We now come to the Back-Bench motion on school funding. Before we start, I need to tell the House that we have, in theory, 28 speakers for the two debates this afternoon. I also have to take into account the opening speeches, the Front-Bench speeches and the wind-ups, so I ask the movers of the motions to stick to the limit of between 10 and 15 minutes, and I am sure colleagues would appreciate it if it were nearer to 10. I will also have to impose an immediate five-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches.
I beg to move,
That this House notes with concern the increasing financial pressures faced by schools; further notes that schools are having to provide more and more services, including those previously provided by other public agencies including health and local authorities; notes with concern funds for schools being spread more thinly and not being sufficient to cope with additional costs; and further calls on the Government to increase funding provided to schools to cover the additional services schools now perform for pupils.
I will not take interventions, on the grounds that it is a hugely important debate. I first held a debate on this issue in October 2018 in Westminster Hall under the title “School Funding”, and it was extremely well attended. The concerns expressed then about the level of school funding were consistent. Hopes were high that the Minister would be in listening mode and that the Chancellor would open his wallet to find some extra funds. Obviously, that extra funding has not appeared, so it is crucial that the subject of funding for schools should be revisited at the earliest opportunity. We in this House need to keep up the pressure.
I am sure that the British public can be forgiven for thinking this House has taken leave of its senses, with Brexit acting as an all-consuming topic to the apparent exclusion of all others. Indeed, the message from the Chancellor in his spring statement appeared to be that any spare funding that might be available was being stashed away until Brexit was resolved. Our inability to progress Brexit now means that the British taxpayer will be forking out millions for European elections that may or may not be needed, and billions to extend the Brexit can-kicking. It is time we put the focus back on to the future of our young people and children, who deserve a first-class education in a decent school environment, well-staffed with highly qualified teachers and with adequately resourced classrooms. Today, this House today needs to reassert its priories. We need to put Brexit on the back burner and say that what matters is the future of our young people.
This issue has attracted significant interest across the House and the application for this debate had around 50 supporters from almost every party represented in this Chamber. I am sure that, like other hon. Members, I could simply dust off my October speech, because I know from the feedback I have heard nationally and locally that nothing has significantly changed in the months since my last debate on this issue. Parents are told that they have a choice on where their children can attend school, yet every year parents and pupils in my constituency are left scrabbling around for school places, with some being offered places a 40-minute drive away. The same Minister is with us today, and I hope that he does not just dust off his October speech, because quite frankly it was not helpful at the time. As I said in my winding-up speech last time, repeating the same mantra over and again but not admitting that there is a deep-rooted, systemic problem makes the Government look cloth-eared.
I hope that the Minister is listening, and I hope we can have another shot today at persuading him that this funding crisis needs addressing. Brexit cannot be used as an excuse to keep kicking this can into the long grass.
The Government have told us repeatedly that record levels of funding are going to our schools. The simple facts tell us that more money is being spent overall, and that is a good thing, but schools are not feeling the effects of that increase. Teachers and heads keep telling me that we must differentiate between the school’s budget and the teaching budget, and that although more money is being spent on education, it does not necessarily filter down to improve the experience of pupils and teachers.
The pressures facing schools are widely known across the House and in the Department for Education. It should worry us that, earlier this month, over 1,000 councillors wrote to the Secretary of State demanding more money for local schools. That is not just about campaigning for the local elections. Many of those people are on parent-teacher associations and understand the pressures that their schools are under. The campaign supported by those councillors emphasised the real-terms cut in per-pupil funding and the severe problems faced by local authorities in funding education, particularly for special educational needs and disability—SEND—pupils. Their letter stated that, according to the Education Policy Institute, almost a third of all council-run secondary schools and eight in 10 academies are now in deficit.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently found that per-pupil school spending had fallen by 8% in real terms since 2010. That must be considered alongside the fact that, according to the DFE’s own figures, there are now 500,000 more pupils in our schools than there were in 2010. That is half a million extra young minds to neuter—
Nurture! Not neuter!
That is half a million extra young minds to nurture, and that cannot be done on the cheap. I am not asking the Minister for a loaves-and-fishes miracle for my local schools. I do not expect a smaller amount of money to be spread among more people. I am asking for a financial settlement to reflect the extra strain on the budget, and a funding formula that delivers for all our schools. We must not rob Peter to pay Paul when the formula is next tinkered with.
The IFS has also reported that school sixth forms have endured a 21% reduction in per-pupil spending since 2011, and it estimates that by 2019-20, spending per sixth-form pupil will be lower than at any point since 2002. That is going back a very long way. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the picture varies, but the signs indicate that schools are not benefiting universally, and we must find a new funding formula. Many schools I have spoken to have reiterated that the national funding formula must cover the funding needed for schools, not just the pupil-led aspect. Pupils and parents expect those schools to be fit for purpose as well as to provide lessons.
The Sutton Trust reports that up to two thirds of secondary schools have had to cut teaching staff for financial reasons. We are also seeing a worrying trend in cuts to the extracurricular activities and facilities that can be so important for children as they make their way through their school careers. Around 60% of secondary school teachers have reported cuts in IT equipment for cost reasons, with 40% stating that school outings have been cut, too. We must therefore be concerned that almost a third of teachers polled by the Sutton Trust reported a cut in sporting provisions for pupils in their schools.
I said it in the previous debate and I will say it again that Sian Kilpatrick, the head of Bernards Heath Junior School in my constituency, wrote to parents—she is not alone in that—to explain the financial squeeze that her school faces due to funding restrictions. She compiled a list of all the additional things to which she must allocate funding—not a nice-to-have list, but a must-be-done list—that includes vital outdoor risk assessments, legal human resources advice, general maintenance costs and staff insurance payments, which are just some of the additional costs for which schools have to find money. On top of that, she even had to pay £8,000 to get her school’s trees pruned. Schools across the country face similar shopping lists that will suck up vital school funding.
Schools are also concerned about their lack of ability to plan their finances. With the introduction of the national funding formula happening over several years, there is huge uncertainty about how it will affect individual schools, and headteachers are unwilling to commit to long-term planning, which cannot be right. Whichever Government are in power, we need long-term certainty for our schools’ futures. Angela Donkin of the National Foundation for Educational Research cites several key factors that have stretched school budgets in recent years. I will not go through all the factors, because I know how many Members want to speak. I am sure that others will list them today, but they include, to name but a few, an increase in employer national insurance contributions and employer pension contributions, ageing building stock, the teacher pay award and the requirement for all students to continue in education.
The requirement on schools to offer services previously carried out by other public agencies can been seen across the country. A survey by WorthLess? found that 94% of headteachers polled said that their schools now routinely deliver services previously provided by local authorities. This is not a point of debate, but whoever is asked—no matter the local authority, county or politician —will agree with it. All these factors have resulted in immense strain on school budgets. More money is going into schools, but so much more is being asked of the money.
Staff and staffing costs are under severe pressure. Many school staff in my constituency cannot afford to live in the area, so the staff turnover and churn is huge. Many staff are let go because schools can find it easier and cheaper to take on newly qualified, less-expensive members of staff. With the difficult roles that our teachers now must fulfil, we cannot expect a school to be run by young, inexperienced teachers. Is it any wonder that the number of teachers leaving the profession within four years is on the rise and that the number of vacancies and temporarily filled posts is increasing?
I will not go through all my facts and figures, because I want to leave myself a couple of minutes to sum up at the end, but there is widespread unhappiness about the handling of the recent teacher pay announcement. The key problem is that schools themselves have to fund the first 1% of the pay rise—there is nothing like dipping one’s hand into someone else’s pocket, Chancellor. We want to pay our teachers and teaching assistants more, because they do a wonderful job, but if we increase their pay, we cannot expect schools to fund some of that increase, because the money will have to come from somewhere else. Declan Linnane, the head of Nicholas Breakspear Catholic School in St Albans, told me that the 1% increase alone will cost his school £30,000—money that he just does not have.
The Department for Education reports that upwards of 1 million pupils have special educational needs in our school, and the number has risen significantly recently. Those children will often need classroom assistants and help, and they often represent an additional requirement on school resources, so is it any wonder that parents are telling me that there is often reluctance to statement children with special educational needs or that there are greater school exclusions among pupils with difficulties that manifest themselves in destructive classroom behaviour?
I will conclude my remarks with three questions for the Minister. First—this comes from a teacher in my constituency—what guarantees can we have regarding the cost of teacher pension contribution increases and salary increases? He said that we have only been given funding information for the 2019-20 academic year, with nothing beyond that point. Secondly, staff recruitment is at crisis level and recent initiatives are failing, so how can the Government make the profession more attractive to graduates? Thirdly, the basic rate for 16 to 19-year-old funding has been frozen at £4,000 a student since 2013-14, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that school sixth forms have faced budget cuts of 21% per student, so what commitment can the Minister give that that will be addressed?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) and the other co-sponsors for securing this important debate on school funding. There are few subjects more important to this House than the future of the nation’s children. They will be the inheritors of a post-Brexit Britain. They will be digital natives, as unfazed by digital technology as we are by electricity. We will bequeath to them the big challenges facing the country and the world, such as climate change, new kinds of labour market, and many more. That is why it is so important to invest in our young people’s talents and ensure that they are among the best educated in the world.
Let me start with the ugly truth: this Government are letting the next generation down. Ministers are failing to make the necessary investment, and the Government are endangering our prosperity and productivity by not investing in education and skills.
I absolutely agree. We need cross-party agreement to ensure that we invest in our children’s futures, because that will ensure our nation’s prosperity.
School funding has been cut in successive Budgets since 2010, and that has continued into this Parliament, as the hon. Member for St Albans mentioned. Since just 2015, when the previous Prime Minister won his short-lived majority, nine out of 10 schools have seen real-terms cuts in per-pupil spending. If Ministers had maintained spending even at 2015 levels, overall school funding would be £5.1 billion higher than it is. Across the board, from early years to further education, funding cuts are devastating our young constituents’ lives when they should be supported.
The Education Policy Institute found that the proportion of local authority secondary schools in deficit has trebled to more than a quarter of all such schools. My constituency has the highest child poverty rate in the country, with an 11 percentage point increase since 2015, but its schools and colleges face drastic cuts. An enlightened Department for Education would put resources into the schools that need them, not take them away. Schools in my constituency face a £16 million funding cut between 2015 and 2020, which is an assault on aspiration.
Education in my constituency was transformed over the previous decade, thanks to investment and Government support, but taking all that away damages lives and makes matters worse. The same can be said for many constituencies across the House. It is so important to reverse the cuts and to reverse the increase in class sizes, because the same things are happening elsewhere, including in pockets of poverty in leafy suburbs—I recognise the points made by Conservative Members—but we must not punish poor areas such as my constituency by taking resources away. We must level up, not start a race to the bottom. We need to avoid a divisive approach that pits MPs against each other for much-needed resources for their schools, which has been the tendency over recent years following the assault on the fair funding formula and cuts more generally. We have fewer teaching assistants. Teachers are leaving education. There are massive problems with infrastructure and lack of investment. Just like the NHS, we need a new consensus to ensure investment and to protect young people’s futures by ensuring that they can pursue meaningful careers and make a positive contribution to our society.
In the 2018 Budget, the Chancellor said that he would provide £400 million of extra cash, but the reality is that we need billions. He told the Treasury Committee yesterday that the comprehensive spending review could be delayed due to the lack of clarity around Brexit, yet the Government have spent over £4 billion preparing for a no-deal Brexit. We need to prioritise the comprehensive spending review, and if it does not come soon, the Government must step in and ensure that schools get the much-needed funding they require.
We need pupils to be taught in decent-sized, safe classrooms with good, modern equipment and with motivated teachers, tailored education for all and a range of cultural enrichments. We need to make sure pupils realise their full potential. We need to make sure the education system not only tackles social exclusion and discrimination but ensures that all children thrive so that we have the world-class economy we need to face future challenges. We need our education system to provide the future engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists and writers, and we need it to be the best in the world. That is what is lacking, because this Government lack the aspiration and the courage to invest in our future by investing in future generations of young people. I call on the Minister to take urgent action to invest in our schools to reverse the negative impacts and support our kids.
