their budgets until the financial year 2019-20. Critically, this date is nearing and maintained nursery schools need certainty as soon as possible, so they can plan their futures. They provide a unique role in the early years sector. I know the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), takes a keen interest in this issue and the Government are committed to holding a public consultation later in the year. That is very welcome, but we must not underestimate the impact of these schools in our constituencies.
I have had the privilege of working with Amanda King, the inspirational headteacher of two maintained nursery schools in my constituency, Bedworth Heath and Atherstone. Some 20% of the children at her Bedworth Heath Nursery School are vulnerable children. From September, it will have eight children with heightened medical and special educational needs and disability. Despite those challenges, both schools are Ofsted rated outstanding across the board. As Amanda points out, it is not just about the service they offer to the children; the wider benefits they offer to the community are unique. If they were not around, there would be a gap in provision. They offer high-quality childcare, which is a key factor in the social mobility of the mothers. The schools even lead by example on this, with over a third of her staff being former parents of children who went to her nursery.
Unfortunately, the universal base rate funding is not enough to enable them to cater for these children and while they also receive an inclusion grant, it does not cover the full costs. To illustrate the point, the inclusion grant is £100, but one-to-one support costs Amanda’s schools £160 a week. Having eight children with high- level special needs, they will be running a deficit of £480 a week on this one issue alone. She is understandably frustrated with the current funding situation, saying that they want to offer help and support across the wider sector but cannot plan to do this if they are at risk of having to close their doors at the end of the next financial year.
There is a clear and demonstrable case to provide the financial certainty that these schools need. They are an asset to the communities they serve. If the funding is not provided, it will still need to be found elsewhere so that the provision can be made to ensure that children, particularly from areas of social deprivation or with special educational needs, can continue to receive the best possible start to their education journey. When a clear solution already exists to these issues, it would seem prudent to give it all of the support it needs, but the clock is ticking. I therefore urge Minsters to look carefully and quickly at what can be done to ensure excellent headteachers like Amanda and her many colleagues around the country are able to fully concentrate their efforts in providing the high-quality education that benefits so many of our constituents, while delivering on the key Conservative principle of social mobility.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey). I join him in his praise for teachers not only in his constituency and mine, but across the country. I also join him in his praise for headteachers and the enormous contribution they make to the future of our country. Given that so many areas of our country are finding it difficult to recruit and retain teachers, and many schools are finding it difficult to get a headteacher on the first recruitment exercise, he may well want to reflect on whether his party’s policies are having quite the positive impact he claims.
If I may, I would like to go back to the opening remarks by the Chair of the Education Committee, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). I praise his request for the message from this debate to be that we want investment in textbooks not tanks and a 10-year plan for education. It does feel that education is the public service that is not receiving sufficient attention around the Cabinet table in the negotiations with the Treasury. He was too polite to say so, but perhaps I can say that it is a pity the Secretary of State for Education is not here in person to hear the call for a 10-year plan for education. What I am sure he would not want to say at this stage is what my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) rightly said, which is that there needs to be more support, investment and pride in the contribution that comprehensive schools make, and more praise for the efforts of local councils to support high attainment and good standards in our schools. The idea that councils and local education authorities were ever a dead hand hindering high standards was always a nonsense and it is particularly a nonsense at the moment, given the huge cuts in funding to local authorities that LEAs have to deal with.
I want to make the rest of my remarks unashamedly parochial. I am fortunate to represent an area, the London Borough of Harrow, that has been deemed by the Education Policy Institute as offering the best education in terms of the increase in standards from when a child enters school to when they leave. While all the teachers and headteachers in Harrow are delighted with that accolade from the EPI, none would say they have sufficient resources.
My local schools work extremely closely together. The headteachers pride themselves on their co-operation and collaborative spirit. It is led in particular by the high schools. In my constituency, Whitmore High School, Nower Hill High, Harrow High and Rooks Heath work particularly closely together. All have very strong academic reputations. In particular, I want to single out the heads of Rooks Heath and Whitmore High School. The head of Rooks Heath was named not so long ago as the London headteacher of the year and the headteacher at Whitmore has a particularly good reputation, having led the school through a period of refurbishment and redevelopment.
Bentley Wood, Park, Canons Salvatorian and Sacred Heart are schools just outside my constituency—not quite as well politically represented as the four I have already named. All have strong reputations, all have effective leadership and all show good academic performance. However, all are crying out for more investment in funding. They have noted, as the heads of primary schools in my constituency have, that they are having to cope with an increase in employers’ contributions, an increase non-teaching pensions, teachers’ pay awards not being fully funded, non-teaching pay awards not being fully funded and the apprenticeship levy. Those pressures amount on average to an extra £54,000 in costs per primary school in Harrow and an extra £159,000 per secondary school. Similarly, schools in Harrow are having to cope with reductions in income from the way in which the minimum funding guarantee works and from reductions in their pupil premium grant. On average, primary schools are losing income. In 2017-18, £37,000 was lost per primary school and every secondary school lost £79,000. In terms of the additional school funding pressures facing every headteacher and governing body, the average overall in Harrow last year was almost £100,000 per primary school and £238,000 per secondary school, and that urgently needs to be addressed.
I am listening very carefully to the points that the hon. Gentleman is making, but he should be aware that no school in his constituency will lose funding. In fact, they will gain funding under the national funding formula, once we reach the end point, of 2.4%.
I gently say to the right hon. Gentleman that he is very welcome to come to Harrow, and I would be very happy to organise a roundtable for him with headteachers of primary schools and secondary schools, because the experience that he describes is not the one that they have to face on a daily basis in managing their funding needs. He is sitting next to his colleague, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, who I was glad to meet to discuss the funding needs of a sixth-form college that faces significant additional financial pressures.
More funding needs to be put into the school education system. Harrow needs it and every other school needs it—
Much as I would be delighted to invite the hon. Gentleman to join the Minister for School Standards in visiting Harrow, I hope that in the light of what Madam Deputy Speaker said, he will forgive me for not allowing him to intervene. Finally, there needs to be a 10-year funding plan and crucially, more investment next year in funding for schools across England and particularly, if the House will forgive me, in Harrow.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and, on the Government side of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey), who made very pertinent points about the need to maintain funding for maintained nurseries, which do such a fantastic job. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee, of which admittedly, I am a member, and our illustrious chairman, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who is sitting opposite me, for granting time for this debate.
“lies, damned lies and statistics”—
how true that is for the important debate on the expenditure of the Department for Education. How true those words are for the barrage of claims and counter-claims. How true Disraeli’s quip is for neatly summarising our dilemma of who to believe. To misappropriate another eminent Victorian, in terms of education funding at least, it is “the best of times” and “the worst of times”. In Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”, we read of a land of great contrasts. Today, we hear of schools in different parts of the country that are similarly contrasting. There are siren calls for parental funds for toilet paper in Berkshire while those in the inner capital supposedly cannot find enough things on which to spend their money.
It is true that there has never been more public money spent on education, and the Government are to be commended for that. Indeed, the diversion of a further £1.2 billion is a good start, but I want to be able to recommend Her Majesty’s Government for even greater commendation. I want my right hon. and hon. Friends to go further. Bluntly, I want more cash for schools in my constituency. Without sounding too demanding or unreasonable, even at the risk of being less macho in the eyes of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I want to be able to put the case as to why the schools budget must be increased.
Have I, as a Conservative, lost my sense of fiscal rectitude? Am I, for saying “spend more money”, seeking to be a pale imitation of a socialist? Am I fearful of the rapacious march of left-wing fanaticism, which we see embraced with wild abandon by segments of our society? I think not. Rather, like any good Conservative, I believe in investing money wisely in things with a proven record of return, and there is no greater stock worth investing in than our children’s education.
Schools in Stockport, the borough that I partly represent, are among some of the most poorly funded in the country, so it is a tremendous credit to them that they generally achieve such good results, yet I fear that we are at a point at which this is becoming unsustainable. I say “unsustainable” because, being well managed, they have had to be careful with the budget for years, well before the current cost pressures were brought to bear, and therefore, put simply, because they are financially lean there is little scope for the efficiencies envisaged by the Department.
Since being elected to this place, I have sought to build strong professional relationships with the schools and headteachers in my constituency. I have always been grateful for their insight on the issue of school funding. It is fair to say that they are asking not for the world, but merely for comparable resources with similar schools that they are judged against. It is inherently unfair to expect schools with similar characteristics to produce the same results as their peers on wildly differing budgets.
I recently sought the views of all the headteachers in my constituency on this matter. I am particularly grateful to those who met with me—I may outdo the hon. Member for Harrow West at this point—including the headteachers of Brookside Primary, High Lane; Torkington Primary School, Hazel Grove; Fairway Primary School, Offerton; Mellor Primary School; Werneth High; and Harrytown Catholic High School. I am also immensely grateful to Jacqui Ames, the headteacher of Norbury Hall Primary School, and Joe Barker, the headteacher of Marple Hall School, who are the primary and secondary heads representatives respectively for Stockport. They have furnished me with facts and financial analyses that have been very helpful as I have sought a better deal for my local schools.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for meeting me and the aforementioned headteachers to hear at first hand the challenges they face. It was a constructive meeting. We have an excellent complement of Ministers, who I know will argue strongly for their departmental budget in the forthcoming spending review. I have some ideas I would like to suggest they pursue with the Treasury and our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. First, many of us had hoped that the new national funding formula would be more radical in seeking to address decades of underfunding under Governments of different colours. If the basic grant element of the formula is not to be increased in percentage terms, it may be necessary to target additional funding at the lowest quartile of poorly funded schools. Secondly, the Treasury should fund pay settlements, national insurance increases and additional pension contributions, which form the vast bulk of the cost pressures on school budgets. It is only right that teachers have better pay and conditions, although this should not adversely affect overall teaching and learning.
Heeding your advice, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will conclude by offering some thoughts to the Government in all seriousness and with good will and encouragement. There has been much understandable focus on the national health service, but we must not allow justifiable funding needs to crowd out other vital areas of the public sector. To my mind, and I sense the same in many colleagues, the schools budget is one such that deserves equal attention, care and consideration.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg). His conversion to socialism is very welcome on the Opposition Benches.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the children and teachers in my constituency. We spend a lot of time in this place talking about how to achieve national prosperity and how to plan for the future and our economy. Surely, there can be no better way to invest in the future than by investing in the children in our schools and nursery schools. One reason I came into Parliament was to champion fairness, so I welcome, in principle, the idea of fair funding for education, but what we have is far from fair. Rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul, we ought to acknowledge that the number of children has grown and that therefore the funding pot for education must grow also. That would serve us all better than to keep arguing about which child should have funding taken away from them and which child should benefit.
