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House of Commons Hansard
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Education Funding
04 June 2019
Volume 661

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I beg to move,

That this House has considered education funding.

It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As hon. Members know, there are lies, damned lies and statistics, but following the letter I received in April from the Secretary of State for Education about school results and resourcing, nationally and in Kent, I am tempted to add Department for Education briefings on school funding to that list.

To begin with a positive reaction to that three-page letter, my constituency is in Kent, so mention of our county was an encouraging start. To be fair, the letter contained information that was, on the face of it, good news. For example, 91% of children in Kent attend schools rated good or outstanding, compared with just 64% in 2010. In addition, 67% of Kent pupils reached the expected standard of reading, writing and maths at key stage 2, compared with 65% nationally. So far, so good. Except that when we consider what is happening on the ground in my constituency, those county-wide figure hide an inconvenient truth.

Let us take the standard of reading. A ward in my constituency is in the bottom 100 of 10,000 local council wards in England for adult literacy. That is an historical, long-term problem that will be solved only by targeted intervention and extra funding for adult education. A couple of years ago, I decided to try to do something about it, so as a first step I approached a local housing association to see if we could identify adults in our area who needed help. Our plan was to set up local clubs that would allow volunteer mentors to teach illiterate adults how to read and write. The stumbling block, as always, was the lack of funds. When I wrote to the Department for help, I was told that no grant funding was available. Those illiterate people in my constituency had been let down by the education system when they were at school as children, and they are still being let down by the system as adults.

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Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that per-pupil funding has been squeezed, particularly for 16 to 18-year-olds. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should make that a priority, especially to enhance social mobility in the areas he is discussing?

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I agree; I will come to the national funding formula later, if my hon. Friend will bear with me.

I will continue my thread about illiteracy, which is a huge problem in my constituency. We had several skills companies in my area, which taught adults basic literacy in preparation for the vocational training that they provided. Because of the new funding system for skills providers, however, which discriminates against constituencies such as mine, one of those companies has had to close and another is struggling financially.

The Secretary of State’s letter boasted that in Kent, an extra 27,300 school places have been added since 2010, including the establishment of 10 free schools, and that a further 13 new schools have been cleared to be created in coming years. Again, however, that statistic hides an inconvenient truth, which is that many schools in my constituency are bursting at the seams, particularly the secondary schools in Sittingbourne, where an already dire situation is being made worse by the ludicrous independent appeals procedure.

One of my local schools has a published admission number of 285 pupils, but because of the shortage of places in Sittingbourne secondary schools, and following a request from Kent County Council, the head agreed to increase this year’s intake to 330. In turn, Kent County Council committed to fund the building of a new classroom block to accommodate the extra 45 children. During the building work, which is due to start in the summer, four classrooms will have to be decommissioned, but despite that, the school was confident that it would be able to accommodate the additional pupils.

Then the independent appeals panel stepped in. It heard appeals from 53 parents who wanted to send their children to that school. Bizarrely, it upheld all 53 appeals, so the school is faced with finding accommodation for a total intake of 383 pupils. The knock-on effect of such a dramatic increase is horrendous. The head’s first question is, if there was room to build additional accommodation—which, incidentally, there is not—who would fund it? Nobody has been able to answer that question yet. Kent County Council has made it clear that it will not borrow any more money to fund the building of additional schools or buildings. Quite rightly, it believes that the Government should fund those schools via the basic need grant system.

Other secondary schools in Sittingbourne face a similar situation of demand outstripping the number of available places. That problem was brought about by the rapid population increase in my constituency, which was driven by Government housing targets that were imposed without any additional Government funds being allocated to ensure that the necessary infrastructure was put in place first. It is all very well for the Department to claim that 27,340 additional school places have been created in Kent, but few of those places are in the areas of most need. Frankly, without the funding to provide more schools where places are needed, the statistic is meaningless.

On funding, the Secretary of State talks in his letter about the 2019-20 national funding formula allocation to Kent and explains that the county will get £3,793 per primary pupil and £4,941 per secondary pupil. Those figures graphically illustrate the historical underfunding of Kent schools, which is put into sharp relief by the comparable funding figures in Greenwich, which are £4,907 per primary pupil and £6,698 per secondary pupil. Hon. Members might point out that Greenwich is an outer London borough with areas of deep social deprivation, but I have news for them: Kent is not entirely made up of affluent areas such as Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells. Many areas, particularly in Thanet and Swale where my constituency is, have council wards with social deprivation as deep as any found in outer London.