The Education Committee’s inquiry on school and college funding has sought to bring together two seemingly irreconcilable views of the world. The first view is that schools are seeing year-on-year funding reductions and, having largely exhausted non-staff savings through efficiencies, are increasingly moving to the bulk of their budget, which is spent on staff, to find savings. The second view is that, amid the challenging public finances of 2010, difficult decisions were made that saw the core schools budget protected over the lifetime of that Parliament.
Of course the Government have a sense of the public finances, but so do schools, teachers and parents with whom we are in almost constant communication. I visit schools in my Harlow constituency every week and am well aware of the funding pressures they face. William Martin infant and junior schools have had to restructure staff and make £360,000 of savings to set a viable three-year budget. It is a matter of some regret that the debate on education funding has become so polarised. I hope that through our report we will be able to reduce the distance between the different viewpoints.
I am pleased that, with the emergence of a strong and independent evidence base provided by the National Audit Office, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Education Policy Institute, among others, the additional cost pressures faced by schools and the effect of rising pupil numbers are now understood and accepted as fact. The 2015 spending review missed a real opportunity by failing to anticipate the pressures that schools face and by not seeing the importance of transitional funding to support the implementation of the national funding formula.
Throughout our inquiry, we have been told that the school funding picture is much more complex than a simple question of inputs and outputs. Andreas Schleicher from the OECD explained how increasing education expenditure does not necessarily lead to greater performance, either in productivity or in international surveys such as PISA. Pumping huge amounts of money into the school system without a proper plan or programme of reform is unlikely to lead to good results. That has been illustrated throughout our inquiry.
We need to look at the pupil premium, because its accountability mechanisms seem totally ineffective. Teachers and headteachers have repeatedly told us that the money ends up being spent on matters wider than targeted support for disadvantaged children. What is to be done? In the past, the Government had something of a strategy for the school system, and the Minister for School Standards will update the Committee on that during a hearing on accountability next week, but we need to go beyond a more direct relationship between the Department and schools and articulate the purpose of education policy and schools at the moment. Is it to top the PISA rankings? Is it to produce a higher proportion of graduates? Is it to prepare the economy for the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution? Most importantly, is it to address social injustice in our education system?
I respect the right hon. Gentleman’s considerable experience in this field. Simon Kidwell, a headteacher in my constituency, has called for a more long-term funding arrangement. The current funding arrangement is just not sufficient to fund schools in my constituency and beyond.
I think what I am about to say will answer the hon. Gentleman’s point, because I strongly agree with him.
I want Ministers, in the strongest possible terms, to embrace wholeheartedly our proposal to have a 10-year strategic plan for education. Indeed, I am encouraged by the Minister’s response to the Committee at the beginning of the month. There has to be a shared vision beyond the next election, whenever that might be. The principle of school-based autonomy lay at the heart of policy in 2010. We have identified some of its limitations, particularly when it comes to governance, financial management and accountability. But autonomy within boundaries is a sound principle from which to start.
A 10-year strategic plan ought to be accompanied by a long-term funding plan, as the hon. Gentleman has just said. That funding plan, if not stretching beyond the spending review period, should set clear expectations for what it would cost to fund schools and colleges to do their jobs.
The NHS now has a long-term, 10-year strategic plan and a five-year funding settlement, which has come about following serious advocacy by NHS England and by the previous and current Health Secretaries, who strongly made the case both for more funding and for funding accompanied by proper reform. It mystifies me that perhaps the most important public service of all, education and skills, does not seem to receive the same attention or public advocacy for a similar path.
I have said in the Education Committee that the Department is sometimes like the cardinals at the Vatican in its negotiations with the Treasury, hoping that a bit of white funding smoke may appear from the rooftops, but, as the NHS argument has shown, this is not the right approach. I very much hope the Department will negotiate a 10-year plan with the Treasury and come to the House, as the Health Secretary did, to set it out. We need a proper funding settlement lasting at least five years, just as the national health service has had, so we can stop having these day-to-day battles on the finances of schools and further education colleges and so that our wonderful teachers can carry on teaching and our children can carry on learning.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate.
As the daughter of two teachers, I remember the 1980s and ’90s as a time of chronic underfunding in our schools. There were not enough books to go around, and lessons were held in crumbling classrooms and temporary huts. I recall my parents being overworked, undervalued and underpaid, and my dad, a local National Union of Teachers branch chair, fighting for better conditions for both pupils and staff. The teachers at my school worked tirelessly, and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude, but it often felt like the Government and the local authority had no aspiration for the girls at my south-east London comprehensive.
If we keep on the current trajectory of underfunding and asking ever more of our teachers, I fear we are likely to end up repeating the mistakes of the past. Every child deserves a decent education, regardless of who they are and where they live. The remedy to our current schools funding crisis is quite simple: investment in schools yields results. Between 1997 and 2010, education spending rose by 78%, the biggest increase over any decade since the mid-1970s. Full-time-equivalent teacher numbers rose by 48,000, school buildings were transformed and attainment levels soared. Yet since 2010, under successive austerity and cost-cutting Governments, we have seen school funding slip back to profoundly inadequate levels. On current trends, schools in Lewisham and Bromley will see real-terms cuts of £8.8 million and £14.1 million respectively between 2015 and 2020, an average of around £300 per pupil.
When the Chancellor came to this House to deliver his Budget, his promise of the “little extras” for schools was little more than a platitude—this was a mere £45 extra per pupil. These token gestures of cash here and there go no way to repairing the damage that long- term underinvestment has done to our schools. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies annual report on education spending in England, even if per pupil funding had been maintained at 2015 levels, annual spending on schools would be £1.7 billion higher this year.
The Government have been warned time and again about the damage that austerity is having on the education sector and have had ample opportunity to change course. However, throughout this austerity-driven funding, since 2010, we have seen £3.5 billion-worth of cuts to schools and average teacher pay down £4,000 in real terms. I have visited more than 30 schools in my constituency since my election, and have been consistently told that recruitment and retention are major issues across the board. Teachers are the backbone of the schools system, but a recent poll showed that 81% of teachers said they have considered leaving the profession because of the pressures of workload. Teachers are working harder but losing out in their pay packets. If this Government really value the work of teachers, they should match their rhetoric with the funding and pay that teachers not only require, but fully deserve.
I will not give way, because of time constraints.
As the motion notes,
“schools are having to provide more and more services, including those previously provided by other public agencies including health and local authorities”.
We have recently been in the midst of a knife crime crisis in this country, and my constituents have experienced the shock and anger of seeing young people needlessly losing their lives as a result. I am pleased that there is consensus for a public health approach to tackle knife crime, but that can be successful only if we see funding restored to local public services. It is imperative that this also includes a boost to school funding. Schools are having to do more and more. This Government cannot stand by, continuing to increase the burden but neglecting to increase the funding. So I have to urge the Minister: it is surely time to think again about the funding modelling used at present and to make the changes necessary to properly invest in our children’s futures.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you may recall that I once, shamefully, fell asleep in this Chamber, but I assure you that I have never been so exhausted as when, for seven years, I was a schoolmaster. I go away every summer to teach in Africa to remind myself of just what a demanding occupation it is. When I visit schools in my constituency and see the product they are turning out, in the face of extraordinary difficulties, I realise what an easy ride I had as a “beak”—I gave up teaching 30 years ago.
I have raised this issue with the Minister before. I accept that expenditure is at an all-time record and that although there has been some pressure on per-pupil funding, we spend more per pupil than any other wealthy country in the world bar the United States. But I want the Minister to focus on whether we are actually comparing like with like, and to consider what we are expecting our schools to do. Good schools in my constituency— 96% of the pupils in my constituency attend good or outstanding schools—not only concentrate on subject teaching, as they do in so many other comparator nations, but turn out the whole person ready for life. It is exactly that strength of the British educational system that has made it such an envy of the rest of the world, providing quality and character for the whole person.
Of course, all sorts of savings might be had. We could narrow the curriculum. We could stop teaching some of the more expensive subjects, such as design and technology, which is taught in my constituency—not all schools do that—but I say to the Minister what a terrible tragedy it would be, in the modern world, to deny students that opportunity. We could reduce the level of pastoral support that schools are putting in. It is expensive, but it does ensure that so many pupils facing all sorts of issues are able to be in the classroom, benefiting from being taught. We could get rid of the classroom assistants or reduce their number, and some schools in my constituency are having to do that. After all, we did not have classroom assistants when I was at school. Clearly, however, we all understand that there are any number of vulnerable pupils who would simply not be able to take advantage of the curriculum were it not for the exemplary work undertaken by those classroom assistants. Schools might get rid of their school student counsellors—we did not have those when I was at school—but these schools are facing any number of problems, anxieties and mental health issues among students that we never encountered in my day. Furthermore, the counsellors’ time could be filled threefold, even at this current level. The infrastructure to deal with those problems outside schools simply does not exist—perhaps it ought to, but the reality is that it does not.
Any number of extra-curricular activities are dispensed and simply are not provided in some of the comparator nations where per-school expenditure is measured. So we could stop all those expensive dramatic productions. We could get rid of the fixture lists, and all the training and matches that take place. We could close down the Duke of Edinburgh awards. There is even a school in my constituency that runs a walled garden and keeps pigs. None of that was necessary in my day, but what a tragedy it would be to lose it.
In Hampshire, we are spending £3,811 per pupil in primary and £4,935 per pupil in secondary. The Secretary of State is getting a bargain; there are parents who are spending tens of thousands of pounds a year on their children to get a similar product. Will he bear that in mind, as well as the strength and importance of that product, as he takes forward his planning for the next financial review?
Education is the foundation of aspiration and the engine of social mobility, and it needs continued and growing investment. The best teachers and schools are part of the community, promoting the best educational welfare for the children for that community. But I hear overtures from the schools in the north-east and in Sedgefield and alarm bells are ringing, with budgets being cut, teaching staff being made redundant and parents fundraising for the essentials. Some £7 billion has been cut from the education budget for schools and colleges. Real-terms spending has reduced from £95.5 billion to £87.8 billion. In the north-east of England, 842 schools out of 1,004 that have been analysed face funding cuts. In County Durham, 194 schools out of 243 face cuts to their finances; the authority’s schools will lose £8.1 million by 2020. This is second only to Northumberland in the region, which is set to see a cut of £8.9 million. In total, schools in the north-east will see a cut of £60 million. This is not good enough.
What is also not good enough is that according to National Association of Head Teachers, 5,400 teachers have been cut nationally—that comes on top of cuts of 2,800 teaching assistants, 1,400 support staff and 1,200 auxiliary staff. The number of pupils being taught in supersize classes has trebled in the past five years. The proportion of local authority maintained primary schools that have spent more than their income rose significantly to more than 60% in 2016-17. Schools are having to make difficult decisions, as budgets have not kept pace with rising costs since 2010. The Bank of England points out that £100-worth of goods in 2010 costs more than £120 today, which is a 20% increase. Obviously school budgets have not risen in line with these rising costs.
Furthermore, there is a growing funding crisis for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. Because of cuts to local authority budgets affecting services to schools to support children with these needs, schools now have to find the first £6,000 of a support plan, which is taken from the wider school budget rather than specific special needs-related funding. Durham County Council told me that it has a projected deficit in the high-needs budget for children with special educational needs and disabilities of £5 million by 2020. This comes at a time when need is increasing dramatically. The council is now needing to use funding from its reserves on a one-off basis to plug the deficit. A solution must be found in 2020-21, as the council cannot use reserves again for this purpose.
Using reserves to fund statutory duties for the education of our children is not sustainable. The educational opportunities of our children are being challenged now—teachers know it and parents know it. Local teachers tell me that because of the budget restraints, they have to cut back on the teaching and non-teaching staff who provide support for more vulnerable pupils; on repairs to schools buildings; and on the renewal of equipment, among other things.