At every level in my constituency—I am led to believe that it is the same nationwide—children are being starved of funding in the provision of their education. In the state-maintained nursery schools, which I have had much contact with, the staff are doing a sterling job dealing with some very difficult times. The number of children with special needs in those nursery schools has grown by as much as a quarter. There is a justification for extra funding. These organisations, of course, are funded not as schools, which they are, but as child-minding facilities, which is clearly insufficient. If we do not take action, we will lose this very excellent resource.
In my constituency, a third of all children are growing up in poverty, and that figure rises to 50% in some wards. These children need to be supported and given the foundations to progress through their education. Without that, they will never progress in school. There has been talk about who to believe. Understandably, the public are confused. The Government say there is more funding in education, while we say it is not enough. It is true that it is not enough. More funds may well be going in, but there are far more children, and their needs have grown. There are schools in my constituency in which headteachers report that up to 10 children in an academic year are attempting suicide, but the resources that they need to support those children are falling. Schools in my constituency are to lose £500 per child, at a time when they are dealing with additional pressures as well as additional children.
This is not helping to grow our economy, and it is not helping our national prosperity. It is about time we had an honest conversation about it. If we as a country are serious about our future prosperity and if we are serious about investing in our children, we must prioritise their education. We must support the state-maintained nursery schools, and treat them as the schools that they are. They are inspected as schools but they are not funded as schools, and it is about time they were. We must support our primary school teachers, so that class sizes do not keep rising as staff are made redundant in response to funding crises. We must support our secondary schools and help them to deal with those troubled young people. Cutting education budgets—we are seeing that at the moment: it is a reality—is short-sighted in the extreme. It is starving our nation of its future. This is not the way to grow our economy, and I implore the Minister and the Secretary of State to bear that in mind.
Grammar schools have been mentioned. I have no principled objection to them, but I fail to see how opening a grammar school in my constituency would help teachers to support children who are trying to commit suicide or help nurseries that are threatened with closure when they are supporting some of the most deprived children in the country.
I urge the Minister to listen and to fund our schools properly, not taking from one child to give to another, but ensuring that all teachers—all the professionals—have the funds that they tell us they need to do their job.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper). I shall return to her point about growing the economy. It is also a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), the Chairman of the Education Committee, who introduced the debate so elegantly.
We have already heard from Dickens via my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg). I sensed a slightly Micawberish tendency on the part of my right hon. Friend, and indeed the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), in regard to the NHS announcement: a feeling that that positive announcement might somehow crowd out expenditure on education and the work of other Departments. In fact, when we look at the history of the NHS, it is extraordinary to see how closely education spending has mirrored its real-terms increases, year in year out. Since the creation of the NHS, education spending has grown nearly tenfold, from less than £10 billion to £87 billion this year. These things are not contradictory.
Of course, the past is no guide to the future. Let me now pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Burnley. We need to grow our economy. We need to increase our GDP, and with it our tax base. That is why my right hon. Friend was so right to flag up the need for investment in this area. Any chart, or any analysis of our projected population growth over the next 30 years, makes the position very clear. We will see a significant rise in our population, but the working population will not grow. We are relying on a smaller number of people to produce the goods to fund both our education and our NHS—indeed, all our public services.
We make our sums add up through productivity, and at the heart of that is education. Its impacts are twofold. First, there is a clear correlation between educational outcomes and productivity, which is why I welcome the emphasis that our country places on education. We are spending more on it, as a proportion of GDP, than any other country in the G7—more than France, Italy, the United States or Japan. Secondly, the creation of a land of opportunity in which anyone can succeed is fostered by a good education system. That is why I welcome the pupil premium, about which we have already heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow, and why I particularly welcome—here I thought that he was a little ungenerous—the narrowing of the attainment gap between the most privileged and the least privileged pupils.
Let me now turn from the general to the specific and the national funding formula. I think that the principles behind it are sound. We all want a transparent funding system that distributes funds to maximise opportunity and reflects the pressures on schools from deprivation, low prior attainment and the number of pupils for whom English is a second language. It is positive that the NFF recognises it, and it does so against a demographic map of the UK that is superior to anything that has gone before it. For understandable reasons, Ministers did not move straight to the ultimate end-goal pointed to by the NFF, but tapered and softened the results. For fairness to be fully established as greater resources are devoted to the sector, the full implications of the NFF will, I hope, work their way through, so that areas such as Horsham, which always have been and remain less well funded on a per pupil basis than elsewhere in the country, see further increases in their funding.
Every one of my secondary schools benefited from the minimum funding guarantee. I campaigned for that and welcomed the guarantee, and this reflects to me the importance of either maintaining a guarantee into the future or ensuring the full implications of the NFF are worked through over time.
I totally agree with my right hon. Friend that we should not be unpicking consultations. They take time, and a lot of work and effort was put into those consultation processes, but there are three areas I would highlight for the future. First, the high-needs block has been discussed; it is less easy to make economies on this scale and to be efficient, and these are kids who really do need our support, whether in special schools or through funding their progress through mainstream education. Resources targeted at them not only help some of our most vulnerable children, but have an impact across schools as a whole.
Secondly, a discussion of the area costs adjustment of the NFF leads to the risk of getting technical, but while I appreciate that its purpose is to reflect local wages rather than the local cost of living, I think the latter would be more appropriate, and when one looks at the London fringe, one sees that that has in reality spread far faster than the Department recognises. Costs have risen significantly. This affects teacher recruitment and retention, and this is a technical area that could be productively re-examined.
Finally, on teachers’ pay, we need to continue to recruit and retain highly motivated subject experts. That is perhaps peculiarly hard on schools in areas such as Horsham on the fringes of London with, I am delighted to say, areas of high employment and high-value employment. For such areas, getting good teachers in to teach STEM subjects is difficult. The Treasury has for other Departments looked creatively at pay, and I hope that it will look at it creatively again here if the evidence shows, as I suspect it will, difficulties in retaining and recruiting.
I will conclude my remarks on a positive note. Nationally, we have more pupils in good and outstanding schools than ever before, and I welcome the fact—I particularly praise the Minister for School Standards for this—that our international results are so much better. Huge amounts of good work are being done in our schools. I praise the heads and teachers in my schools, who, whatever the funding situation, produce outstanding results for their pupils. Unlike the hon. Member for Harrow West, I think we can look with confidence to the Department and what it will be getting for our pupils in the longer term.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin).
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, school funding has risen on average by around 2% per year in real terms for secondary schools and 2.4% per year for primary schools every year since the mid-1970s. Much of that growth came under the last Labour Government, who oversaw average growth of some 5% in the first decade of the new millennium and embarked on a huge and desperately needed investment programme to renew our crumbling school buildings. Yet since the 2015 election, according to the IFS, school budgets have fallen by just over 4%.
This Government trumpeted their announcement last year of more funding for schools as though it was some great triumph, when in reality all they have done is ensure that by 2019-20 school funding will be roughly equivalent to the funding in 2011-12. The numbers speak for themselves: 2% a year increases since the mid-70s; 5% a year under the last Labour Government; stagnant under the Tories. That will be the legacy of this Government’s education policy.
These cuts are hitting our schools hard. Analysis by the Education Policy Institute shows that the proportion of local authority schools in deficit nearly trebled from 8.8% in 2012-13 to 26.1% in 2016-17, and that over two thirds of local authority-maintained secondary schools spent more than their income in 2016-17. That is simply not sustainable.
The pain is not only being felt by the schools; it is being felt by the teachers, too. Last year, research by the National Education Union and Tes revealed that 94% of teachers are having to pay for school essentials such as books, while 73% are regularly paying for stationery supplies. How can it be right that those who undertake a role as important as educating our children feel they have no other option than to spend their own money buying supplies? We do not expect our doctors to buy their own medicines, so why should our teachers be any different?
Is it any wonder that the effects of these constant pressures are leading to problems with recruiting teachers? Just under 40,000 teachers quit the profession in 2016—that is 9% of the workforce—and they are simply not being replaced fast enough. There is now a shortfall of some 30,000 classroom teachers, and the problem is particularly acute at secondary level, where 20% of teacher vacancies remain unfilled. Since 2011-12, recruitment of initial teacher trainees has been below target every single year. In addition, the numbers of full-time teacher vacancies and temporarily filled posts have risen since 2011.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, has stated:
“The government acknowledges that schools are being asked to do more than ever before. They also accept that costs are rising. But they remain unwilling to meet these increased expectations and costs with sufficient funding.”
Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, has added:
“It is no wonder that schools are increasingly struggling to provide pupils with basic essentials and having to ask parents to fill the gap.”
These are not politicians; these are the people on the frontline who are witnessing the devastating effect of Tory policies, and we should listen to what they have to say.
It is not just in our schools that the Tories’ ideology of austerity has hit hard. Maintained nursery schools have received no guaranteed funding after 2020, leaving them completely unable to budget for the future. These nurseries serve some of the poorest areas in England, with 64% in the most deprived areas. As things stand, they are set to lose almost £60 million from 2020 unless urgent action is taken. The Chair of the Education Committee, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), highlighted this very issue on national radio this morning. When are the Government going to act? Their record on education is nothing short of shameful. My constituents will not be fooled by headline-grabbing Government announcements of more money for our schools or nurseries. The picture is clear, and the figures tell their own story: this Government are failing our schools and our children.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), although it will come as no surprise that I really do not agree with her analysis of the situation. There is perhaps no more important issue that we consider on the Floor of the House than the future of our children. I therefore commend the Government’s efforts to reform the schools funding formula to ensure that we have an education system that is funded fairly across the board.
When I contributed to the Opposition day debate on schools funding in April, I, like other colleagues, took the opportunity to challenge the accuracy of the funding figures published by the School Cuts coalition and warned that Labour was using those figures to mislead the public, including parents in Erewash. Since that debate, the union-backed group has been forced into an embarrassing retreat, admitting that it had failed to factor the £450 million central school services block funding into its calculations for 2018-19. That funding means that school funding per pupil will be protected in real terms, and that it will be 50% higher by 2020 than it was in the year 2000.