To take another example, I am sure that hon. Members agree that Essex is a comparable county to Kent; indeed, we are neighbours, albeit separated by the Thames estuary. Essex is due to receive £3,843 per primary pupil and £5,018 per secondary pupil. I appreciate that they are not huge differences individually, but they make a big difference to school budgets collectively. Why does the Department think that Kent pupils cost less to teach than those in Essex? They do not—indeed, the reverse is often the case—but the difference highlights a long-standing funding deficiency for Kent schools. The figures speak for themselves.

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My hon. Friend is talking so much truth there. It is not just in Kent; it is not just in Essex; it is in Cheshire, and across the country. We are crying out for more funding for our schools. We had £1.3 billion, and that was good. That is why I pledge the £4 billion more that we need for our schools, so that the education standards that my hon. Friend is talking about are the same for everybody throughout the country.

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I agree with my right hon. Friend. As a proud man of Kent, and a Kent MP who is doing the best for my constituency, I want to focus on Kent, but I understand that she will have problems in her constituency as well.

The figures speak for themselves. In terms of schools block funding, Kent is ranked 139 out of 152 local authorities. How can that be right or fair, particularly when we consider Kent’s location, so close to London, with all the cost pressures that that entails? As we move towards implementation of the national funding formula, Kent will still be 7% below the national average, while inner London boroughs will be 32% above the national average, which means that per pupil funding in inner London will be £1,774 more than in Kent.

That leads me on to another problem that faces many Kent schools, including those in my own area—one that I have raised before in this House and will no doubt raise again and again, until something is done about it. London boroughs are buying up or renting homes in our area into which they place homeless families, many of whom have special social and educational needs. Although the London boroughs pay the housing costs for the families, it is Kent social services and Kent schools that are expected to meet the costs of providing the social and educational help that they need. London boroughs are also increasingly placing cared-for children into Kent, once again without providing the financial support needed to look after and educate those children.

Let me make it very clear that schools in Kent willingly accept their responsibility and meet the financial commitment needed to educate those children. However, their benevolence is putting an additional strain on already stretched school budgets. The strain is particularly acute when it comes to providing special educational needs support. There is already severe pressure on the high needs funding block, and that is being made worse by the ever-increasing number of children in Kent who require SEN support.

The letter from the Secretary of State presented a rosy picture of education funding that simply does not reflect what is actually happening in our schools, nor the problems they face.

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The chief executive of a multi-academy trust in my constituency, Gary Lewis, says that next year there will be no A-level French or German in three of its sixth forms because the schools are no longer able to fund small class sizes. We have to look at education as more than just per pupil funding. We have to look at what we can deliver on the ground. We are not just making our schools poorer; we are making our country poorer. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me?

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I do agree. I sympathise with the hon. Lady when it comes to schools losing the opportunity to teach their children German. I want to get my schools teaching proper English. That is one of the problems we face. We face illiteracy not because people cannot speak German in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, but because they cannot read and write English.

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I have teachers in Brighton who are absolutely desperate because they can no longer provide the kind of SEN support they used to be able to. There was a wonderful programme called “Every Child a Reader”, and one of the teachers from Brighton came up to the House of Lords to celebrate taking part in that project. They have now been sacked, and the project no longer works, because they cannot fund it. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a particular irony in that? When there are good projects like that, and we see that they are doing good work, it is an absolute tragedy that they cannot continue.

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I am sure that the hon. Lady is right and that many other Members have similar stories to tell. I would just say this about the outlook being presented by the Department for Education: all is not rosy in the garden of England.

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Does my hon. Friend agree with me that one of the problems is that the special schools in all our constituencies are having to contend with a level of demand and complexity that simply was not there 10 years ago? We need to make sure that the funding is there to meet the need that exists.

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I agree, but I do so hesitantly, as I have a very good special school in my area, which teaches children with acute physical disabilities. We have now been told by the DFE that my constituency is to get funding for another special school for people with learning difficulties. I am immensely grateful for that, because currently 70 children from my constituency have to travel to the other side of Maidstone every day—some get up at half past 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning and do not get home until half past 5 in the evening—to attend a special school there. I agree, but I do so slightly reluctantly because I am going to get some funds for a special school in my constituency.