A couple of weeks ago, a group of parents with children at Fishburn Primary School came to see me. They are leading a campaign against education cuts at the school. Scott Emsbury, Alana Baker and Katrina and Justin Boulton are deeply concerned about the pressure that budget cuts are placing on the school. They know that the teaching staff, led by Danny Eason, and all those who work at the school, are excellent and are doing their best, but they are now deeply concerned. The school will see a reduction in teaching staff because of budget cuts, and the ability to stretch the interests and minds of young children through additional activities is being challenged. The parents are organising petitions and fundraising events to provide the essentials, and doing everything they can to publicise the issues facing their local school.
Durham County Council told me that Fishburn Primary School will have a deficit of somewhere in the region of £20,000 by the end of the 2019-20 budget period. Had the funding formula kept pace with inflation, the school would have received £4,357 per pupil, rather than £4,000—it would have received £170,000 more since 2012-13. The Minister may say that funding has increased and that everything in the garden is rosy, but if parents are having to fundraise for the essentials, such an assertion is not adequate. Parents having to fundraise for the essentials to ensure the education of their children reminds me of when my children were at primary school: we had to fundraise then, back in the early 1990s —and we had a Tory Government then, too.
There is a real sense of déjà vu about this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) had a debate on 24 October, as she said, and there was an estimates day debate on 26 February and then another debate on 4 March, after the big petition. Like my hon. Friend, I spoke in all those debates, but the situation remains the same, so I pay tribute to her perseverance. I also pay tribute to all our teachers for the huge challenge that they face. Hopefully, they are currently busy nurturing our pupils, not neutering them, as my hon. Friend suggested earlier.
I shall pick up where I left off: the last time around in Westminster Hall, I was rudely interrupted after just four minutes of speaking. I had generously given way to interventions, only for the scorers not to credit me with the extra injury time. I am happy to take interventions this time, if the scorers are awake. At that time, I described the funding crisis in schools as a national emergency; alas, nothing has changed. West Sussex was at the bottom of the fourth quartile for funding; after the changes to the national funding formula, we are still in the bottom quartile. That is why, of the 25,222 responses to the consultation on the fair funding formula, no less than 9% were representations from West Sussex. Although I cannot speak for the Minister, who is also a West Sussex MP, I can, then, speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and other West Sussex MPs.
As I have said before, I went to see all the headteachers—I got them all together—and all the chairs of governors in my constituency so that they could give me real-life examples of the funding challenges facing them now. They did not give scare stories or tell me about prospective challenges, but told me about what they are facing now. As a result of that, I wrote an eight-page letter to the Secretary of State to set out many of the problems, to which I shall refer in a moment.
First, let me mention two new things. I was recently asked to go and see some nursery school providers in my constituency. I thought I was meeting two or three, but 50 turned up. There are serious problems with how the 30 hours’ funded childcare—it is not free but funded—is being reimbursed to independent nurseries. Some 81% of children in non-domestic settings are in independent nurseries, of which 90% say that the reimbursement does not cover the full costs of that provision. Many are at risk of having to turn away some of the most deprived families. Nursery closures were up 66% in the past year and 5,000 places have been lost. It is a false economy not to fund important pre-school settings properly.
Secondly, the Minister might want to comment on the future of the pupil premium in the light of a report from the Sutton Trust. Will we make sure that the pupil premium is part of the new funding round? There are concerns that increasingly the pupil premium is being used, particularly in the more deprived schools, to plug gaps in the school budget, rather than to fund the pupils who specifically need it.
My hon. Friend was a brilliant children’s Minister and knows an enormous amount about this subject. He mentioned the pupil premium; does he agree that how it is used should be much more accountable? The Government need to look into whether it is working and how the money is being spent, because it should be spent on the most disadvantaged pupils.
That is absolutely right. Before my right hon. Friend became its Chair, the Education Committee did a report and found out that the pupil premium was not going to those pupils for whom it was absolutely intended, and for whom it was absolutely essential to make sure that they could close the gap with the children who did not qualify for it.
Another issue that I wish to raise with the Minister again—I did not get a proper reply the previous time—is the justification for schools having to fund out of their own budget the 2% pay rise in salaries this year. That is a significant hit on our schools. In February, the Government said in their paper on school costs that schools could be far more efficient and save a lot of money if they had better procurement methods, but the trouble is that in many of my local schools the staffing budget now accounts for something like 90% of the school budget. The savings the Government describe can be made only against soft costs, which are going up by 2% because of the salary award. I really do want an explanation of how the Department expects schools to pick up the bill for that additional 2% out of school funding, given all the other competing challenges they have.
Let me refer to a few of the points that came out of my roundtable meetings in my constituency. Shortfalls are being clawed back by reducing staffing costs, which in some cases account for 90% of a school’s budget, as I said. In one medium-sized primary school, teaching assistant support has been reduced by more than 200 hours. The school has reduced its budget for continuing personal development training for staff, and its inclusion co-ordinator has not been replaced.
At a junior school, the professional development budget, which in previous years was between £3,500 and £5,000, is now zero. The extended curriculum budget, which was between £19,000 and £20,000 in previous years, is now £500. The learning resources budget, which was up to £120,000, is now just £35,000.
At a medium-sized primary school in my constituency, high-level teaching assistants are being used to cover classes so that the school can cut supply-staff costs. The school is unable to pay overtime. Counselling levels have fallen, which I am particularly concerned about. We know about the support that school-age children need because of the pressures on mental health from social media, peer pressure and other things. If we do not have that in-school support, it will be a false economy because the children involved will not be able or prepared to take advantage of their education.
There are real problems in special schools. This year, there will be at least nine more pupils at one special school in my constituency than there were in the previous year, but there will be no additional teaching staff. These are specialist schools with high-demand pupils getting no more teaching staff to help to look after them.
A secondary academy in my constituency has had to narrow the curriculum on offer to cut costs. The school is unable to meet the demand for counselling—there is currently a four-month waiting list. A small primary school is reducing swimming lessons and music lessons. All these are real-life examples of the effect of this funding now. It is essential that the comprehensive spending review this year does something about this situation urgently.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). I declare an interest: I come from a family of teachers, including a niece, who is still teaching.
As far as I know, no politician ever got elected saying, “I want to spend less money on schools,” but that is what we got. I am sure the Minister will tell us that the Government are spending more than ever on education, and of course that is true in cash terms, but as well as being able to add up, my constituents can do long division and they can observe what is happening in schools.
The Minister may wish to disagree with my arithmetic, or that of headteachers in Bristol, but I wonder whether he will accept that the chair of the UK Statistics Authority and the Institute for Fiscal Studies can do their numbers. Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, said last October in a letter to the Secretary of State, in response to a blog by the Department for Education about education funding, that
“figures were presented in such a way as to misrepresent changes in school funding…school spending figures were exaggerated by using a truncated axis, and by not adjusting for per pupil spend.”
Those are not my words; they are the words of the chair of the UK Statistics Authority. He also noted that the Department
“included a wide range of education expenditure unrelated to publicly funded schools”.
In his response, the Secretary of State said that his Department was looking into the issues and admitted that “pupil numbers are rising” and that
“we are asking schools to do more and schools are facing cost pressures”,
but that is precisely my point.
I have made the point several times in this place, including to the Prime Minister, that if we increase cash funding but costs and pupil numbers rise as well, we will quickly get, in effect, a real-terms cut, and that is where we are. National insurance, teacher pay and pensions, the apprenticeship levy, rising pupil numbers, rising levels of special needs—these are all increased costs. However, as other services are cut, such as mental health support and youth work, schools are forced to try to step into the breach, but again without the money. They are being held responsible for just about every other social problem, so more pressures on and more cuts to other local services lead to more yet costs to schools—a real-terms cut.
In my constituency, Redland Green School has said that special educational needs
“are getting greater but are not being matched with funding”.
The school also told me that it cannot refer students to childhood mental health services unless they have seen a school counsellor, but there is no funding for the school counsellor. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found last year that total spending per pupil fell by about 8% or about £500 per pupil between 2009-10 and 2017-18. The effects of those cuts—and yes, they are cuts—is that schools have been forced to cut to the bone and beyond. Schools in Bristol West have told me about cuts to support staff, cuts to learning support staff, increases in class sizes and cuts to the curriculum. They have told me that they have had to cut languages and creative subjects, as well as politics, which frankly I deeply deprecate. I do not think they should have to.
St Bonaventure’s School has told me of fears of its reading recovery scheme being cut, and St John’s Primary School has had to cut a successful maths intervention. There is no money to fund professional development and training, and replacing teaching staff now routinely involves sacrificing quality for lower pay offers. It is not that the teachers are not good; they just are not as experienced, and that is not good enough. Parents, children, teachers and other school staff in Bristol West tell me that schools are being forced to do very much more with very much less money, and that is not okay.
When this Government cut education, they limit life chances. When they fail to care for children’s mental health, they build up problems for the future. And when they hold schools responsible for just about everything and fund them only to the bare minimum or less, we all lose out. Among the pupils at St Bonaventure’s, St John’s, Cotham and all the other schools in my constituency, there might be one who is going to invent a cost-effective way of making tidal power work and fuel us all for the future so that we can give up fossil fuels, or a cure for cancer. In fact, I discovered recently that, thanks to an outstanding science project, some pupils at Cotham School are working on exactly that.
Compounding all that is this Government’s utter shamelessness. As the chair of the UK Statistics Authority and the Institute for Fiscal Studies have said, school funding is being cut, and this Government will not admit it. I said earlier that no politician got elected saying that they were going to spend less, but that is what is happening. This country needs a different Government. It needs a Labour Government that will put the education, care and mental health of children and young people at the top of their list, along with tackling climate change. For the children of Bristol West, that cannot come a moment too soon.
The flaws in the old school funding system are well known, and it is clear that the new fairer funding formula addresses many of those issues. There was a distinct sense of a postcode lottery, with the cash value assigned to what a child and their education deserves being tied as much to their geography as to their ability or needs. The fact that five of the 10 most cash-rich schools in the country are in Tower Hamlets shows the uneven concentration of resources in certain geographical areas.
The new formula represents the greatest leap forward in school funding for a generation and was backed with an additional £1.3 billion in investment above and beyond previously agreed spending plans. The new formula means that the amount allocated to schools better reflects the needs and characteristics of individual schools and their pupils. I am grateful that my area of South Gloucestershire received an additional £8 million as a result of the new formula—one of the largest increases in the country—and that our total education budget now stands at around £208 million. As well as what central Government are doing, I welcome the news that the Conservative administration on South Gloucestershire Council has announced plans to invest an additional £78 million in school buildings, including providing a brand-new primary school, two new special schools and money for new windows, heating systems and roofs. In addition, it is making available £100,000 in match funding to double the spending power of the “Friends of” groups in schools to help them to deliver projects.
However, I also recognise that, more often than not, there are no easy answers in politics and there are issues that remain to be addressed. I am concerned that, despite a large increase, South Gloucestershire has now slipped to become the worst-funded education authority in the country, something that I do not feel is justified, given that there are places that are both more affluent and have better school performance. In recent weeks I have met my right hon. Friend the Minister for Schools Standards, who offered some constructive ways forward to address my concerns and later visited Patchway Community School in my constituency, where three of my children went, to see the reality on the ground in the lowest-funded authority in the country. It is a school in great disrepair that needs additional investment and quite a bit of work to say the least. I am heartened that the Government are listening carefully and taking seriously the issues raised with them, not only by me but by other colleagues in this House and the f40 group.
One thing that is rightly being brought under closer scrutiny is the salaries for senior leadership in academy trusts. The Public Accounts Committee alluded to that in its March 2018 report on academy schools’ finances. One of its conclusions reads:
“Some academy trusts appear to be using public money to pay excessive salaries…Unjustifiably high salaries use public money that could be better spent on improving children’s education and supporting frontline teaching staff, and do not represent value for money. If the payment of such high salaries remains unchallenged, it is more likely that such high salaries become accepted as indicative of the market rate. This could then distort the employment market in the sector for senior staff.”
I am particularly concerned that trusts such as the Olympus Academy Trust in my area are asking for donations and contributions from parents towards the most basic supplies, such as textbooks, while their chief executives are taking home in their pension contributions what some parents earn in a year, let alone their six-figure salaries, which continue to balloon.