Specifically in Erewash, the new funding formula will mean that schools will receive an average increase of 5%—an increase in spending of £2.6 million. This rights the historic injustices of the postcode lottery and will enable schools to plan their spending more effectively and efficiently. However, this is just one side of the coin. As I have previously said in the Chamber, we must look beyond the balance sheet to what our schools and their inspirational teams of teaching professionals and volunteers are achieving with their resources in order to give our children the very best start in life.
One of the privileges that we share as Members of Parliament is visiting schools across our constituencies and seeing for ourselves the variety of activities taking place and the opportunities they offer to our young people. Just yesterday I was at St John Houghton Catholic Voluntary Academy, where I spoke to members of the Erewash Youth Forum. The forum is made up of students from Friesland School—which has recently become an academy—Ilkeston Academy, Long Eaton School, Wilsthorpe Community School, Kirk Hallam Academy and the host school. The students asked some tough questions, and I dare say that a few of them may be challenging for my job in the not too distant future. It was great to see their enthusiasm and their understanding of the complex issues that affect society, both at their age group and as a whole.
Chaucer Junior School, which visited Parliament again last month, is another outstanding school. It is really community-minded, adopting the flower containers at our new Ilkeston station and carrying out numerous litter picks inspired by the “Clean for the Queen” campaign. Just a few weeks ago, students took part in the “Keep Britain Tidy” campaign organised by the Daily Mail, and I am so pleased for them because they won and will now be visiting the National Sea Life Centre in Birmingham in September.
In summary, I am proud to be part of a governing party that is delivering the economic stability needed to provide a good level of funding for our schools and of a Government who have rightly recognised, through the introduction of initiatives such as T-levels and the renewed investment in apprenticeships, that someone does not have to be academic to achieve in life. The task of educating our next generation is vital. While we may disagree in this place about the strategy to best achieve that, what unites us is our admiration for the people who do this work on behalf of society. Not everyone can teach, but for those who do, it is not just a job, but a vocation.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup). I thank the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for securing this debate and for encouraging the rest of us on the Education Committee to seek to secure it too.
Despite earlier provocation, I am not going to talk about how we cut the cake; I want to talk about the size of the cake. I am sure that we will hear these two main arguments from the Minister later on: more money than ever is going into education; and the per-pupil numbers are protected. Ministers say that there is more money than ever, but that is never followed by the fact that we have more pupils than ever. Not only do we have significantly more pupils, but the rise in the participation age and extra support for the early years mean that pupils are in education for a lot longer than ever before.
Ministers also say that per-pupil funding has been protected, but they do not say that the costs per pupil have gone up. The maths is quite simple—I am sure that it would make the new reception curriculum—because if there are more costs, but the cash is the same, spending power will decrease. There will be less cash to spend on teachers, textbooks and all the rest. This is not about the funding formula; it is about the size of the cake, which is insufficient to meet the current costs of our education system.
For schools in particular, the lack of funding is coinciding with the teacher recruitment crisis. That is adding to the costs, because the costs of recruitment and of supply teachers are so high, but there has also been massive change. At any other time, new curriculums, new exams and new assessments would require extra investment, not less money, so a huge strain is being put on the system as a whole.
I thank my hon. Friend. I think the actual figure for the system as a whole is a lot higher than that.
Further education, as the right hon. Member for Harlow said, has also been starved of cash since 2010. The spending power of higher education has increased by around 25%—austerity certainly has not hit that sector—but FE has seen cuts of around the same amount at a time when it is being asked to do more. FE colleges must now undertake constant GCSE English and maths resits—we are not quite sure what the outcomes of that are when a norm-referenced statistical framework is being used, which means that so many people have to fail every year—along with delivering apprenticeships and offering new curricula. Post-16 education needs to be looked at urgently.
It is for those two reasons that we need a long-term funding settlement for education, The NHS has one, as we have already heard, but where are the voices in Government pushing the Treasury for a long-term funding settlement for education? We need a 10-year plan for education that takes account of need, of the numbers coming through the system and of the requirements of our economy not just today but tomorrow. I am afraid that is woefully lacking.
We are a bit hand to mouth at the moment. There is constant policy change, with little forecasting of budget requirements. No wonder we see this crisis in education. Ministers need to up the ante when making these arguments.
The remainder of my speech will focus on maintained nursery schools. Yes, overall funding for childcare has gone up under this Government, but who benefits? The analysis I did with the Social Market Foundation, and analyses from the Education Policy Institute, the Resolution Foundation and others, shows that the vast majority of the extra money the Government are putting into early years is going to top earners—in fact, 75% of the extra £6 billion is going to top earners—which is changing the social mobility arguments and tipping them the other way.
We know that the early years matter, because the single biggest indicator of how well a child will do in their GCSEs is still their development level at the age of five. Children from more affluent backgrounds hear over 30 million more words by the age of three than those from less advantaged backgrounds. Children from more disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely not to reach early learning goals at the age of five. The evidence is clear about quality early education.
As we heard on the “Today” programme this morning—the Minister was on the programme, and he made some of these arguments himself—our maintained nursery schools are the jewel in the crown of social mobility, but this is now becoming urgent. We cannot wait for the comprehensive spending review to secure the funding. Maintained nursery schools were offered three years’ transitional funding nearly two years ago, and the CSR will not be for another year, by which time those nurseries will be right at the cliff edge. Maintained nursery schools are disappearing now, so we have to get this sorted, and sorted fast.
I gently say to Ministers, who I know are personally committed to these agendas, that we will support them if they want to get out there and be a bit more bolshie—or should I say macho?—in pressing the Treasury for extra funding. If they are not careful, to use another metaphor, the macho tanks of the Secretary of State for Defence and of other Departments will be parked firmly on the lawn of the Treasury while Education Ministers politely put their hands up at the back of the class.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and other colleagues who have made thoughtful contributions and to add my voice to this important debate. I disagree with the hon. Lady’s cake analogy, because funding is, of course, allocated on a per pupil basis. The more pupils a school has, the more funding it will receive.
“Stoke-on-Trent is leading the way in innovative practice…a city with so much to offer, but too many children and young people leave school on the back foot, and do not have the skills and tools required to access the opportunities on their doorstep.”
Those are not my words, but the words of the Secretary of State for Education in the delivery plan for the Stoke-on-Trent opportunity area, 2017 to 2020. He is right, and the work going on in the city is a welcome line of spending from his Department.
It is an important line of spending for a number of reasons. First, the opportunity area does much to leverage partnership funding, volunteering and expertise, both from national organisations and local stakeholders. Secondly, it embeds national policy in a particular local context or, seen another way, it embeds particular local priorities in the context of national policy. Thirdly, it enables workstreams locally that will be of national benefit by further raising the skills and productivity of a city that is on the up, with a resurgent ceramics industry and a wider creative and advanced manufacturing economy.
The hon. Gentleman should take that up with the Government. My area is certainly not one that has been traditionally Conservative. I am the first Conservative MP to represent my area in 82 years, so there are challenges to any suggestion that these opportunity areas are just being allocated to Conservative areas.
As I was saying, that resurgence is firing up the need for an increased number of skilled, roundly educated workers. Like many towns and cities outside London, ours needs not only to improve our rates of educational attainment, but to retain educated graduates and skilled workers, who are too often lured to the larger more metropolitan cities. Essential to that is more effectively bridging the gap between education and the economy, ensuring that our young people have the right skills for the job opportunities available locally. Critically, in Stoke-on-Trent this must be about raising aspirations, with our entire city focused on ensuring all our young people are able to and have inclination to reach their full potential.
Although school standards and results in Stoke-on-Trent are on an upward trajectory, and we have seen vast improvements in most recent years, we still need to go further to ensure that all our schools and children are able to access the quality of education they deserve. Many of the problems we are having to reverse in Stoke-on-Trent are deep-seated and long-standing. As recently as December 2016, nearly half of all learners in secondary education across the city were in schools judged by Ofsted to be less than good. At key stage 2, Stoke-on-Trent’s children are behind the national average in reading, writing, maths and science. Thankfully, this picture has now started to improve and we have seen a number of these schools make significant progress over the past two years. I am especially pleased that the schools in Stoke-on-Trent will benefit from reform of the funding formula, addressing long-standing inequalities in the old formula, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) about the high-needs block.
All the secondary schools across my constituency are now improving, and I hope that will be further demonstrated in the results in August. A vital part of achieving that is having high standards of teaching and leadership in our schools. For teachers to be their best we must liberate them to teach, rather than saddle them with unnecessary burdens. I was pleased to welcome the Minister for School Standards to Stoke-on-Trent South to talk to primary heads and deputies recently about reducing unnecessary teacher workloads. We heard examples of outstanding practice taking place in Stoke-on-Trent, and I know the Minister was impressed by the teachers he met.
For our young people, careers advice is also crucial to broadening horizons to both academic or vocational routes. So it is welcome that the Careers & Enterprise Company is working to ensure that every secondary school and post-16 provider in Stoke-on-Trent will have access to an enterprise adviser. We are talking about senior figures from business volunteering their time in schools, and a share of £2 million investment, so that every secondary school pupil has access to at least four high-quality business encounters.
I am also delighted to say that recent efforts to increase applications to Oxford and Cambridge from A-Level students in Stoke-on-Trent seem to be working. I was particularly pleased to see the work done at Ormiston Sir Stanley Mathews Academy recently, with the brilliant club scholars programme to widen access to the top universities and push our children to achieve their best. By getting our educational base right, we can open up new possibilities, especially for children from deprived backgrounds. Important in that is the engagement of organisations such as Young Enterprise and the National Citizen Service with the opportunity area.
It is pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), whose constituency I suspect shares many problems with mine. We could range widely in this debate about education estimates, but I wish to focus on one particular area: the role of our nursery schools and their importance in opening up opportunity.
I wish to begin by thanking the Chair of the Select Committee for pressing this debate. On this issue of nursery schools, I wish to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) and for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who, from the Front Bench and the all-party group on nursery schools, nursery and reception classes respectively, argue the case for these schools with skills and passion, week in, week out.