Dave Baker, the chief executive of the Olympus Academy Trust, now earns up to £125,000, having been awarded a pay rise of between £5,000 and £10,000 last year, putting him £10,000 above the benchmarking suggested for a CEO of a trust the size of Olympus in the Kreston report, published in January, and that does not include his pension contribution of up to £20,000. Shortly before the 2017 general election, he announced the possibility of going to a four-day week, cutting classroom support and restricting the curriculum for the over 6,400 students in his care. That caused significant distress and upset among many parents in my area.
It is important to get school funding right, and it is a work in progress at governmental level. However, the image of school executives on bumper wage packets that dwarf what most people can ever hope to earn presenting begging bowls to parents who are just about managing leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of my constituents and is engendering understandable anger among them. I would like to see greater transparency and accountability for excessive executive salaries, and I am encouraged by the Government’s stance on challenging academies to justify high salaries. I have submitted a freedom of information request to the Olympus Academy Trust for the full details of all remuneration packages for members of staff at the trust earning more than £100,000 per annum. It is important that those taking large salaries from the public purse offer value for money to the taxpayer and deliver stellar outcomes for the next generation. I ask that the Government continue their approach of challenging and scrutinising academies to ensure that that is the case.
I think it is pretty clear to most in and outside this Chamber how I feel about the current crisis in our education system. What I do not want to hear from the Government is that school spending has never been higher. It is just not true. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has stated that school funding per pupil fell by 8% in real terms between 2010 and 2018, while post-16 education has seen a 20% fall.
Pupil numbers in secondary education are rising, and the number of secondary school students is due to rise by 14.7% by 2027. Costs have been rising and are continuing to rise—teachers’ pensions, national insurance contributions and the apprenticeship levy to name but a few. Only two schools in my constituency of Colne Valley have not experienced a shortfall in funding since 2015. Over two thirds of schools in Colne Valley have seen a cut to funding of more than £150 per pupil since 2015, and seven have lost over £400 per pupil.
The Sutton Trust has found that over two thirds of secondary school heads have said that financial pressures have forced them to cut staff. Schools are shortening the school week, and literally turning the lights off. Teachers are paying for classroom resources out of their own money. Our school buildings have leaking roofs, and buckets are placed around the building to collect drips from the leaks. It is just shameful.
The curriculum is also being squeezed. The Fabian Society has revealed a drastic decline in arts provision in our primary schools. The Sixth Form Colleges Association has uncovered that 50% of schools and colleges have dropped A-level courses in modern foreign languages. Research by Sussex University found that the number of schools offering music A-level had fallen by more than 15% in the past two years. A narrow curriculum limits children’s opportunities, and their ability to adapt and engage in different types of learning.
Support for pupils is also struggling to survive the budget cuts. Colne Valley headteachers have told me that funding pressures have led to cuts in learning resources, staffing, and provision for special education needs and disabilities. As the Education Committee found when taking evidence during the inquiry into SEND, schools and local authorities are struggling to provide the necessary support, causing stress for pupils and their families, and demand is growing. And here’s the thing: this debate is about school and college funding, but the problems we are seeing in the system are not just about the lack of sufficient funding in schools. It is about schools picking up the cost of a near decade of cuts to public health, youth services, community outreach, early intervention services and housing benefit, and the roll-out of universal credit.
Between 2010 and 2020, local authorities will have seen reductions of £16 billion to core Government funding. Inevitably, this causes a reduction of provision in areas such as social care and support for families, and for agencies such as the police force. Schools are having to divert the scarce resources they have to cover for services that no longer have the capacity to provide the support so desperately needed by young people and their families. Schools are the hub of our communities. They are on the frontline every day. I know; I have been there. They support our youngest and most vulnerable. We need well trained, motivated and passionate teachers who believe in the common purpose of preparing children and young people for life and the love of lifelong learning.
The gravity of the situation is only too clear to many of us here. For the first time, thousands of headteachers marched on Westminster, hundreds of maintained nursery staff marched on Westminster, teaching unions are united and marching on Westminster, and parents, teachers and governors are united and marching on Westminster. Listen to the professionals. Listen to the parents. Take action now. Everyone is related in some way to a teacher or has children in school. These people can see the system as it is at the moment, and they will be using their vote in the next election, whenever that may be. It will be education, and our country’s respect and value for it, that will help to return the Labour party to government.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) and others on securing this debate.
Let me first acknowledge the efforts that preceding Conservative-led Governments have made over the past decade, constantly increasing the schools block budget. Funding for our children’s primary and secondary schools has gone up from £30.4 billion in 2010 to £43.5 billion for next year—a £13 billion increase. Since 2010, more children are in good or outstanding schools, the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils has been lowered, and there are tens of thousands more teachers and teaching assistants. However, funding is only one measure. Schools are performing so much better than before, but I must recognise concerns raised by my local headteachers and parents about available funding, as schools are having to meet costs that they never did before, and I am speaking today to give them a voice in this Chamber.
The Library estimates that my constituency has benefited from a 6% real-terms increase to the schools block funding since 2013, from £57 million to £61 million. This is good news, but per pupil funding has gone down, indicating that there are more pupils than before. There is more money, but it is being thinly spread, and this is one reason that school budgets are under more pressure.
Locally, headteachers at Helena Romanes School, Saffron Walden County High School and Joyce Frankland Academy, among others, have told me about the issues that they and their staff are facing. These issues include more lessons being taught with fewer teachers, as those who retire from the profession are not replaced; schools having to rely on donations from generous parents and carers for extracurricular clubs; stopping the late school bus service; and simply not having enough resources. Additionally, although school spending has increased since the end of the last decade and now stands at just under £5,100 per pupil, reductions to sixth-form funding and local authority services have affected budgets and provisions for school transport and pastoral care. Teachers in my constituency continue to do fantastic work despite these pressures, because they are motivated first and foremost by giving children the best possible education.
I know that the Minister acknowledges the hard work of teachers across the country, and ask him also to recognise the passion shown by my local teaching staff and to help support them by taking into account our rise in pupil numbers when considering funding allocations. More still needs to be done, but I appreciate that the Government have already taken positive steps to bridge current funding gaps, which is encouraging. Earlier this month, the Secretary of State wrote to colleagues to confirm that the Government would be funding all state-funded schools, further education and sixth-form colleges to cover increased employee contributions in the teachers’ pension scheme, helping to relieve pressure on schools. This is a measure that I personally lobbied for, so I thank the Government.
Like my hon. Friend, I am an Essex MP, and like her, I have heard concerns from my local headteachers about funding. Does she agree that the national funding formula is a necessary reform, but that we need to put more money into it at the spending review this year to ensure that more school pupils benefit?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point; I agree with him completely.
Just over 13,000 new school places have been added in Essex, alongside seven new free schools and a further eight schools to follow. There is a need for more funding, as my local schools have called for, and I am pleased that the Government have already started to account for this. Over the next two years, total funding in the county will rise by £48.7 million to £855.8 million. This is welcome news and demonstrates continued progress under this Government to improve the quality of teaching.
The Government have a record to be proud of, as 90% of children in Essex attend schools rated good or outstanding, compared to 67% in 2010, and 66% of pupils are reaching the expected key stage 2 standard in reading and writing. [Interruption.] Opposition Members may laugh, but the truth is that it is not just about the money that is spent, but the outcomes that we measure, and we are doing very well on outcomes. We are asking schools to do much more than they ever have, and it is only right that we give them much more money to do so. I encourage Ministers to listen closely to my schools’ funding concerns.
The pressures that schools face are growing. We know it across this House, and we hear it from heads, teachers and parents alike. The message—just like the message that many of us have heard about the climate crisis this week—could not be clearer. As some hon. Members have said already, the special educational needs of pupils are increasingly challenging. Heads have told me directly that they do not know how their secondaries will cope when the numbers of younger children who are now being diagnosed start to come through. I have heard estimates that genuinely shock me.
Does my hon. Friend agree that perhaps worse than the headline figures—millions and billions of pounds—is the fact that a commonplace discussion with every single head- teacher, when we visit schools every week, is how they are making fundamental cuts to their staffing, special needs and other budgets? Should not the Minister look at that?
I absolutely agree.
As many as a third of pupils in some local nursery classes are now thought to need some support. That is massive. In Newham, the challenge for schools is only likely to get bigger. Hundreds of local children who need an education, health and care plan or a statement do not yet have one. Official statistics show that EHC plan and statement rates for Newham are currently five times lower than for any other inner London borough. The council is working hard to turn this around, but these current low rates mean that the challenge for local schools is just beginning, and they are struggling to keep up. The funding for the specialist, trained support that large numbers of children now need simply is not there. The average funding available for each child with an EHC plan has fallen by a fifth over the past five years.
I want to raise just one example—I would have given many more if we had had longer. Adam is nine. He has complex behavioural and emotional challenges. He has an EHC plan and is supposed to receive speech and language therapy and psychological help. He simply does not get it. The support services have been cut far too much. Most of the speech and language staff are now temporary or agency workers, so there is no consistency, and there are long gaps in Adam’s access to services. Cuts to the psychological services mean he has not had any of the support he needs for his emotional and behavioural challenges, and his ability to learn and grow as a healthy member of his community will obviously be hugely affected.
Adam’s primary school in Newham has got to the point where it simply cannot meet his needs. Between 2015 and 2018, it lost more than £100,000 from its budget every single year—more than £400 for every pupil. How foolish will Adam’s generation think we were because we did not invest in them or him and left his and their potential unfulfilled? Like climate change, this is an issue where we are letting our children down. What kind of country are we living in?
The achievements of Newham’s young people are extraordinary, given the circumstances, and our teachers are amazing—I see it on so many school visits—but the achievements of our children are made against the odds, despite the barriers and with no thanks to this Government, who will have cut Newham’s schools by £37.5 million since 2015—a cut of £445 for each and every pupil. The Government need to wake up to the long-term damage they are doing. They need to give Newham’s schools and other schools the funding they need to keep up with rising pupil numbers and inflation, to reduce the impacts of the poverty and inequalities their policies are increasing and to pay for proper support so that pupils with increasing needs can fulfil their potential as well.
I represent parts of West Berkshire Council area and parts of Wokingham Borough Council area. Both councils face exactly the same problems with schools. In both cases, we receive very low amounts per pupil compared with the national average, so we cannot provide as varied or as richly resourced a curriculum as better-endowed schools.
The biggest problem we face, which I hope the Minister and his colleagues will address urgently, is on high needs. It should be the area we are keenest to help on. The pupils who require that special support need to be properly supported financially from the centre, as well as supported by local professionals. In West Berkshire, I am advised that there will be over 9% more pupils needing that support this year but that its budget has gone up by 0.5%. How does the Minister think we will manage to pay for all those extra pupils who need that extra support when the budget is so meanly set?
In Wokingham, too, there is quite rapid growth in the numbers requiring support and very little growth in the money being made available. Wokingham has the additional problem that because we are an extremely fast-growing part of the country—we are taking a large number of new houses—we are way behind in putting in the necessary educational provision for special needs, so Wokingham now has to find facilities for 119 special needs pupils outside the borough because nobody has bothered to make the money available so that we can catch up. It would be better, and probably better value, if more of that provision could be local, close to where the children and their parents live, but this is not an option, given the delay.
I have raised with the Minister before the issue of general schools funding, which has been made more difficult by the rapid growth in pupil numbers. I am pleased to say that we now have a new secondary school and three new primary schools, which have gone in relatively recently to catch up with the backlog in the provision of places for this very fast-growing part of the country. That creates its own financial problems, however, which the Minister and his system do not recognise. First, there is a delay in getting the money in for the new schools as the provision goes in, so the budgets of the other schools are squeezed.
Secondly, when we at last get a new secondary school, for example, it makes a lot of places available all in one go, because it establishes itself with a certain capacity, and then pupils are attracted to that school—perfectly reasonably—and are taken away from other schools, and those schools then face an immediate cut in the amount of money they have, because suddenly they do not have the right number of pupils to sustain the budgets. It takes time to slim down their offer, and sometimes it is very painful and difficult, but again the system is simply too inflexible to recognise this basic requirement of the system.