We have to recognise that there are parts of the country where there is a deep political and economic disaffection: working-class areas where people feel, with some justification, that they do not get a fair share and that the best chances and the biggest rewards go to others and not to them. That is where education comes in. My constituency is at the wrong end of a lot of league tables. Our unemployment rate is around three times the national average; for those who are in work, their pay is around £100 a week less than the English average; we have something like three times the national average proportion of working-age people with no formal qualifications whatsoever; and we have a far lower percentage of people with higher educational qualifications than the national average.
When it comes to the cycle of disadvantage and lack of opportunity, inequality sets in early. We already know that when it comes to starting school there is a development gap, variously measured at 12 or 15 months, between children from the lowest-income backgrounds and those who are better off. If that development gap is not addressed early, it can affect people for the rest of their lives, holding them back from learning what they might have learned, cutting them off from opportunities and careers that they might have had, and reinforcing the inequality and lack of social mobility that is so prevalent in our country.
If we are to address the cycle, we have to start in the early years, and our nursery schools are at the frontline of that effort. I regularly visit wonderful nursery schools in my constituency, including Windsor Nursery School, Bilston Nursery School, Phoenix Nursery School and Eastfield Nursery School. The staff in those nursery schools do a fantastic job. They are fuelled by a passion to give every child the best possible start in life, no matter what that child’s background is. No child is written off. The staff will accept second best for no one. They are conscious of the importance of their role and, rather than be daunted by it, they are inspired by it and are in turn inspiring to others through their efforts.
When I visit these nursery schools, as committed and passionate as the staff are, they make two points to me, and I want the Minister to reflect on them. First, they say that the new funding formula, with its emphasis on per-pupil per-hour funding, does not reflect the reality of their costs. These are nursery schools with a fixed cost base. The emphasis on per-pupil per-hour funding, particularly in highly mobile areas where pupil rolls can go up and down, makes it almost impossible for them to plan for the future. They need to know whether they can employ a good headteacher. They need to know that they can invest in the development of staff. They need to know that they can continue to provide the essential help for special educational needs and for children with disabilities that they are so good at. They cannot do that adequately if they do not know what their budgets are going to be from year to year. There used to be a lump sum in the funding formula—on top of the hourly fee—that helped schools to plan in that way. That element has now gone, leaving staff living from year to year, if not month to month, without knowing what the future holds.
Secondly, nursery schools need more certainty about the future of even the per-hour funding. At the moment, the impact of the new funding formula has been tempered by transitional relief, but as we have heard that is not guaranteed beyond 2019-20. What is going to happen after that? If the supplementary funding is not continued, it will be a disaster for these schools. One federation of two nursery schools in my constituency projects a loss in income of more than £100,000 per year per school, if there is no supplementary funding beyond 2019-20.
It is good that we have a 30-hour offer for three and four-year-olds, but I would like to see a deeper and more universal early-years offer. The key point is that whatever the number of hours the Government offer, it is essential that the offer is funded properly in a way that recognises not just pupil numbers but the real-world costs of running a nursery school.
In conclusion, the way in which we treat this policy area says much about our attitude to social mobility. If we get it right and give it the priority that it deserves, we can break through some of the barriers that hold people back. If we do something on this, we can offer a real answer to some of the grievance and disaffection that I spoke of. Plenty of politicians out there are content to pour petrol on anger. That should not be our role; we should be offering a chance, not a grievance. If we are serious about it, we should start in the early years.
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden).
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for leading us through this very important debate. It is a pleasure to speak, because, as the son of not just a teacher, but a trade union steward of the NASUWT, I promised my mother that I would speak often on the subject of education, perhaps to make up somewhat for the disappointment of my becoming a Conservative MP. I will continue to speak up, and hopefully I will win her round eventually.
I am particularly proud of this Government’s record. Yes, we have issues with regard to funding, and I will touch on them in the minutes that I have available. The reality is that 86% of our schools are now good or outstanding, and that is the absolute acid test for how our schools are doing. That figure has gone up from 66%. Regardless of political views, some credit for that rise should be given to the Department as well as to the teachers, the heads and indeed the pupils of all those schools that have excelled in recent years. I do hope that the Opposition will take that in a spirit of fairness.
I want to thank all the teachers. I am sure that all MPs will understand when I say that going into a school gives me an enormous lift. On Friday, I went into Robertsbridge comprehensive school in my constituency, having had a particularly bruising week. The reality was, however, that the pupils did not really give a stuff about what had happened to me. All they cared about was what will happen to them in their future. Their optimism, their positivity and their belief that they can and will take on the world must surely rub off on all of us as constituency MPs, and, hopefully, make us work harder for them in this Chamber.
I want to touch on early years, primary school, secondary school and then sixth form if time permits. I am very proud that the £6 billion spent on childcare is giving parents an opportunity to provide for and to give back to their children. I speak to many nursery providers and to the parents who use the nurseries. Undoubtedly, the feedback is really positive in terms of take-up and indeed in the way that things are working out. I am sure that, like many constituency MPs, I speak to many providers who do feel that the cost is a bit of a stretch. Issues such as business rates could be considered and will provide a welcome boost to them. I am pleased that the Government are committed to looking at this space and, now that the 30 hours has been rolled out, to what more needs to be done. None the less, it is a very successful policy, which perhaps needs a bit of tweaking to make it an absolute success.
I have many rural primary schools in my constituency, and this is an area where the funding formula really needs to be looked at. At one of my schools, 69% of the pupils come from Hastings, which, as a particularly deprived area, has more money allocated to its schools, but those pupils from that deprived area go to a rural school, which does not get that same funding level. The school gets the pupil premium, but not the additional deprivation level. Every constituency MP wants more for their schools. In East Sussex, £4,500 is spent on each pupil at secondary level; in Hackney, that figure is nearer to £7,000. There should be one fixed amount across the entire country, and then we add on the extras, rather than doubling the amount.
I would like to see a better planning process, so that in areas where, clearly, there are falling rolls, pressure is on the local authority to build more houses. In one particular town, there is no building planned, yet it is the only part of my constituency in which there are falling rolls. The planning process needs to change to reflect that.
At the secondary school level, I am very fortunate in having two outstanding secondary schools and three good schools. Formerly, one was not good. That is testament to the work that has gone into that school. All of the headteachers deserve great credit.
I have asked the Chancellor and the Department for Education team whether it would be possible for the well-deserved pay rise for teachers to be funded outside of the education budget. There is no point in us fighting so hard and being so grateful to get that extra £1.3 billion for our schools, only to find that it is taken out in pay rises because about 80% to 90% of the schools budget is spent on pay. I very much hope that the Exchequer will look at that situation.
Before I sit down, I will briefly mention sixth forms. There is only one sixth form within a school in my constituency. The other four schools do not offer sixth form, but there is a sixth-form college. I would like there to be more sixth forms within schools so that my students do not have to travel further afield, but the reality is that funding at the sixth-form level is 10% lower than at secondary place level, and it was 50% higher 20 years ago. This is holding schools back from expanding, which is a shame because it is good for students to stay in the school that has nurtured them.
The Government are doing a fine job. I recognise that more funding has gone in than ever before, but I also recognise the point made by schools that costs have never been higher, which is why I would like to see a little more funding.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). As a co-sponsor of this debate with the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), I believe that it is important that this House has the opportunity to scrutinise fully the Department for Education’s spending. I hope that Members will come to the same conclusion as me—that much more needs to be spent on schools and our young people’s education.
“I hope that we all agree that the aim is to provide the right education for every child. For some children, that will be an education that is firmly based in learning practical and vocational skills. For others, it will be an education based on academic excellence.” —[Official Report, 2 June 1997; Vol. 295, c. 60-61.]
Those are not my words, but the words of the Prime Minister in her maiden speech. I would like to use the next few minutes to examine the Prime Minister’s words to see how they fit with the Department for Education’s policies and spending plans today.
First, let us look at
“the right education for every child.”
I agree with the Prime Minister’s words that every child deserves the right education, regardless of their background, postcode or the support needed.
Since the introduction of the new code of practice, there has been a significant increase in the number of pupils eligible to access special educational needs funding, but no proportionate increase in funding from central Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to examine pressures on SEN budgets as part of their spending review, to help struggling local authorities such as Cheshire East Council, which is already anticipating a £2 million overspend this year alone?
I could not agree more. The Select Committee on Education will be looking at that issue in its inquiry.
Sadly, many children across the country are not given the appropriate support. “Growing up North”, a report by the Children’s Commissioner for England, stated that
“it is also important to understand that a disproportionate number of children in the North are growing up in communities of entrenched disadvantage which have not enjoyed the financial growth or government energy and spotlight that have so boosted opportunities in other areas of the country—London and the South East in particular. As a result, too many disadvantaged children in the North are being left behind.”
That report, alongside work from other organisations such as the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, shows that children are being denied the same quality education and support based just on where they are born.
Furthermore, the Social Mobility Commission’s 2017 “state of the nation” report found that:
“Disadvantaged children are 14 percentage points less likely to be school-ready at age five in coldspots than hotspots: in 94 areas, under half of disadvantaged children reach a good level of development at age five.”
Those are shocking statistics. Both those reports highlight the devastating impact that the lack of social mobility has on children who go to school without having the best start in life—hungry, in dirty clothes, and potentially lacking social and emotional support. This has an impact on the child all the way through their educational journey and into adulthood; it is a cycle of deprivation. I have witnessed such deprivation at first hand throughout my teaching career.
An essential part of delivering this quality education to each child is a nurturing and supportive school environment. I know that teachers and headteachers across the country are working so hard to provide the best education for our children, but funding cuts over the past several years have made their job increasingly difficult.
Secondly, the Prime Minister said:
“For some children, that will be an education that is firmly based in learning practical and vocational skills.”
In addition to the schools system, our colleges and sixth forms are being starved of funding. Figures from the Sixth Form Colleges Association state that 50% of schools and colleges have dropped courses in modern foreign languages, 34% have dropped STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects, 67% have reduced student support services and extra-curricular support, and 77% are teaching students in larger classes. Since 2010, total expenditure on 16-to-18 education has fallen by an incredible 17.5% in real terms. This area of our education system has been hit hard by cuts.
I have heard personally from leaders in my constituency just how much pressure and stress this is placing on them. In 2017-18, funding for sixth-form colleges is £5,400 per student—the same as it was, in real terms, in 1990. How does supporting a young person by a quarter of what their peers receive demonstrate that the Government value all those who choose practical or vocational qualifications? As was said in one of our sessions at the Education Committee:
“If we were given £9,000 to train health workers, what an amazing system we would have!”
Each one of our young people deserves to have an education and career choices, and to be respected and valued. Is it too much to ask for a genuine and balanced commitment to the further education route?
In the third part of the quote from the Prime Minister’s maiden speech, she says:
“For others, it will be an education based on academic excellence.”
Cutting subjects, raising class sizes and forcing students to learn in dilapidated sheds will not allow academic excellence to be achieved to its fullest potential. Across the UK, £2.8 billion has been cut from school budgets since 2015. That breaks down to an average of £45,000 per primary school and £185,000 per secondary school. Academic excellence should not be open just to those who are wealthy and can afford to pay for private schools for tuition—it should be something that every child, in every classroom, in every school in the country can aspire to.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Improving education chances for all young people in my constituency is one of my top priorities, as it will be for many across the House but, sadly, for too many the reality does not match the Government’s rhetoric. So I want to record the reality shared with me by the 67 head teachers from primary, secondary and special schools across the borough of Bury in their letter to The Bury Times in April this year, in which they said:
“Ministers repeatedly claim that education funding is protected and seem to be in denial about the realities of school funding and its impact on children. They talk about there being more money in education than ever before, when there are half a million more children in schools than in 2010. Tough decisions will have to be taken. Governors and Headteachers can no longer guarantee that such cuts will not impact on our children.”
Their letter goes on to warn of the consequences of this funding shortfall—larger class sizes, fewer teachers and senior staff, decrepit school buildings, loss of teaching assistants, fewer GCSE options on offer, difficulty in recruiting teachers and so on. One Bury head told me:
“It is quite simple—there is less money in schools. Government rhetoric says that schools’ funding has been maintained but does not mention the additional costs (NI payments, paying for services which were previously free, pay increases, pension increases etc.)”
Most alarmingly, this impacts on children with special educational needs and disability. I am pleased to have secured, with colleagues from the Education Committee in the Chamber today, the SEND inquiry, which has now started. More than half of the Bury heads responding to my survey told me that they had been forced to cut special educational needs provision. Three quarters say that the number of staff they have dedicated to SEN support has either stayed the same or fallen, despite increasing numbers of pupils needing access to it, while 52% expect to have to cut it further in the next two years. One primary head said, “I do not have the necessary funding to support some of our most vulnerable children in terms of SEND.” Schools need support if we are to create and sustain the dynamic mainstream education system that I would advocate.
It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the number of excluded pupils in alternative provision with SEND is on the rise. Some 77% of excluded pupils in 2016-17 had special educational needs and disabilities, with heads marking the reason for their exclusion from an extensive list of options as “other”. “Other” now represents nearly 20%, despite being a category intended for rare use on which the Department holds no data. In his recent letter to the Education Committee, the Minister for School Standards provided no data for 2017-18 SEND exclusions, which will have been submitted already but are not disclosed. Perhaps he might announce those figures in his closing remarks.
We need more scrutiny of schools’ use of “other” as a reason for excluding, as well as a more sympathetic system that supports and encourages schools to include and does not penalise them through the Ofsted framework. Pressures on our local authorities compound the problem. Some 250 children are being educated out of borough in Bury, at a cost of £6.5 million. I urge the Government to introduce a pupil premium-style funding allocation for children with SEND. Let us call it “SEND spend” and fund it properly. The high needs block funding must rise in line with costs, and the rise in SEND numbers needs to be better reflected explicitly in the system.
In Bury, I have challenged the local authority to commit to no out-of-borough care in five years. Let us not unsettle children who wish to remain, but enable a return to mainstream for children for whom a reasonable adjustment can be made. Alternative provision has a profound role to play—one that I celebrate and defend—but it must not become an alternative to a patient, sympathetic and inclusive mainstream system. This Government have presided over a highly pressurised, poorly funded system that leads schools to off-roll and to exclude, not include. Where now for Every Child Matters? We have a plan for some children, not all, and our most vulnerable are being left behind.
If we delve a little deeper into the Government’s auto-response that 1.9 million more children are in good or outstanding schools since 2010, we see that it is misleading. As I said to the Minister at last month’s Education Committee session, and as the Education Policy Institute confirmed in its report yesterday, a large part of that increase is due to a rise in the birth rate. About a quarter of the 1.9 million pupils—nearly 600,000—are the result of an increase in the population of pupils.
With respect, the Minister will have a chance to address these points when he sums up.
I have heard of Government intervention, but I am unsure how this Government can take credit for an increase in the birth rate—and anyway, the birth rate increase happened on Labour’s watch. Another quarter of pupils are in schools rated good or outstanding that have not been rated by Ofsted for at least eight years, and 300,000 pupils are in schools not inspected since 2010 because they are in converter academies. I know there is much agreement across the House on these issues, so I say to Ministers: take note of the forensic attention that our heads and your colleagues are paying to performance and ensure that, come the Budget, that is reflected in the allocation.
I will conclude with a brief word on capital spending. In response to my recent request for Lord Agnew and the Secretary of State to consider rebuilding Tottington High in Bury in my constituency, I received a letter acknowledging that the cost of a new school is on average between £9 million and £12 million in current money. Lord Agnew referred us to the £2 million pot given to Bury to look after all its schools. Since the ambitious days of Building Schools for the Future, capital funding has all but disappeared. Tottington High has been overlooked. It was booted off the BSF when the new Government came into power in 2010 and then pushed off their list for new builds. School governors expect more contact from the HSE than the DFE. As I asked the Secretary of State last week, will he send officials from his Department to visit the school to see for themselves the case to rebuild? If he responds to me in this debate, I will update the school when I am proudly its prize-giving speaker on Thursday night.
I wonder whether the Minister has any idea how hard schools in Birmingham are finding things these days. It does not really matter if we are talking about LEA schools or academies, because they are all beset by the same funding problems. In Birmingham, the base rate per primary is down by £250. One local school that has made a virtue of catering for youngsters with special needs has lost three experienced teachers, who have been replaced by one newly qualified teacher, and the same school has had to lose five teaching assistants and three dinner ladies.
Let us just look at what is happening to schools in my constituency. In Billesley Primary School, which has been totally transformed thanks to the efforts of one of our most talented heads, the pupil to TA ratio has halved. At Cotteridge, the pupil to TA ratio is down, and it is the same at Colmore Infant and Nursery School, Hollywood, Tiverton Academy, Woodthorpe Junior and Infant School, and Yardley Wood Community Primary School—to name only a few.
Headteachers and experienced teachers are having to vacate their schools for several days a week and tout themselves around as specialist leaders in education, earning £300 to £400 per day just to keep their schools ticking over. That £300 to £400 comes of course from the budgets of failing schools. We are seeing a vicious merry-go-round in which a school that is failing has to sacrifice part of its budget to pay for support from a specialist leader in education, and that specialist leader has to sacrifice the time they should be spending in their own school, teaching the children there, just to earn enough to keep their own school afloat. That is the reality of this Government’s education funding.
The Government’s own workforce census shows that schools in Birmingham lost more than 600 teachers and teaching assistants last year. Just this morning, I received an email from a teacher at a very highly rated primary in my constituency, imploring me to speak out in this debate and tell people how bad things really are. We now find ourselves in a situation where schools are sacrificing ancillary staff, teaching assistants and experienced staff because they cannot afford their salaries, pensions and national insurance contributions. Welcome though any pay rise is, for the head and governors, it of course means another round of redundancies, because this Government have no intention of funding the pay settlement, pension and national insurance contributions. All this is happening against a backdrop of rising pupil to teacher ratios and a shortage of qualified teachers, with more leaving the profession than entering it.
In secondary schools, we have probably yet to see the worst effects, but they are already subject to a shortfall of £500 million per year in funding for 11 to 16-year-olds from 2015 to 2020, with huge cuts to sixth-form budgets for schools in my constituency. Schools have had to scrap the sixth form because of the detrimental impact the funding shortage was having on children in the lower school. The projected loss of income from 2015-16 to 2019-20 for King’s Norton Boys School is £126,195; for Bournville Secondary, the figure is £359,201; for Dame Elizabeth Cadbury, it is £303,606; for King’s Norton Girls School, £182,261; for Allens Croft Primary, £174,347; for Billesley Primary, £178,959; and Yardley Wood Community Primary School, £166,243.
I will not give way at the moment because other people want to speak.
Those are good schools, with excellent leadership teams and committed staff who want to do the best for our children. They are prepared to go the extra mile, working evenings, holidays and weekends. Linda McGrath, the head of Woodthorpe Junior and Infant School, recently found herself thrust into the role of project manager as she attempted to put her school back together following the devastating floods only a few weeks ago—supervising the cleaning and rebuilding work, ordering the necessary materials and finding alternative classroom provision at other schools for her children. She deserves a medal for her efforts, not the budget cut that this Secretary of State is planning to impose on her. That is the reality of school funding today. That is what the Government are trying to disguise. The lesson of this debate should be that the Government have to do much better by our schools.
I first declare an interest: my wife is the cabinet member for children and young people at Cheshire West and Chester Council and two of my children attend a local school in the constituency.
The recently published University College London Institute of Education report showed a relationship between inspection grades and changes in the socioeconomic composition of pupils. That means, certainly to my mind, that there is an element of good schools becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I do not think we should be surprised by the finding; parents, of course, want their children to have the best education possible, but an inevitable consequence is that the parents with the most resources will use them to maximise their chances of getting their child into what they consider to be the best school in the area. Where does that leave others? Where does it leave the challenge of improving social mobility? Surely, that can only go backwards in this scenario? Is there a risk that schools not performing as well in the area could get into a downward spiral that they will struggle to get out of?
I have seen for myself the risks, with the University of Chester Academies Trust; as a multi-academy trust, it has been underperforming for some time. Ofsted first raised serious questions about the whole chain’s performance some 18 months ago. In May, the trust announced that it was cutting staff and trying to offload four schools due to a £3 million deficit. That left three schools still in the trust, including the Ellesmere Port Academy in my constituency, which has itself been in special measures for a year. It was pretty clear to me that the trust did not have the capacity or the resources to survive, let alone drive through the changes needed to turn the school round.