If it means that we have a few more places to give parents more choice, that is good, but I am a realist—you have to pay for it, Minister. We expect the Minister to do so, representing as he does a Government who say they believe in parental choice and high standards for pupils in state schools. That is something the Minister and I entirely agree about. If I am ever tempted to give a talk to or visit an independent school, and if I go to the really well-endowed ones, I see a different world in terms of the library resources, the range of curriculum offers, the sporting facilities and the support they get—because money does buy something better. I want the pupils who go to state schools in West Berkshire and Wokingham to have access to the best, but we simply cannot do that on the current budget.
Minister, the Government should stop trying to give £39 billion to the European Union to delay our exit for two to four years, when the public voted to get out. Let us get hold of the money, Minister, and put it where it matters: into social care and schools and into tax cuts for hard-pressed families so they can provide more for their own children. That is what the public want. Get on with it, Minister!
On 4 March, I had the great privilege to move the motion in Westminster Hall on e-petition 232220 on schools funding. The debate was packed and lively, as we heard earlier, with many hon. Members sharing the difficulties their local schools were facing due to insufficient funding.
It was a particular privilege for me because the petition was started by Mr Andrew Ramanandi, the headteacher of St Joseph’s Primary School in Blaydon, and signed by over 3,300 people from my constituency and other parts of the country. It was built on a campaign that started with a letter co-signed by headteachers of primary, secondary and SEND schools in Gateshead who had become increasingly alarmed by the impact that a real-terms reduction in schools funding was having on the children and young people in their care. The letter, which was sent to parents before Christmas and informed them that schools may no longer be able to provide the same level of education, asked them for their support in raising their concerns with the Government.
Seventy-one out of 76 schools in Gateshead borough are facing real-terms reductions in funding. At the same time, costs—as we have heard—are rising, and so are pupil numbers in Gateshead, as elsewhere in the country. The Government’s own statistics show that England’s schools have 137,000 more pupils in the system and the Institute for Fiscal Studies acknowledged that schools have suffered an 8% real-terms reduction in spending per pupil despite growing numbers of pupils coming through the doors. With increasing numbers of pupils and decreasing funding in real terms, schools have had to make cuts in staffing as well as in all budget areas, looking for greater efficiencies in supplies and services. Headteachers in my constituency tell me that, as funding has become tighter, schools have had to cut back on essential resources—teaching and non-teaching staff, support staff who work with vulnerable pupils, small group work and interventions with children who are not thriving, teaching resources, subject choices, classroom and extracurricular activities, repairs to buildings and renewal of equipment.
In preparation for the debate, I visited several schools across Blaydon. At one of them, Portobello Primary School in Birtley, the headteacher and governors of that great community school talked to me about their concerns about funding pressures. They told me that in the last year they have lost four valuable members of staff to redundancy, including a higher level teaching assistant with 20 years’ experience in early years; an experienced teacher who led on the arts curriculum; a highly skilled teaching assistant trained in supporting children with medical and educational needs; and a dedicated school counsellor who supported young children with their mental health. They also said that the impact of real-terms budget reductions has made it harder to deliver specific interventions with pupils; it is increasingly difficult to provide the personal and emotional support for vulnerable pupils; they have lost decades’ worth of experience and curriculum knowledge; and they are finding it harder and harder to take children on educational visits and to purchase up-to-date teaching resources and equipment.
I mentioned Mr Andrew Ramanandi of St Joseph’s Primary School, where the children are bright, interested and have clearly been taught to have inquiring minds. He told me that the day after the recent debate he had to tell his staff about the outcome of the redundancy consultation he had to carry out. I caught up with him earlier this week to find out about what happened. He told me that 19 morning sessions and four afternoon sessions now have no learning support in the classroom. He has had to lose a day’s PPA cover by a qualified teacher who can deliver specialist curriculum. He has had to stop whole class brass and percussion music lessons. The school is oversubscribed so it is not about fewer pupils: it is that the school has had to bear the brunt of inflation and increased on-costs. Mr Ramanandi said that they are expecting an Ofsted inspection from September onwards under the new framework, which will be looking at the quality of curriculum. However, due to funding problems, he has had to make decisions on redundancies and spending that will potentially stop the school from being outstanding.
I could go on, but I will finish by saying that headteachers, teachers, parents and governors across Blaydon all want the Minister to provide higher funding—fair funding—for schools, for our children and young people and so do I. I hope that the Minister will be able today, almost eight weeks after the Westminster Hall debate, to give us all that assurance.
Meur ras, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair today.
Investment in education is one of my priorities for North Cornwall and of special interest to me personally as a champion of social mobility. North Cornwall is a prime example of an area that has been historically overlooked compared with urban areas by Governments of all colours over the past 50 years, to the detriment of the life chances of children and young people who grow up in that beautiful part of the country.
The London challenge policy saw a huge investment in urban areas in 2003. Although it is difficult to isolate the impact of the policy, it is undeniable that attainment levels went up when the overall funding packages were introduced in those areas. The policy saw a budget of £40 million a year for London, Greater Manchester and the Black Country at its peak. My issue is that the children of Lanivet, Launceston and Bodmin could and should have had the same resources at the same time, and would have benefited from the uplift.
I mention the London challenge because despite the policy coming to an end there is still a huge disparity between education investment in urban and in rural areas. Cornwall is part of a group of 42 local authorities that have historically received some of the lowest allocations for primary and secondary pupils across the country. I am taking part in this debate on behalf of some of the headteachers who have spoken to me about their concerns.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the London challenge. It was a very successful investment, but its legacy is the huge gap in per capita funding for pupils in our constituencies. Does he agree that coastal constituencies such as his and mine, where there are pockets of deprivation, need a similar scheme to recognise the deprivation alongside the advantage, just as happened in London, but in a different way?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Rural deprivation is very much harder to differentiate. Urban deprivation tends to be easier to identify. Rural deprivation definitely exists and should be recognised in the funding formula.
Cornwall is one of the most beautiful places to raise a child. It is safe and has a uniquely beautiful landscape. Children are really lucky to grow up there. However, I believe that, when it comes to education, they have been short-changed over the years. Having been a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Treasury, I understand the cost pressures of maintaining stable economic policy, ensuring stable growth and limiting borrowing, allowing us to live within our means, but if there is one sector that needs urgent investment and a spending review, Minister, it is your Department—further education, secondary education and primary education. That means revisiting some of the policies that we have looked at previously: the minimum per pupil funding levels, the 0.5% funding floor and the historic differences for the schools that have been comparatively well-funded over several decades. Moreover, there is an issue with the use of historic averages, which locks in the disparity gap between the highest-funded and lowest-funded state schools, which can be between 50% and 70%. Cornwall’s schools are particularly penalised, which is unfair.
For me, it is simply a question of fairness—fairness for taxpayers, fairness for teachers, and fairness for children and young people. Parents in North Cornwall pay the same level of tax pro rata as parents in cities, yet historically their children have received only half the educational investment from the state that pupils in urban areas have. Although the fair funding mechanisms have helped, the rebalancing is not happening fast enough; it needs to happen much faster.
As I mentioned, one of my passions, which pushed me to stand for election, is social mobility. More parity and fairness in the education system will allow social mobility to increase in North Cornwall. I cannot stand here and argue for social mobility while that disparity exists. More investment leads to higher attainment and provides teachers with the resources they need to teach their pupils. With the extra funding that went into London, with the larger budgets, those attainment gaps shrank. In an increasingly technologically based jobs market, rural pupils need to have the same level of funding to obtain the same level of skills needed to fit into that marketplace. They need to be given the fairest deal they can from this Government to develop their academic and vocational skills. North Cornwall’s pupils are no less talented, aspirational, ambitious or intelligent than pupils from urban areas, but they have historically received less funding from every colour of Government in the last 50 years. That needs to change. We need a fairer national funding formula that is not based on disparity between urban and rural areas, but unlocks the talent of every child in this country.
On behalf of schools in North Cornwall, I am asking for a fairer deal, Minister; and to show confidence in our young people in North Cornwall it is a question of not simply more investment after years of sustained economic and budgetary growth, but a reallocation of funds across the whole area, ensuring that every pupil, no matter where they live, from Cornwall to Scotland and everywhere in between, is treated in exactly the same way.
In conclusion, I strongly believe that schools in rural areas such as mine should get a fairer deal in the spending review. I urge the Minister to strengthen every sinew when he speaks to the Treasury.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), not least because I was the Minister for Schools when we introduced the London challenge. It is worth reminding the House that, prior to the London challenge, the performance of London schools was below the national average, even though their funding was above the national average—so the improvement was not simply a consequence of the London challenge. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to speak up for rural and coastal schools. The suggestion of a coastal challenge, similar to the London challenge, is welcome and I would be delighted to support it.
Investment in education is crucial for social justice, for tackling inequality and poverty and, of course, for our national economic future. When Labour took office in 1997, UK public spending on education as a proportion of GDP was at its lowest since the early 1960s; we lagged behind many European neighbours and other advanced economies. By 2010 we had overtaken key countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Australia, delivering real change with smaller classes, modern school buildings, higher per pupil funding and a big increase in the numbers of teachers and support staff. Yet since 2010, that progress has been reversed. Education spending as a share of national income has fallen from 5.8% to 4.3%. That is a shocking decline in our national investment in education.
In Liverpool, the council expects 16 schools that are currently in surplus to go into deficit and 24 schools to go further into deficit. Despite the funding challenges that schools across my constituency face, the situation would be much worse if it were not for the pupil premium. The pupil premium was a welcome initiative introduced by the coalition, aimed at improving opportunities for children from the poorest backgrounds. However, headteachers are increasingly saying to me and to other Members, as we have heard today, that they have no alternative but to use pupil premium cash to offset budget cuts elsewhere.
The head of St Margaret’s Anfield Church of England Primary School told me this week,
“without pupil premium I would be unable to deliver an effective curriculum and a safe working environment.”
I am particularly concerned that the children who most need extra support are bearing the brunt of changes. The head of St Paul and St Timothy’s Catholic Infant School told me,
“it is the most vulnerable children in our schools who are suffering the most as a result of this funding crisis.”
I want to echo what the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) said about high-needs funding. According to analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research, in north-west England, funding per eligible child through the high-needs block has fallen in the last five years by 24%—a quarter of the funding cut. Liverpool forecasts a budget deficit in that block of more than £3 million.
Bank View High School, a great special school in my constituency for students with complex learning difficulties, has seen an increase in its pupil numbers from 160 to 200. Next door is Redbridge High School, which caters for children with severe learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning disabilities. It has also experienced an increasing number of pupils, yet it does not have the funding to match the demand. The head tells me that, as a result, the school has had to make cuts.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a fundamental point, which I have raised with the Minister on a number of occasions, is that too much of the funding does not reach the schools but gets stuck somewhere on the way? We have to make sure that the funding is in the schools.
I absolutely agree.
Despite the challenging environment that Bank View and Redbridge schools face, I am delighted that have they have again been ranked outstanding by Ofsted. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate both schools on that fantastic achievement.
Schools in Liverpool are highly dependent on the minimum funding guarantee, but that has not been confirmed beyond 2020-21. As the Chair of the Education Committee rightly said, schools need long-term certainty. Another headteacher has raised the issue of having to put forward three-year budget plans without confirmation of future funding arrangements due to the delay in the comprehensive spending review. Surely the message of this debate is that education deserves the same kind of long-term planning that we see for our health system.
I thank all the teachers and support staff who work so hard and go above and beyond. The headteacher of Clifford Holroyde School, Jane Pepa, said to me,
“I have spent large amounts of my time seeing how we can do more with less, applying for grants to keep us afloat and even selling Christmas trees to try to generate funding.”
The burden should not be on headteachers such as Jane to do that. As the Government expect more from our schools, they need to back that up with significant increases in funding and resources. We need a serious, long-term settlement for schools funding.
Primary and secondary schools across my constituency provide a commendably high standard of education. In the Cheshire East local authority area, 87% of children now attend schools rated good or outstanding, compared with 73% in 2010. Of course, much of the credit for that goes to dedicated staff in schools and strong leadership by headteachers, but as Education Ministers will know from a dialogue we have been having for some years, those same headteachers say that that is in spite of acute funding pressures.