Now, thankfully, a decision has been reached—that it is unviable to allow the trust to continue—but it has taken a long time to get to this point, and there has been a lot of uncertainty for parents, staff and pupils alike. That uncertainty will continue until there is a new sponsor. I hope that one can be found swiftly and I am pleased that we are finally addressing the issue. I find it incredible that the situation was tolerated for so long. Had the MAT been a local authority or any of the schools been under council control, I have no doubt that there would have been action long ago.
As we have heard today, claims that every school in England would see a cash increase in their funding have been challenged—not only by Labour Members, but by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UK Statistics Authority. Given that all but one of the schools in my constituency face a funding cut, the true situation is clear: local schools will lose about £3 million between 2015 and 2019. Pupils in my constituency will receive £300 per head less over the next three or four years.
I do not want to indulge in a hierarchy of misery, but every single one of the schools in my constituency will lose money in the five years to 2020—£50,000 to £150,000 for primaries and £300,000 to £600,000 for secondaries. That is more than £500 per child. This is an extraordinary situation. I know that the Minister does not accept these figures; if he does not take them from us, perhaps he should take them from the headteachers in our constituencies.
I thank my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. I know from talking to parents, teachers and heads in my constituency that schools are already facing very tough choices. The National Education Union survey told us that 55% of schools that responded said that class sizes had risen in the past year and that more than three quarters had reported cuts in spending on books and equipment. The headteacher survey on the state of our schools post the national funding formula found that 90% of schools are now using pupil premium funds to prop up their basic core budgets. That money is meant to be spent on the most vulnerable pupils rather than as part of the sticking-plaster approach that we are seeing at the moment.
The cuts to school funding also extend to council support. Changes to central support grants will lead to about half a million pounds being lost to my local authority in the next decade, which will further emasculate its already diminished ability to support schools—not that it could help most of them even if it wanted to, thanks to the acceleration of the academies programme. What is that programme actually achieving now? Well, the words of David Laws the other day were quite interesting. He said:
“What we know is that the most successful part of the academisation programme was the early part of it… Those early academies had absolutely everything thrown at them. They were academised school by school, with huge ministerial intervention. The new governors were almost hand-picked. They often brought in the best headteachers to replace failing management teams. They had new buildings. Sponsors had to put in extra cash. Our research shows that much of the programme since then has had little impact on standards.”
In other words, early improvements under a Labour Government have been lost to an ideological drive to create a market and to denude local authorities of a role.
The logical conclusion of the mass academisation of recent years is that the local authority is still the admissions authority, but in name only. Because of the difficulties we have had in one of the schools I referred to, as well as one or two other factors, we have ended up with a totally lopsided admissions process this year, which has led to record appeals, many parents sending their children to schools miles away that were not one of their original three preferences and some parents sadly feeling that they will have to home educate.
Nationally, the number of children being home-schooled has risen by more than 40% in the past three years, according to figures obtained by the BBC. That increase is not just about a broken admissions system, but schools perhaps suggesting that a particular child should be home-schooled to avoid an exclusion or that the school environment might not be the best place for a child if they have special educational needs. Yes, of course some parents are simply exercising parental choice, but for me the rise in the numbers of academies and the rise in numbers of those being home-schooled is surely no coincidence.
Who is monitoring and evaluating this explosion in home-schooling? Has there been a 40% increase in resources to do that? Are we confident that the legislation and guidance in this area is as up to date as it needs to be? Are we comfortable that so many children are being educated in this way? Is this a great example of how parental choice operates, or are parents being forced down this route because they have no real choice? What efforts are being made to ensure that children are able to return to school if they can? What scrutiny is taking place of schools or areas that have higher than average levels of home-schooling? Has any analysis been done on why this is the case?
Those are not easy questions to answer, but they should be asked. I fear that the fragmented system we currently have means that once a child becomes home educated, they become somebody else’s responsibility. That is the wrong approach. We owe it to all children to ensure that they get the very best education, no matter where they take it.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders).
The debate on school funding always appears to follow the same tired pattern. Teachers, parents, education trade unions and the Opposition parties all point to the facts: increased class sizes; the number of teachers leaving the profession; the lack of adequate support for children with special educational needs and disabilities; the number of “expensive” subjects cut from the curriculum; the cancelled school visits because the schools cannot subsidise them; the number of teaching assistant jobs that have been cut or reduced; the declining state of the school estate; the request by schools to even put Amazon wish lists out for parents because they cannot afford basic school supplies; and many other concrete examples of continual underfunding. The Government then say, “We have increased funding for schools”. What they do not say is that what they give with one hand they take with another. They repeat their mantra frequently, encouraging all those sitting on the Government Benches to trot it out at every available opportunity. They are desperate to make us believe that the emperor really does have new clothes, but I am sorry to say that those on the Government Front Bench are all completely naked.
The reality is that the IFS estimates that, from 2015-16 to 2018, funding for schools fell in real terms by just over 4% per pupil. Since April 2017, the 0.5% apprentice levy has been an additional burden on the payroll. Schools tell me they see it as an additional tax that they cannot use to improve the learning or outcomes for the pupils in their classes. On top of that, we have had increased national insurance contributions and an increase in inflation. The number of children requiring SEND support has increased by 21% in the past three years.
Nationally, the National Association of Head Teachers undertook a survey called “Breaking Point”, which found that more than four fifths or 86% of respondents had reduced the number of hours of teaching assistants or their numbers to balance their budgets. More than a third of respondents said that they had to reduce the number of hours or the number of teaching staff. Figures sometimes lack the human impact or real story behind them. What difference do teaching assistants make? I can tell the House about the teaching assistants that I worked with in my 11 years as an infant teacher and the difference that they made. Yes, part of it was about the educational achievement of the children who did not often read at home. They were taken every morning by me or the teaching assistant to make sure that they had the time, and the quality interaction, to improve their reading. However, there is much more to it than that. There are stories that do not often come out on the Floor of the House, such as when a child of only six years old decides to vomit everywhere in the classroom. Who has to clear it up? The teaching assistant has to do that because the teacher has to stop the 29 other children going to inspect the vomit that is in their classroom. These things happen in infant school and nursery classrooms, and yet, what happens if we take those teaching assistants away? Imagine the disruption. Every teacher around the country can tell us about the disruption caused by a bee in a classroom, let alone a child who suffers from diarrhoea and vomiting.
Over half the schools in my constituency have had to make teaching assistants redundant. Hull headteachers have already written to the Secretary of State, asking for £5 million extra in funding to help them to support the children who are most in need. Currently, 526 pre-school children in Hull with SEND are going to be starting school in September, and they need the money for the additional support.
As the system is set up at the moment, schools are expected to provide £6,000 in additional support for children with SEND before they can access any other funding, so that is going to be an incredible cost for those schools. I ask the Minister: what does he think is happening to those children in schools? Where does he think they are going? What happens to the children that nobody wants? They end up being off-rolled and put in alternative provision. The number of children being home-educated or educated outside a school setting has risen from 3,305 in 2010 to 8,304 in 2017, so 8,304 children are waiting for adequate education, and there is huge competition for specialist places in specialist schools.
The forthcoming report from University College London’s Institute of Education said that the system is now pushing schools and their heads to prioritise
“the interests of the school over the interests of groups of, usually more vulnerable, children”.
Some schools were found to be engaged in
“aggressive marketing campaigns and ‘cream skimming’ aimed at recruiting particular types of students”.
That is the true legacy of this Government’s education reforms—a legacy that excludes and treats the most vulnerable people in our society in this way.
The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place, with dangerous ideals being promoted closer and closer to home. Now is the time to be pouring our money into education, fighting fake news and preparing our children for the fourth industrial revolution, because before we complain about the cost of education, we should first consider the cost of ignorance.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy).
The funding of our schools is a key issue in my constituency. Reading and Woodley are growing towns with many young families, and many other residents are concerned about the state of schools and education in general. I endorse the points that hon. Members have made about the importance of funding our schools properly, and I want to go further. I want to describe the scale of the problems in my constituency, which are both serious and substantial. There is no doubt that our schools face a deepening funding crisis. I also want to show that the scale of the crisis demands a fundamental rethink of the scale of the funding envelope available to education in this country. I am calling for an end to austerity and for a fair funding settlement for our schools, the NHS and other services.
First, I will describe the crisis in my constituency. Nurseries, primary schools and secondary education have all been hit hard by eight years of austerity. As a new MP, I have been meeting with teachers, parents and pupils, and I have asked schools that I visited to tell me what they would like to report to Ministers to explain the scale of the crisis. One nursery head described it particularly well. She explained that she has always had to face an uneven playing field—for example, nurseries pay business rates, unlike schools. She now has to manage, however, with a totally different situation—one that my hon. Friends have already alluded to—having to deal with a greatly increased number of children with special educational needs and a wide range of other financial pressures. Primary schools in my constituency have had to deal with heavy cuts at the same time as pupil numbers have risen steeply. Schools have also reported serious additional problems with unfunded pay rises and unfunded national insurance increases.
These pressures have fed through into secondary schools, which have also had to respond to significant changes to the curriculum and the introduction of new GCSEs and A-levels, all taking place at the same time. The number of teaching posts has been cut and subjects axed, including German and music—I imagine that many Members would consider both of those subjects to be a fundamental part of secondary education. The average local authority secondary school deficit in Reading has risen from £300,000 in 2010 to £374,000 in 2018. Taken together, this is close to a perfect storm. The cuts, the relentless changes to the curriculum and examinations and the significant rise in pupil numbers have all put tremendous pressure on our schools. Is it any wonder, then, that teachers are leaving the profession and recruitment is becoming so much harder?
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to set out the substantial challenges faced by schools in my constituency and across our country. There is a severe funding crisis—one that is creating close to a perfect storm, when taken together with the other major changes being forced through schools—and yet the Government have an opportunity to rethink. I urge Ministers to listen to teachers, parents and students and seriously reflect on this mistaken approach. Surely, it is worth rethinking austerity after eight failed years.
I start by paying tribute to our teachers, our teaching assistants and the school staff for the remarkable work they do. I think of Osborne Nursery School, where a grandfather said to me, “Our little boy came here six months ago. He couldn’t string two words together. He was withdrawn and we were worried about him. Now, six months later, we can’t shut him up. He loves the nursery school. He bounces in every morning. He’s going from strength to strength.” I think of the mother at Lakeside children’s centre who told me, “Jack, I was suicidal. I couldn’t cope with two kids, one of whom has severe difficulties, but the children’s centre helped me through. It helped me to become a good mum”.