To be fair, I want to thank Education Ministers and the Minister for School Standards in particular for having listening ears. Two years ago, they raised per-pupil funding in senior schools to £4,800, which was the exact amount that headteachers in my constituency requested. Total funding for Cheshire East schools is rising by £10.4 million over 2018-20, but that figure factors in increased pupil numbers, which are disproportionately high, due to the high number of new house builds. Yes, an additional £1.6 million of high needs funding has been added for the same two years, but this is woefully insufficient to meet current additional needs, causing distress, as I have seen in my surgeries, to parents, pupils and teachers. Yes, an additional £3.8 million of funding has been added through the growth, premises and mobility factors of the national funding formula in 2019-20, and an additional £10.4 million of pupil premium funding will be received by schools as a result of that having been introduced, as we have heard, by the coalition Government. I recognise all this, but headteachers repeatedly tell me that they simply cannot provide the level of education they aspire to due to funding pressures. One wrote to me:
“The parlous funding situation which envelops us is a depressingly serious threat to the breadth, range and quality of education that we are able to offer.”
I want to thank the Secretary of State for Education for writing to me just last week, acknowledging that
“I very much recognise the financial constraints that schools face.”
He added that
“there is clearly much more still to do.”
I hope Ministers will take away from this debate the points raised by colleagues across the House. If the spending review is the key determinant of spending for the Government, I hope this debate will strengthen Education Ministers’ arms—because I do believe that they have listening ears—in setting out a strong case for much improved education funding, and will open the Treasury’s eyes and ears to what is being said in this Chamber today. In one of the debates on this subject in which I spoke not long ago—it was about eight weeks ago in Westminster Hall—I said, very politely and courteously, that we actually had the wrong Minister in front of us, and I still think that that is the case today. We need a Treasury Minister in front of us, and perhaps we need to think about a creative title for a debate on school funding that will ensure that happens.
In closing, may I raise the three points that headteacher Ed O’Neill of Eaton Bank Academy wrote to me about? Following another debate—a Westminster Hall debate—I spoke in, he wanted to comment on three issues arising from the Minister’s response to that debate. First, he said the Minister made
“no mention of the ludicrous situation of ‘short termism’ in financial planning.”
We have heard about this already in the Chamber today. He went on:
“This position is untenable for schools. As school leaders we need to have a greater degree of certainty over the longer term health of school finances so that we can budget and plan accordingly.”
Secondly, he said:
“No matter what the over-arching increase that is quoted from the DfE, the funding is not good enough. From a secondary school perspective, the variance between KS3 and KS4…weightings needs changing. It is no less challenging to provide for a student aged 11-14 than…for a student aged 14-16”
“the allocation to KS3 pupils…needs to be significantly improved.”
Thirdly, he said:
“The poor funding for post 16 students is crippling provision and opportunity.”
He also said that
“post 16 education is desperately underfunded. Added to the additional and historic financial underfunding pressures schools in Cheshire East face, school Sixth Forms are struggling to maintain viability. It is a very real possibility that schools across the…Borough will fairly quickly be forced to start closing down their Sixth Form provision.”
Our schools are facing a crisis in funding, and unless immediate action is taken, irreversible damage will be done to our children’s education. In the Westminster Hall debate on school funding on 4 March, the Minister for School Standards regaled us with how much money the Government had given to schools on a per-pupil basis and suggested that the Department for Education helps schools to make savings on non-staffing spend and advertising vacancies, but this fundamentally fails to understand the problem.
The Minister is ignoring the hard facts that schools face on the ground. The additional costs that schools are facing for energy, increases in national insurance contributions, pension obligations, pay rises and the apprenticeship levy—the last four are directly the effect of Government policy—mean that any additional funding schools may receive goes nowhere near covering what schools have had taken from them. It is like pouring a cup of water into a bucket having previously drilled three large holes in the bottom. In addition, the new school funding formula means that some schools are losing out, and if the Minister does not believe me, he should listen to the headteachers.
Kate Baptiste, headteacher of St Monica’s Catholic Primary School in my constituency, told me,
“we are currently facing a deficit of just over £130,000. This is going to mean drastic cuts to staffing...We will lose support staff as well. This in turn will affect standards…High needs funding is also dire. We do not receive the full funding for children with an Education, Health and Care Plan...we do not receive the first £6,000 for each plan...”
At St Michael at Bowes Church of England Junior School in my constituency—the school I attended as a child and where I am a governor—headteacher Maria Jay and the governors are looking at making changes to the school day because the dedicated schools grant has not increased, and per pupil funding has not increased in line with inflation. There have also been significant increases in pension and national insurance contributions.
The National Education Union has provided me with statistics from the Department for Education that show that the annual funding shortfall for schools in Enfield Southgate between 2015-2016 and 2018-2019 was £4,154,554, or a 7% cut. It is not only schools in my constituency that are affected. Two headteachers from schools in Hertfordshire also contacted me about school funding cuts in their area. Gillian Langan, headteacher of Abel Smith School, and Justine Page, headteacher of St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Hertford, contacted me and said:
“In spite of the persistent and heroic efforts of school staff, these are desperate times and the funding crisis means that children’s needs are no longer being met. Delivering an intense, academic National Curriculum at a time when teacher recruitment and retention is in crisis has undermined children’s mental health and exploited children with special educational needs. This critical issue cannot be resolved without giving headteachers adequate funding that is ring fenced so that it goes directly into the classroom to provide urgently needed human and practical resources e.g. teachers, support staff and modern technology.”
In research published last week, the Sutton Trust found that 69% of schools had to cut staff to save money, and that is on top of the fact that the UK is facing a major issue with teacher recruitment and retention. Teach First’s report, “Britain at a crossroads: what will it take to provide the teachers our children need?” states that currently one teacher is leaving the profession for every one that joins. We cannot afford to cut the numbers of the teachers we have. It is estimated that we will need an extra 47,000 secondary teachers and 8,000 primary teachers by 2024, just to maintain current pupil-teacher ratios. Teachers in more disadvantaged areas are over 70% more likely to leave than those in affluent areas. Between 2017 and 2027, the number of secondary school pupils is expected to grow by 15%, which means there will be 418,000 pupils in secondary schools by 2027. Unless more substantial investment goes into our schools, and soon, our school education system will fall apart.
Schools must have the resources to be modern workplaces that continue to develop employees throughout their careers, while allowing life beyond work. A vital part of that will be reducing overall workload, and paying teachers a salary that reflects their efforts, qualifications, and role in preparing the coming generations for life beyond school. In conclusion, I ask the Minister to look at the facts, and to meet me and headteachers from my local schools and go through their budgets. He should see with his own eyes the scale of the problem faced by schools, and take the urgent action needed to stop this crisis and fix the holes in the bucket.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) on securing this debate. It is not the first time she has persisted in raising this issue. I intended to make some of these points during the debate on school funding on 4 March, but I was delayed and could not attend the opening speeches in Westminster Hall. Once I arrived I found that no seats were available and I could not even get in to sit down. The attendance of so many Members at that debate, and indeed on a Thursday afternoon, is testament to the concern that the issue of school funding is causing to so many of us and our communities.
I have raised this point with the Department before but it is worth repeating. More money has been invested in schools to promote standards, but the amount per pupil has declined because of the increased number of pupils on roll. In England, school block allocations per pupil have declined. In 2013-14 that allocation was £4,934 per pupil, but by 2018-19 that had declined to £4,694. As has been said, a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies stated that real-terms funding for schools will have fallen by 6.5% between 2015 and 2020—the biggest fall in the past 30 years. In the London Borough of Barnet, in which the Hendon constituency is located, school block allocations per pupil have declined each year from £5,355 in 2013-14 to £4,887 in the last financial year.
Recently, I visited Copthall School for girls in Mill Hill. Three years ago it was a failing school, but with the introduction of a new headteacher and many new staff it has achieved a rapid transformation and been judged as good by Ofsted. Copthall is a science, technology, engineering, and maths—STEM—school. Very recently, year 11 pupils took part in a live operating theatre event where the girls were able to treat artificial cadavers and even operated on pigs’ hearts and other organs to gain a lifelike experience of surgery, with a view to a medical career. That greatly impressed me. In some schools, such an event may be of little significance, but it was of huge significance for this school considering the social background of the pupils. More than half receive free school meals, English is the second language for 70% of the girls, and 80% are from an ethnic minority background.
However, the school faces difficult financial challenges. Copthall School’s per pupil premium grant was £362,780 two years ago, but that was reduced to £359,957 last year. That is a real-terms decrease and a real problem for the finance committee. Total funding in 2018 was £6,309,710, but that is down £264,500 from the previous year. The school needs a new roof and a new heating system. The combined cost would be over £1 million. The school applied to Barnet Council for a funding grant, but was not successful. Even though it is a STEM school, its science laboratories are “woefully out of date”, its IT equipment is dated and its library is passed its best. It is not the only school in my constituency having problems, but I raise the particular issues it is experiencing having recently spoken to Evelyn Forde, the headteacher, and Julia Blackman, the chairman of governors.
In the “Improving Education Standards” debate on 29 November, I acknowledged that the Government have increased the amount of money put into our nation’s schools, but I also raised the issue of the increasing numbers of pupils being taught. That brings me back to the point being made by headteachers in my constituency that in real terms per pupil funding has fallen. Planned savings by Barnet council have led to concerns from many headteachers in the Hendon constituency about the sustainability of their schools. Pressures include: increased pension and insurance costs, along with a pay rise for teachers; and cuts to special needs support, including therapy or inclusion services. That has led to some schools having to take various measures, including cutting staff, reducing the curriculum, increasing class sizes and not replacing equipment. And of course, the high cost of living in the borough makes it hard to attract staff. I have pointed that out repeatedly to the Department and have asked for the formula to be changed in relation to inner and outer London boroughs.
In conclusion, I repeat the request from my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) for Ministers to use the forthcoming comprehensive spending review to make strong representations to the Chancellor and the Treasury. At the general election, much heat was created in constituencies such as Hendon in relation to education funding. I hope that we can address this concern before it becomes untenable to teach children in our schools.
Our schools are under pressure, the likes of which has not been seen for decades. In Oldham, we have taken more than our fair share of cuts. I want to use this opportunity to place on record my own thanks to teachers and support staff for the hard work and dedication they show every day in very difficult circumstances. But the cracks are clear, and many teachers, parents and children just cannot take any more.
We have an important opportunity to invest in young people, so they can progress and achieve their full potential, so they can be treated as individuals, and for teaching and learning to be formed around their needs to set them on the path to a positive and productive life with an open outlook, confident in their place in the world, and with a determination to change it for the better. These are high stakes.
For too many, that is not the experience of pupils and parents in Oldham West and Royton. Since 2015, our town has seen cuts in excess of £32 million, with an average loss per pupil of £320. That money is impacting directly on teaching and learning, and on the special educational needs and disability and specialist support provision our students desperately need. The results of the cuts are clear to see. Oldham now has fewer teachers. According to the Government’s own school workforce data, we have lost 100 teachers, while the number of pupils has increased by a third—more than 8,700—since 2010. The numbers simply do not add up. It is not difficult to see why students are struggling, parents are frustrated, and many teachers are leaving the profession because they cannot take the strain. The present situation is not fair on anyone involved in the system.
Our schools have not received the golden gift that the Government would have us believe they are offering. To add insult to injury, Oldham is meant to be one of the opportunity areas that they say need additional resources and additional focus. So much so, in fact, that the Minister for School Standards—who is in the Chamber—decided to return to the scene of the crime, and, a short while ago, visited Yew Tree Primary School in Chadderton. I should be embarrassed if I were in the Minister’s position. Yew Tree primary has suffered a cut of £659 per pupil, but he thought it fitting to go there and talk about what a wonderful job the Government are doing to support schools. The brass neck on that Minister! However, Yew Tree primary is not the only school in such circumstances. Oldham Academy North has seen a cut of £672 per pupil, and at Holy Family in Limeside and Stanley Road primary there have been cuts of £517 and £439 per pupil respectively.
While there are many good examples of good teaching and learning, the fact is that there are secondary schools which are failing to provide a basic standard of education. I entirely support the staff and the work that they are doing, but it is also right for me to give parents a voice when they do not feel that they have access to a good or outstanding school for their children. More than 75% of secondary school students in the Hollinwood ward do not have access to a good or outstanding school; in Royton South the figure is 30%, and in Medlock Vale it is 25%.
We have fewer teachers and more pupils, experienced staff are leaving the profession, and the school system has been fragmented by academisation, free schools, university technical colleges, and all the other pet projects. We are told that there is no money, but there was money enough for £14 million to be found for a failed UTC and £4 million for the failed Collective Spirit free school. Both those schools, incidentally, have got away without a single examination of what really went on with their finances. There is money for pet projects, but there is no money for the basic provision of education in our schools.
Enough is enough. We have heard, across parties, about the frustration that is being felt. There is unity throughout the Chamber: everyone thinks that our young people deserve better and our teachers deserve better. Now is the time to provide the money that will deliver decent education. It does not have to be this way. At the end of January there was a tax surplus of some £14 billion, £5.8 billion higher than last year’s. The money is in the coffers, and there has been a deliberate choice not to use it. That is a scandal.
In the limited time that I have, I shall focus on the issue of high-needs funding. The high-needs pot funds children with special educational needs and disabilities in both mainstream and special schools. While it is true that funding has increased, the high-needs landscape in our schools has fundamentally changed. Demand has gone up, and there has been an explosion in pupil complexity. Teachers nowadays are dealing with a landscape that is wholly different from the one that existed even as recently as 10 years ago.
When I visit schools in Cheltenham—whether they are mainstream schools like Balcarras or special schools like Belmont, Bettridge, The Ridge Academy and Battledown Centre—the same message is received time and time again. The present cohort of pupils, through no fault of their own, are far more complex and have a far greater variety of needs than ever before. Indeed, that was the message that came from Peter Hales when he met the Minister, to whom I am extremely grateful for listening so attentively and with such evident concern at the meeting earlier this week.
It is fascinating to speak to teachers who have been in post for 20 years. They say that 20 years ago in a school like—for instance—The Ridge Academy, which deals with children with behavioural or emotional problems, it might have been possible for one teacher to teach a class of 15 pupils because that would have been sufficient to deal with the level of complexity, but nowadays it would be completely inadequate.
I will give one small example. The headteacher told me that increasingly he is seeing children in his classroom exhibit symptoms of what can only be described as an acute mental health crisis, which was hitherto unknown. What are teachers supposed to do in that situation? Do they take the child to A&E, which might not be the right place for them, and takes resources out of the school? Do they try to deal with the situation themselves, because very often they feel that they do not have the necessary skillset for that?
The reasons for that increasing complexity are not necessarily clear. Some people cite the fact that, mercifully, there are children surviving childbirth who might not have done so 10 years ago—thank goodness for the marvels of modern medicine. Others point to issues of social breakdown. Others even point to social media. In the fullness of time we will need to have an inquiry into why we are seeing these greater levels of complexity. Regardless of the causes, however, the symptoms are crystal clear, and the fact is that our schools are struggling to deal with them. I pay tribute to the teachers in my schools, who are doing a genuinely heroic job trying to deal with some of these issues.
What are the solutions? I think that funding will need to be part of it. The high-needs block is of the order of £6 billion, and one of the reasons why people like me are so keen to see the Brexit issue resolved is that we know the Government are holding back money, quite properly, to deal with contingencies that might arise from a disorderly Brexit. Some people say that figure is in the region of £15 billion to £20 billion, so releasing just a proportion of it could have a dramatic impact on a £6 billion budget.
The second proposal, which I commend to the Minister, is to give these schools a facility that would allow them, when a pupil is having an acute mental health crisis, to pick up the phone and be assured that someone will come to assist. Even if that resource was just one or two people who were shared across the whole town, between Belmont School, Bettridge School and The Ridge Academy, perhaps funded by the clinical commissioning group, it would be enormously helpful. It would allow the schools to deal with problems in a way that is proportionate, effective for the individual and would not have knock-on implications at A&E. Yes, it would have a cost, but it would not be fanciful or unrealistic.
My final point is that if we are to ease the pressure on special schools, it is critical that mainstream schools are encouraged to do what they can to deal with children with SEN statements. That complexity is increasingly exhibited in mainstream schools, and they need to be incentivised to look after those children as much as possible. One of the perverse incentives is that they must pay the first £6,000 themselves, so I invite the Government to look at that again. I hope that more funding will be made available in the spending review in due course, because it is urgently required in Cheltenham.
The Government keep telling us that more money than ever before is going to schools, but they ignore the reality on the ground. Today I want to unpick one number that they have used to justify their position, because it simply does not stand up to scrutiny. Shortly after the 2017 general election the Government announced an extra £1.3 billion. According to Survation, a full three quarters of a million people changed the party they voted for in 2017 because of the school funding emergency. The Government had to respond, but they misheard us—we said “More money,” not “Move money.”
That £1.3 billion was not new money. Some £315 million was taken out of a fund for new PE facilities, and the Government passed the bill for 30 new schools on to cash-strapped local authorities. The Government raided the new money from the capital budget while the National Audit Office estimates that it will cost £6.7 billion just to return all school buildings to a satisfactory condition. Newbridge Primary School in Bath has fallen foul of that raid. Children are being taught in buildings with leaky roofs, and they play on playing fields surrounded by crumbling walls. At a meeting I secured with a Minister, the school was told to look for a cheaper ground maintenance contractor.
Meanwhile, the so-called new money did nothing to reverse the real-terms cuts to per-pupil funding between 2015 and 2017. Today, 91% of schools have less money per pupil in real terms than they did in 2015. In my constituency, schools have seen their per-pupil funding cut by £213 in real terms since 2015.
The reason this angers me so much is that our schools funding emergency is a political choice. The latest estimate from the National Education Union is that it would cost about £2.2 billion to bring the main three blocks of the national funding formula back up to 2015 levels. Instead, the Government have spent more than half that money on increasing the higher rate threshold for income tax, so that people like us here in Parliament get a tax cut of more than £500 per year, even though we Lib Dems voted against the tax cuts for ourselves. This just goes to show the very wrong choices that this Government are making. The Liberal Democrats committed to reversing school cuts at the last general election and we will do so again at the next one, but the longer the Government wait, the more teachers and parents will vote with their feet and they will probably do so in the local elections on 2 May.
I want to make one special plea today, and it is one that has been echoed across the Chamber. The Government must provide an immediate funding boost for pupils with special educational needs. They are on the front- line of our schools funding emergency. The high-needs budget is not keeping up with the rise in SEND pupil numbers. In Bath and North East Somerset, the high-needs budget is worth about £21,000 for each child with an education, health and care plan, but that is £1,600 less in real terms than in 2015. We are more than £1.8 million short of what we need just to tread water, and this is for children with the most complex special needs. Support for those who do not meet the threshold for an EHCP must be paid out of the squeezed local authority schools budget.
The Minister must consider providing additional money in the national funding formula to cover some of the costs that schools are currently paying—usually £6,000—as their contribution towards an education, health and care plan. That way, we could free up schools’ budgets to provide in-school support for children with additional needs who do not usually qualify for an EHCP, such as pupils with dyslexia or high-functioning autism. I urge the Government to end this funding emergency, so that schools and colleges, and particularly pupils with SEND, can have the money that they so desperately need and deserve.
I should like to start by correcting a misunderstanding about my question to the Prime Minister during PMQs on 13 March. After letters and meetings with local headteachers, I asked why the Secretary of State had failed to meet a group of Kent headteachers about school cuts. They wrote to me as part of the Coastal Alliance Co-operative Trust. However, following investigations by my office and the office of the Secretary of State, it appears that a different group, called the WorthLess? campaign, had requested those meetings, and it has now met officials from the Department. This wider campaigning body represents a much larger number of concerned school leaders nationally. So I apologise if my original form of words was inaccurate or misleading. This was most definitely not intended by myself, by the group of headteachers who originally wrote to me or by their pupils’ parents. Moreover, I sincerely hope that this misunderstanding will not deter the Secretary of State from taking up my invitation to meet my hard-working headteachers to discuss school funding ahead of the comprehensive spending review. The invitation still very much stands, and he would be very welcome to visit those schools in my constituency.
I would like to talk about the very real struggle faced by those and other headteachers every single day as they are forced to make yet more cuts and to cut yet more staff and resources. Schools are having to provide services that were previously provided by other agencies, yet the flawed and widely criticised national funding formula does not make that possible. Huge differences in per-pupil funding remain in place across the country, and to date, no positive difference has been made to the majority of schools in my constituency. In fact, according to the Library, the total schools block allocation for Canterbury has fallen 6.4% in real terms over the past five years, compared with 4.8% for England nationally.
I hear time and again from local headteachers about how hard it is to plan ahead when their funding cycle remains wedded to processes at Her Majesty’s Treasury. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), this Government have provided NHS managers with a long-term plan, so why can we not afford the same degree of mid-to-long-term policy stability for our headteachers, too?
A member of the Kent Association of Headteachers wrote to me a few days ago and said:
“Since 2010, schools with pupils aged 5-16 have received an 8% real-terms cut in funding. The figure is 20% post-16. Against this background, headteachers across Kent remain extremely concerned that the Secretary of State and Minister for Schools continue to underplay the devastating impact that the ongoing funding crisis is having upon our provision and capacity to meet the needs of children and families.”
Others have also pointed out the considerable evidence to challenge the Minister’s assertion that real-terms cuts have ended since the introduction of the national funding formula in April 2018. The independent Education Policy Institute has stated that over 50% of maintained schools and academies are now spending more than their annual revenue.
Over 1,000 councillors from across the country recently wrote to the Secretary of State demanding adequate funding for schools to support high-needs pupils and those requiring SEND provision. Every Member of this House will have parents, grandparents and carers crying in their weekly surgeries as they face a desperate battle to get proper provision for their children. Social care, emotional wellbeing, and speech and language services have all been cut. PE lessons, sports equipment, the teaching of arts and drama, and the chance to add fun to children’s lives have all but disappeared.
I left the classroom in 2016. While my new job is incredibly stressful at times and has many pressures, the pressures faced by teachers, support staff and headteachers are becoming intolerable. The welfare of vulnerable children in a time of shocking child poverty is left to the heroes who work in our schools. They are overworked, underpaid and dipping into their own modest pay packets to look after, feed and help children, when that should be the duty of the state.
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon or Tommy Robinson, as he is known, is currently holding an event in my constituency, and I want to make it clear—I am sure the whole House will agree—that this individual is not welcome to spread his xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, racist vitriol in my community or any other. He seeks to divide rather than unite, but we do things differently in Manchester. We stand together against hate.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for securing this debate and the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) for starting off with a powerful speech. She talked about billions being spent on Brexit rather than education and about a deep-rooted, systemic problem with funding in the system. The whole House has been united in discussing the problem of school funding. There is no party-political divide anymore, because everyone on both sides is worried. Things must change.
After what we have heard today, we can be in no doubt about the impact on our schools of this Government’s continued austerity. The situation is shocking. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Education Secretary have both stated in the House that every school in England would see a cash-terms increase in funding, yet that flies in the face of reality and what we have heard today. On top of the funding cuts that schools have experienced, which I will outline later, our schools are having to plug the gaps in local government, healthcare and many other services. SEND and mental health services have been shattered. Some teachers have had to take it upon themselves to take children to A&E, which is outrageous in this day and age.
Local authorities face an overall funding gap of over £3 billion next year, rising to £8 billion by 2025. By 2020, their core funding will have been cut by nearly £16 billion since 2010. Figures compiled by the Labour party show that, in 2017-18, local authorities spent more than £800 million over budget on children’s services and social care due to growing demand and, as a result, were forced to make cuts elsewhere and to draw on reserves. This is having a dramatic impact on the level and type of services that councils across our great country can provide.
Many councils now spend less on early intervention, and youth services across the country have been devastated. On top of this, our schools are experiencing cuts across the board. Since 2015, the Government have cut £2.7 billion from school budgets in England. Despite the claim of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that no child will lose their free school meal eligibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that 160,000 children—one in eight on the legacy system—will not be eligible under universal credit.