I think of Twickenham Primary School, where I was told of a young boy, aged seven now, who came from a home with no curtains, carpets, cupboards or wardrobes, where everything was stored in bin bags on the floor. The school had to bring him to school every morning and feed him every day, including at night and the weekend, but it did it, and as a consequence this little boy, who was struggling in a problem home, is now top of his class. I think of secondary schools such as North Birmingham Academy. I remember when it opened its sixth form two wonderful young people from the first intake telling me that they came from families and communities where no one had ever been to university, but how, thanks to a good school, they had that ladder of opportunity.
We see so much that is admirable—but, but, but. What said it all for me was Michelle Gay, the headteacher of Osborne Primary School, who on ITV in March wept in frustration at the difficulties confronting headteachers having to make difficult choices about laying off teaching assistants, no longer replacing teachers, cutting back on maintenance and cutting back on the curriculum, including for the next generation of world-class musicians who are not getting the opportunities they would otherwise have had.
Giving kids the best possible start in life starts with early-years education. In this respect, Birmingham has a proud tradition, with all our children’s centres and the 27 dedicated nursery schools, but cuts to council budgets have meant that, although 18 children centres remain open, 11 have closed. Nationwide, 1,000 Sure Start centres have closed as a consequence of austerity and cuts since 2010. On nursery schools, however, we fought and won the battle two years ago. I am proud to say that that started in Birmingham and then went nationwide. We won a commitment from the Government to provide supplementary funding, which has avoided the complete disaster that would otherwise have befallen those 400 nursery schools. But, but, but. We are coming to the end of the guarantees that were given then. Nursery schools are now being told, “You have to plan for the future.” However, they have no idea whether the Government will continue that supplementary funding, and will the means for them to continue to deliver a world-class education.
That is why tomorrow, along with the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon)—I pay tribute to him for his speech—and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), I will be launching, in the all-party parliamentary group on nursery schools, nursery and reception classes, a drive to ensure that the voice of parents of children at those nursery schools is heard by the Government, and that the necessary resources are made available on a continuing basis.
It is not only in early-years education that the problems are mounting; they are mounting also in primary and secondary schools. In Birmingham, 361 out of 364 schools face cuts, and we expect a total loss of £51.4 million by 2020. That means a loss of £293 for every one of Birmingham’s 184,000 children. North Birmingham Academy will lose £552 per pupil, Stockland Green School will lose £503 per pupil, Erdington Academy will lose £360 per pupil, and St Edmund Campion Catholic School will lose £222 per pupil.
The education unions were absolutely right to say that the Government needed to face the facts. Our kids get one chance of a bright future when they go to school, but let us look at what is happening now. There are 137,000 more pupils in schools in England than there were last year, but—and I should tell the Minister that these figures are undeniable, because they come from his Department—there are 5,400 fewer teachers, 2,800 fewer teaching assistants, 1,400 fewer support staff, and 1,200 fewer auxiliary staff. Those facts speak for themselves.
Like other Members who have spoken, I am passionate about the cause of education, because when I was a kid I was fortunate enough to get a good start in life, although my dad was a navvy and my mother was a nurse. I never forget the schools that helped me to get on. I want to ensure that all kids, in Birmingham and in Britain, have the same chances that all of us here have had, but right now the opportunity is being denied to millions, and that is fundamentally wrong.
Let me start by saying that Scottish schools broke up for the holidays last week. I wish all teachers and pupils a sunny, safe and enjoyable holiday. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on showing a deep understanding of the issues that school staff are facing.
I want to say something about early-years education. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) made some important points about increased childcare provision, which he said was reaching only a certain sector of society. If we only offer that increased provision to households in which both parents are working, we miss out some of the most vulnerable of those we want to target. According to statistics from the WAVE Trust, maltreatment affects 20% of children, and the most damaging period is when they are between zero and two years old, when the brain is still developing. Such experiences affect their long-term prospects, both educationally and economically: it is estimated that adverse childhood experiences cost the UK economy £15 billion per annum. Not to provide dedicated early-years funding, especially for those in the zero-to-two age group, is particularly short-sighted.
On school funding, many Members, including the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), painted a grim picture of the reality at the chalk face. Since 2015, when the impact of inflation is taken into account, schools have faced real-terms cuts. The oft-repeated statement from the Government that there are now 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010 was highlighted by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy). That has less impact when we know that half a million pupils in England attend schools that have not been inspected since 2010, and many have not been inspected for more than 10 years. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) told us that even the excellent schools in his constituency were struggling under the funding, so this is a warning that the very best are giving us as well.
The forthcoming UCL report on education reforms was referred to by a number of Members. The analysis on high-performing schools accepting fewer children from poor backgrounds is turning out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. A few are actually selecting pupils at that stage. We are effectively getting a grammar system whether we like it or not. A comprehensive system works far better at reducing inequalities for those from deprived backgrounds.
The report also mentioned that the original pledge to set schools free and give them more power has led to a system causing high levels of stress among teachers. We can expect nothing else when schools are competing with one another rather than collaborating.
The maths premium has not been mentioned so far. The hope is that this will incentivise the take-up of maths. I have no doubt that this premium has been introduced with the best of intentions, but there is a difficulty: if underfunded schools identify this as a way of raising capital, students could be forced into studying maths when a more suitable pathway might be available to them. This Government have done a lot of work on T-levels, but what if these pupils are directed away from T-levels into maths simply because it will generate more income for the school? If the Government want to tackle productivity and growth, why not offer premiums to schools who achieve positive destinations for their students, with particular focus on careers and areas where there is a skills shortage?
The success or failure of any school always rests with the teachers. With the advent of academies, we are seeing a situation where teachers can be paid at a rate below nationally agreed pay scales. This means that pay scales can be bypassed to allow schools to stretch a budget further. So when we hear politicians praising our dedicated teachers, perhaps we should be asking them if they would be willing to teach a group of 30 or more teenagers with multiple support needs with no support for £24,000 per annum. As one teacher told me:
“I would be better off working in a supermarket...at least I would earn overtime.”
I was recently at an event where a fellow MP talked about their disappointment at the lack of uptake of continuing professional development opportunities by teachers during summer holidays. That shows the complete disconnect between the job teachers are doing and the understanding that politicians have. Let us be clear: when teachers have battled their way through the term and have made it to the summer holidays, probably all they are able to do is sleep—as I used to do—for the first fortnight and recharge their batteries. Perhaps a better idea would be to have some politicians teaching in a school for a couple of weeks and really experiencing the issues in an underfunded secondary school. Thankfully, in Scotland we are looking at the issue of pay and conditions seriously and have lifted the pay cap for teachers, and I encourage this Government to do the same.
On further education, a long-term approach to post-16 education funding is needed, with courses linked specifically to needs in the labour market. I do not understand why in England FE colleges are still training young people for jobs that do not exist. Increasing the budget here is not sufficient; we need courses that are tailored to the needs in our jobs market. Brexit will make this issue even more acute, so we really must consider that.
England has the highest university tuition fees in the industrialised world and debt on graduation at £50,000. This is not saving money in the long run. Shortages in key areas, such as nursing, will become far more acute if we do not address this marketisation of higher education. As in early years provision, the lack of funding now will have serious long-term implications.
In Scotland, we value education and the benefit it brings not only to the individual but to society as a whole, and school leaver destination statistics show that we are making great progress in widening access to higher education. The most recent UCAS figures, published in January, show a 13% increase in the number of Scots from the most deprived communities getting places to study at a Scottish university. More importantly, young people must have the destination that is right for them, and Scotland now has the highest positive destination for young school leavers of any nation in the UK. The funding of education is ultimately about choices. The Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), said earlier that we should fund “textbooks, not tanks”. I would go further, and say that I would fund textbooks, not Trident.
I want to apologise to you straight away, Mr Deputy Speaker. I prepared diligently for this debate, but I had not realised the importance of estimates day debates to the House. I woke up today to headlines in all the newspapers talking about Kane for England, “Go Kane” and Kane for Harry, England and St George. It was not until the shadow Secretary of State turned up in her England top that the penny dropped. However, I am sure that the one thing that the Minister and I would agree on is that we wish our team all the best for tonight. Straight out of the gate, the Chair of the Education Committee, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), got the tone right for the debate. He also came up with the best soundbite of the day when he talked about funding “textbooks, not tanks”. I shall carry on with the alliteration and say that textbooks, not Tories, are the best thing for our education system.
There is a great deal to discuss in the Department’s spending review, but as colleagues have had to be brief, I will follow suit. I will start with schools, where the Department does the majority of its spending. In particular, I would like to focus on a claim that the Minister made over the weekend that is particularly relevant to this debate. He took to Twitter to say that
“claims that schools would lose money next year are inaccurate. School funding is protected in real terms per pupil—contrary to some inaccurate and misleading claims”.
I for one am glad that the Minister has decided he has a problem with inaccurate and misleading claims. With that in mind, does he believe that every school is going to get more money in the coming financial year? After all, it was the Secretary of State who said that under the current spending plans,
“each school will see at least a small cash increase.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 536.]
Unfortunately for his Department, this has been queried by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UK Statistics Authority. So I ask the Minister to offer us some clarification and to state clearly whether schools will lose money or whether they will see a cash increase.
I was so looking forward to that! The Prime Minister came to my constituency a few weeks ago to visit a school in Brooklands, in Trafford. That seat had never turned Labour in the history of municipal authority, but it did so that night and Labour took Trafford, because Trafford is losing £3.3 million in spending power for its schools.
Under the Department’s spending plans, schools will see cuts to their budgets for the third year in a row. I know that the Minister will be tempted to rehearse his prepared rebuttal and tell us how the Government have protected per-pupil spending in real terms, despite the fact that £2.7 billion in real terms has been cut since 2015. Those were the first schools cuts in a generation. Despite all the shallow talk of protecting budgets and extra funding, the future of our schools is not safe under the Tories.