The Government’s own data shows that, as of January 2018, more than 4,000 children and young people with an education, health and care plan or statement were awaiting provision—in other words, they were waiting for a place in education.
Over half a million children are now in supersize classes. There is an unquestionable recruitment crisis in our schools, with the Government now having missed their own recruitment targets for five years in a row. For the second year running, there are now more teachers leaving the profession than joining it.
There is a crisis in our schools to which this Government are turning a blind eye. In fact, there has been a concerted effort by the Government to fudge the figures and deflect attention away from the cuts to school funding over which they have presided. According to data from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the reality is that school budgets are lower in real terms than they were five years ago.
To add insult to injury, we have had the Chancellor’s £400 million for “little extras,” which is an insult to teachers, schools and children who have faced year after year of austerity. The fact is that, across the country, schools are having to write home to parents to ask for money to buy basic resources. They do not need money for little extras; they need it for the essentials.
If funding per pupil had been maintained in value since 2015, school funding overall would be £5.1 billion higher than it is today, and 91% of schools are still facing real-terms budget cuts, despite any reallocation of the funding formula. Members present already know all too well the impact on the ground, and as has already been expressed in the debate, headteachers and parents are telling us about it almost daily.
The average shortfall is more than £67,000 in primary schools, and more than £273,000 in secondary schools. Our schools have 137,000 more pupils but 5,400 fewer teachers, 2,800 fewer teaching assistants, 1,400 fewer support staff and 1,200 fewer auxiliary staff. The Government need to stop their sticking-plaster approach to school finances and give schools the funding they really need.
Sadly, it is clear that austerity is not over for our schools. When will the Minister remove his head from the sand and truly begin to hear the voices of schools, teachers, parents and Members on both sides of the House? I have spent far too many hours on the Floor of the House, along with my colleagues on the shadow Front Bench and right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, trying to get the Government to face the facts and act.
It beggars belief that the Government have ignored the School Teachers Review Body’s recommendation of an across-the-board 3.5% increase to all pay and allowances and are now calling for it to be capped at 2%—the first time that has happened in the body’s 28-year history. To make matters worse, the Government expect schools to meet the cost of the first percentage point of the pay award from existing budgets, which have already been cut to the bone.
With the economic uncertainty of Brexit and the challenges it will bring, to have a Government who are failing to invest in education and skills defies all logic. As a former primary school teacher, I know the difference a good teacher makes. With the right support and resources, they can raise a child’s attainment and aspiration. We go into teaching because we believe in the value of education. We believe in its power to create social mobility, as the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) said. We believe in its ability to create ambition for all. This is about our children’s future and the future of our country. Our schools need fair funding, and they need it now.
Let me start by saying that I share the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) about Stephen Yaxley-Lennon’s visit to his constituency today, and I am sure they are shared right across this House.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) on securing and opening this important debate. The Government are determined to create a world-class education system that offers opportunity to every child, no matter their circumstances or where they live. I share the views of many in this debate that schools must have the resources they need to make that happen. That is why we are investing in our schools, delivering on our promise to make funding fairer so that the investment is going to the right places, and helping schools to make the most out of every pound they receive.
Does the Minister agree with my analysis, based on one-to-one meetings with headteachers in Solihull, that much of the long-term financial challenge relates to teachers’ pensions and that we must put those on a sustainable long-term footing, as well as dealing with the real challenges we face in the here and now?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the teachers’ pension scheme. The employer contribution rate will increase from 16% to 23% in September 2019 but, as confirmed earlier in April, we will be providing funding for this increase in 2019-20 for all state-funded schools, further education and sixth-form colleges, and adult community learning providers. My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mrs Badenoch) asked about that funding in future years, and it will of course be a matter for the spending review.
The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) asked whether I could meet his local headteachers to discuss funding, and I would be delighted to do so. The Secretary of State and I meet headteachers regularly, almost on a weekly basis, to discuss not only school funding, but other issues such as standards in our schools, and we would be happy to do that with the hon. Gentleman’s local headteachers as well.
Standards are rising in our schools. Thanks in part to our reforms, the proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools has increased from 66% in 2010 to 85%. I listened carefully to the excellent opening speech by my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans, who has raised the issue of school funding, both for her constituency’s schools and nationally, on many occasions, including in Westminster Hall debates recently and again today. I am sure that the Treasury will also have heard what she had to say today. I can give her the assurances she seeks that the Secretary of State and I are both working hard to prepare our spending review bid for when that process starts later in the year to ensure that we have the best bid possible for schools, high-needs and post-16 funding.
As I was saying, standards are rising in our schools. In primary schools, our more rigorous curriculum is on a par with the highest-performing in the world and it has been taught since September 2014. Since it was first tested in 2016, we have seen the proportion of primary school pupils reaching the expected standard in the maths test rise from 70% to 76% in 2018, and in the reading test the figure has risen from 66% to 75%. Of course we would not know that if we adopted the Labour party’s policy of scrapping SATs, which of course we will not do.
I will not give way.
Since the introduction of the phonics check in 2012, the proportion of six-year-olds reaching the expected standards in the phonics decoding check has risen from 58% in 2012 to 82% last year. We have risen from joint 10th to joint eighth in the PIRLS—the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study—of the reading ability of nine-year-olds, achieving our highest ever score in that survey. In secondary schools, our more rigorous academic curriculum and qualifications support social mobility by giving disadvantaged children the knowledge they need to have the same career and life opportunities as their peers. The attainment gap between the most disadvantaged pupils and their peers, measured by the disadvantage gap index, has narrowed by nearly 10% since 2011.
To support these improvements, the Government have prioritised school spending, while having to take difficult decisions in other areas of public spending. We have been able to do that because of our balanced approach to the public finances and to our stewardship of the economy, reducing the annual deficit from an unsustainable 10% of GDP in 2010—some £150 billion a year—to 2% in 2018. The economic stability that that provided has resulted in employment rising to record levels and unemployment being at its lowest level since the 1970s, giving young people leaving school more opportunities to have jobs and start their careers. Youth unemployment is at half the rate it was when we came into office in 2010, taking over from Labour.
It is our balanced approach that allows us to invest in public services. Core funding for schools and high needs has risen from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion this year. That includes the extra £1.3 billion for schools and high needs that was announced in 2017 and that we have invested across 2018-19 and 2019-20, over and above the plans set out in the spending review.
Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that in 2020 real-terms per pupil funding for five to 16-year-olds in schools will be more than 50% higher than it was in 2000. We do recognise, though, the budgeting challenges that schools face as we ask them to achieve more for children. One element of it is about making sure that money is directed to where it is needed most. Since April last year, we have started to distribute funding through the new national funding formula, with each area’s allocation taking into account the individual needs and characteristics of its pupils and schools. Schools are already benefiting from the gains delivered by the national funding formula.
Since 2017, we have given every local authority more money for every pupil in every school, while allocating the biggest increases to the schools that the previous system had left most underfunded. By 2019-20, all schools will attract an increase of at least 1% per pupil compared with 2017-18 baselines, and the most underfunded schools will attract up to 6% more per pupil by 2019-20, compared with 2017-18.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about phonics and SATs, which it is important we keep, but does he agree that if the national health service can have a 10-year plan and a five-year funding settlement, education should have a 10-year plan and a minimum of a five-year funding settlement?
As I have said to the Education Committee, which my right hon. Friend chairs, I do not disagree with that view. We will say more about our approach to the spending review in due course.
In Hertfordshire, where the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans is located, funding for schools has increased this year under the national funding formula by 2.4% per pupil compared with 2017. That is equivalent to an extra £32.1 million in total, when rising pupil numbers are taken into account.
My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden made a measured and therefore persuasive speech about the funding of schools in her constituency. As a consequence, her words will undoubtedly carry weight with the Treasury. She made the important point that 90% of pupils in her constituency now attend good or outstanding schools, compared with just 67% in 2010.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton); as a neighbouring MP, I find I always do. He will be aware that funding in his constituency has risen by 5.5% per pupil compared with 2017. That is one of the highest increases and reflects the historical underfunding of West Sussex schools—something the national funding formula was introduced to address. He referred to teachers’ pay, which is due to rise by 3.5% for teachers on the main pay scale and by 2% for those on the upper pay scale.[Official Report, 1 May 2019, Vol. 659, c. 3MC.] We are funding both those pay rises, except for the first 1%, which schools will have budgeted for already.
I also listened carefully to the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne). I congratulate him on the fact that 96% of pupils in schools in his constituency are attending good or outstanding schools. He will be aware that under the national funding formula per pupil funding in his constituency is rising by 4.5% compared with 2017-18.
I welcome the contribution to the debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and his acknowledgement that, as a result of the fairer national funding formula, schools in his constituency will attract a 5.9% per pupil increase. In a compelling speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) raised the issue of special needs funding. Our commitment to helping every child to reach their full potential applies just as strongly to children with special educational needs and disabilities as it does to any other child, and we know that schools share that commitment. We recognise the concerns that have been raised about the costs of making provision for children and young people with complex special educational needs. We have increased overall funding allocations to local authorities for high needs year on year, and we announced in December that we will provide an additional £250 million over these last two financial years.
I will not because I am running out of time; I do apologise to the hon. Gentleman.
In Hertfordshire, for example, that means that the authority will receive an additional £5.7 million between these two financial years, taking its high-needs funding to £114.7 million. High-needs funding nationally is now over £6 billion, having risen by £1 billion since 2013. We will ensure in the coming spending review that we keep a firm focus on identifying the resources required to ensure that the most vulnerable children are receiving the support they need. Of course, the response to pressures on high-needs budgets cannot be about just funding. It must also be about ensuring that we are spending the money effectively.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans also raised the issue of post-16 funding. We recognise the pressures that post-16 funding has been under—my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills is also listening to this debate. We have protected the base rate of funding for all 16 to 19-year-old students until 2020, and our commitment to the 16-to-19 sector has contributed to what is the highest proportion of 16 to 17-year-olds participating in education or apprenticeships since records began. We are also providing additional funding to support colleges and schools to grow participation in level 3 maths. Institutions will receive an extra £600 for every additional student for the next academic year, 2019-20.
I have listened carefully to hon. and right hon. Members’ speeches today. The Government recognise the pressure on schools as we seek to balance the public finances. While bringing down the budget deficit, we have protected funding for the NHS, international development and schools for five to 16-year-olds. We are now preparing the best spending review bid that we can for schools, for high needs and for post-16 funding, and today’s debate will undoubtedly have an influence on the Treasury. Standards are rising in our schools. The attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds has closed by 13.5% since 2011 for primary schools and 9.5% for secondary schools. Reading standards are rising, maths standards are rising and the proportion of pupils being taught in good or outstanding schools has risen significantly. I am grateful to all Members who have contributed to today’s debate and I know that they will have been heard in all the right places.
I thank the Minister for his response; I have to say, I think he was a little more mindful of the comments made in the Chamber today than he might have appeared to be in Westminster Hall.
It might have sounded as though Members across the House had met in a pub beforehand and conspired to sing the same song from the same hymn sheet but it is indeed the same song. We have all expressed views that are reflective of the constituencies that we serve. Unless these issues are addressed, whoever is sitting in the Minister’s place in 10 years’ time will hear the same song, and it is not just about educational outcomes. I was a teacher a long time ago, and it is about the child’s experience—the experiences that we all carry through life.
We are passionate about this issue in this House, because we all know the impact of not getting education right and we all know that we are sowing the future of our nation with what we are asking today. If the Chancellor is listening, will he double whatever figure he might come up with? Or maybe even treble it; I do not mind. But whatever figure it is, it will never be enough, because excellence always cost money, effort and time, and we cannot get those on the cheap. So whatever is coming up, please listen to debates such as these, because we are not going away. Somebody else will put in for another debate, I will be there alongside them and we will come back and say, “What more can we do?”, so hopefully we can get this solved.
That this House notes with concern the increasing financial pressures faced by schools; further notes that schools are having to provide more and more services, including those previously provided by other public agencies including health and local authorities; notes with concern funds for schools being spread more thinly and not being sufficient to cope with additional costs; and calls on the Government to increase funding provided to schools to cover the additional services schools now perform for pupils.