While we are talking about the Department’s spending plans for next year, I know that there is one issue that teachers and school leavers across the country need an answer on, and that is pay. The Government’s own research has shown that their pay policy has left teachers nearly £4,000 worse off in real terms since they came into office. It is hardly a surprise that the Government are overseeing a crisis in the recruitment and retention of the teachers that our children and country need. Will the Minister admit that his pay policies have played a role in driving teachers out of the profession? If not, will he tell us why they are leaving the classroom in record numbers? For every teacher coming in, one is leaving the profession.
Teachers and other public sector staff have been repeatedly promised that the public sector pay cap has come to an end, but schools have been given no certainty about any pay rise or how it will be funded. So, will the Minister tell the House when the School Teachers’ Review Body will be publishing its annual report? Surely the Minister agrees that, without enough money to pay for higher wages, anything he utters from the Dispatch Box about an end to the pay cap is absolutely meaningless to the thousands of hard-working teachers who have not seen a real pay rise in years.
Before I end my speech, I want to discuss our student finance system. The Department’s estimates show that spending on the payment of student loans will be over £21 billion this year. They also show that the Department will be considering over £3 billion of interest payments on student debt as revenue. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has already shown that the Government’s use of an unreliable inflation measure for these debts costs students around £16,000, and they will now discover that that is being done to line the Treasury’s coffers. Will the Minister tell us how that £3.2 billion is going to be spent? Will he tell us whether the fact that his Department has a vested financial interest in keeping interest rates high means that it will not be acting to address the fact that students are paying more than 6% in interest before they are even able to repay their debts?
It is traditional for the Opposition spokesman to thank Opposition Members for their speeches, but not today. I want to thank all the Government Members for their speeches—[Hon. Members: “Ahh.”] Isn’t that nice of me? The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) made a fine speech, but he failed to mention that North Warwickshire Borough Council is losing £12.5 million from its schools budget. We had the most supportive unsupportive speech that I have ever heard in this House from the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg). He is right to say that Manchester teachers are the some of the best in the world—I was one of them—but Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council is losing £5.9 million over the funding period. What a fine speech it was from the hon. Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin). I believe that Horsham is in West Sussex, where primary schools are losing £8.9 million over this Parliament. I have already had it out with the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) about Derbyshire, which is facing an £11.5 million cut. Who else do we have? The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton)—
I have very little time left. Stoke-on-Trent is having £2.8 million taken away from its budgets. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), which is in East Sussex, will see £6.4 million of funding removed.
It is eight years since the former Chancellor delivered the first austerity budget. After eight years of cuts and the usual platitudes, can Government Members really say it is working for them and their schools in their constituencies? As we approach the summer recess, I call on them to contemplate what austerity has done to our country and to the schools in their communities. I ask them to think deeply about whether they can continue in all conscience to support their Ministers in this great decimation of our education system.
I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) and the hon. Members for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) and for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) on securing the subject of this estimates debate.
The Government are determined to create an education system that offers opportunities to everyone, at every stage of life, and an effective funding system is a cornerstone of such an education system.
Education funding has been a key priority for this Government, which is why we have been able to maintain core school funding in real terms since 2010, at a time when we have been tackling the historically high budget deficit we inherited from the Labour party. It is only through such a balanced approach to fiscal policy that we have been able to secure a strong economy that provides opportunities for young people, with the highest level of employment and the lowest level of unemployment since the 1970s.
As the Minister knows, the Government had a manifesto commitment to remove the cap for faith schools, which they decided not to implement. However, they have promised to fund voluntary-aided faith schools 100%. Can he confirm that that pledge stands? What steps is he taking to ensure that money is forthcoming for new voluntary-aided faith schools?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has said that that is the approach we are taking to assist Catholic schools in particular. We are spending £23 billion on capital funding because of our balanced approach to managing the public finances.
We have made historic reforms to the way we fund our schools, supported by an additional £1.3 billion investment, and we have announced ambitious plans for a new world-class technical education system, backed by £500 million a year of additional funding.
As is clear from this debate, our work as a Department, and our investment in young people, extend far beyond schools and colleges. Members have raised issues relating to priorities across the Department’s remit—from early years to further and higher education—and I aim to address some of those important questions.
I thank the Minister for giving way; he did intervene on a number of colleagues during the debate. He champions numeracy, but does he accept that spending power is reduced when costs go up and income remains the same? The number of teachers who can be employed, the amount of training that can be put on and the support that schools can provide has reduced, and budgets have therefore fallen.
Of course I acknowledge that, but the hon. Lady also has to acknowledge that school funding is at a record level—£42.4 billion this year, rising to £43.5 billion next year. Of course I acknowledge there are costs that schools have absorbed, and I will come to the measures we have taken to help schools to deal with those rising costs, which include employers’ national insurance contributions. Those costs have been absorbed by the private sector, and they have been incurred across the public sector—public sector pensions have also been an increased cost across Whitehall. We are helping schools to address those issues.
By prioritising frontline spending within the Department’s budget, we have ensured that core funding for schools and high needs has risen over and above the allocations set out at the last spending review. The total core schools and high needs budget will rise from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion by 2019-20.
The hon. Member for Bury North (James Frith) mentioned Ofsted, and he pointed out that pupil numbers have increased. Of course he is right, which is why we have created 825,000 new school places since 2010, in contrast with the cut of 100,000 school places under the last Labour Government, despite the increased birth rate being very clear even then.
Sixty-eight per cent. of schools were judged good or outstanding by Ofsted in 2010, compared with 89% today. Although outstanding schools are exempt from routine inspection, Ofsted will trigger an inspection if academic results begin to slide in an outstanding school. The schools in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bury North will see a 6.9% per pupil increase in funding once the national funding formula is fully implemented.
The shadow Minister thanked Conservative Members, and I would like to thank Labour Members for their contributions to this debate because it gives me the opportunity to point out to the hon. Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper) that schools in her constituency will see a 3.2% increase in funding as a result of the introduction of the national funding formula. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) will see a 3.5% per pupil increase at the end point of the introduction of the national funding formula. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) will see an increase of 3.4% per pupil under the NFF. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) will see a 4.2% increase in per pupil funding as a consequence of the introduction of the NFF. She also talked about teaching assistants, and I should point out to her that in January 2010 there were 194,000 full-time equivalent TAs in our schools, whereas today there are 263,000 TAs. Finally, I should point out to the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) that schools in his constituency face a 3.9% increase in pupil funding.
I appreciate such sharpened focus and attention in the Minister’s remarks. He feels strongly supported by that information. Would he care to respond to my request for additional SEND funding to be maintained in line with the increase in the number of SEND pupils? Does he believe it acceptable that 77% of excluded pupils have special educational needs and disabilities?
I should point out that special educational needs funding is rising from £5 billion in 2013 to £6 billion this year. The statistics that the hon. Gentleman referred to in his speech—the exclusion figures—will be published on 19 July in the usual way, as we do every year.
I wish to point out—
I will not take any interventions for the moment, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.
In addition to the funding distributed through the NFF, eligible pupils will also attract the pupil premium, which has a specific focus on raising the attainment of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds—we are talking about £2.4 billion this year. As a result, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has closed by 10%, and standards are rising in our schools.
Our focus on phonics has transformed the way reading is taught in our primary schools. When we introduced the phonics screening check in 2012, just 58% of the six-year-olds taking the test reached the expected standard. Last year, that 58% had risen to 81%. However, we need to go further to ensure that every primary school is using the best approach to teaching reading. That is why we have funded phonics roadshows and why we are rolling out English hubs across the country to promote, and train schools in, the use of systematic synthetic phonics in the teaching of reading. We want every child in every primary school to be a fluent reader.
I will not give way, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.
In 2014, we introduced a more demanding primary curriculum. In the first standard assessment tests, taken in 2016, which reflected that new curriculum, 70% of pupils reached the expected standard in the more demanding maths and arithmetic SATs. A year later, that had risen to 75%. But we want it to go higher still, which is why we are spending £75 million funding 35 maths hubs across the country, promoting the highly effective south-east Asian maths mastery approach to teaching maths. Our ambition is for half of all primary schools to be trained to use that approach by 2020, and for 11,000 primary and secondary schools to be in that position by 2023.
Next year, we are rolling out a computer-based multiplication tables check for all nine-year-olds, ensuring that every child knows their times tables by heart. What a contrast to the days when teachers were told they must not teach times tables. We are promoting the use of high-quality textbooks in primary schools, undoing the damage from the 1970s, when textbooks in primary schools were consigned to the store cupboard. High-quality, knowledge-rich, carefully sequenced textbooks promote understanding and reduce teacher workload.
In a global trading nation, we need to reverse the decline in the study of foreign languages that began under Labour in 2004. Since 2010, the proportion of 16-year-olds taking a GCSE in a foreign language has increased from 40% to 47%, but our ambition is for 75% to be studying for a GCSE in a foreign language by 2022 and for 90% to be doing so by 2025.
Let me respond to the typically thoughtful speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow, in which he paid tribute to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for securing a five-year funding settlement. He is right that longer-term visibility is helpful in every sector, and we are committed to securing the right deal for education in the spending review. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this important issue. Our track record gives us much to be proud of, but we will of course continue to listen carefully and take into account the issues raised today and the findings of the Education Committee inquiry. Investing in our young people’s future is one of the most important investments that we can make as a country. As a Government, we are committed to getting it right.
I thank Members from all parties for speaking on this important matter. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), was kind about my speech, but then said that he preferred textbooks to Tories and compared himself to the England captain; I have to say that Harry Kane is a lot better at scoring goals.
On the general question of education, in the 1970s, we Conservatives often felt that if there was enough economic capital, everything else would be solved. We now realise that we have to build economic capital and social capital hand in hand. I hugely respect my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards. He has built up academic capital, transformed reading in our country and done many good things to improve standards in schools, but we have to concentrate as much on social capital and skills capital as on academic capital. Great social injustices remain in our education system. As Government and Opposition Members have said, we have to deal with early-years injustice and with maintained nursery schools, which were described as the jewel in the crown. We have to deal with the problem of exclusions, with 833 fixed exclusions every day for special needs pupils, and we have to deal with further education. I urge my right hon. Friend to support a 10-year plan for education, just as has been achieved for the NHS.
Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54).
It would be churlish not to mention it at this point in our proceedings, so I will mention that today represents a very special birthday for the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who is himself a distinguished alumnus of the Hertford Grammar School and other educational institutions. I predict only with modest confidence that, as he has now served 21 years in the House, he might have reached the mid-point of his parliamentary career.