I would like to list some of the other problems that headteachers in my constituency say they face, in no particular order. First, they tell me that there is a need for an increase in the overall funding for schools, which should be coupled with a long-term plan that would ensure that the growth in our population is properly addressed. That is very pertinent to my constituency. Secondly, they want to scrap the current system of requesting a three-year forecast from schools without providing any firm information about likely costs and incomes. Thirdly, we need to find a solution to the growing problem of poor mental health among students and staff, which is coupled with a lack of funding to help those who suffer. Fourthly, headteachers in my constituency are frustrated when they see the DFE focusing on workload reduction while insisting on schools cutting their costs, which inevitably reduces the workforce and increases workloads for the remaining staff. Fifthly, they feel pressurised by the funding arrangements into replacing experienced teachers in order to save money.

Sixthly, headteachers have to manage the impact on school budgets of unfunded mandatory costs, such as the increase in the pay level of support staff brought about by an increase in the living wage. Seventhly, headteachers often struggle to fund the £6,000 needed for each education, health and care plan, and to find the additional money involved in preparing those plans. Eighthly, inflationary pressures continue to undermine any increases to school funding under the new national funding formula. The so-called fair funding formula is simply not fair.

Ninthly, schools are having to divert scarce resources to cover services that were previously supplied by either local authorities or the NHS, and no longer are. Finally, research has found that Kent schools have lost £149.5 million between 2015 and 2019, which averages out at £270 per pupil. Some 510 out of 535 schools in Kent have experienced cuts. One secondary school in my constituency has lost £780,000.

I am lucky in Sittingbourne and Sheppey to have some fantastic, committed school leaders and teachers. However, I fear that without a real boost in investment and funding better targeted to areas where it is most needed such as mine, we are going to lose our best educators to better resourced areas, which would be to the detriment of the children in my constituency.

I know the Education Minister, and I am sure that, in their heart of hearts, he and his colleagues understand the financial challenges faced by schools and that they are lobbying the Treasury hard. I just hope the Chancellor —whoever that turns out to be in November—listens and delivers more money for education in this year’s Budget.

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Order. The debate can last until 7.30 pm. I am obliged to call the Front Benchers no later than 7.12 pm. The guideline limits are five minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister, and then Mr Henderson has two or three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. Until 7.12 pm, we are in Back-Bench time. There are six Members seeking to contribute—I have a galaxy of talent before me—and I am determined that everybody should have the chance to speak, so there will have to be a time limit of three and a half minutes. That way, everybody will get in. The first contributor will be Kate Green.

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It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing the debate; I agreed with much of what he said.

In the spring term, I conducted a survey of headteachers in my constituency to ask about funding pressures in their schools, and the majority were very pessimistic about their prospects over the coming three years. They spoke of having to cut support for vulnerable learners, of the impact of having to make support staff redundant, of having to cut classes—for example, music and swimming lessons—or having to ask parents to pay for lessons, and of the impact that that is having on staff morale. What is worse is that it is the schools serving the most disadvantaged and deprived intakes that are suffering some of the greatest funding pressures, in part for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman rightly raised. The local newspaper, the Messenger, reported that four of the five worst affected schools in Trafford, in terms of losing funding, are in my constituency. Those include Broadoak School and Lostock College, which serve particularly disadvantaged intakes and have suffered a real-terms loss in funding of almost £1,000 per pupil since 2015.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Trafford—I know this is true for other colleagues—is one of the f40 authorities, which have particularly suffered under the new national funding formula. Although previous Secretaries of State for Education have made efforts to address the inequities that existed, it cannot be right that schools in my constituency in Old Trafford, which serve very similar demographics to those in Salford or Manchester just across the road, should be so poorly funded. That is not to decry the very real need for funding of schools in those boroughs. We must address the fact that the funding formula is still not delivering for poorer and more disadvantaged communities in overall wealthier authorities, or for some of the schools that the hon. Gentleman spoke about.

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My hon. Friend obviously shares my concern about reports that vulnerable children are being denied access to education because schools are not being given adequate resources. Does she agree that the recent demonstrations—the protests by young people and parents—highlight the enormous strength of feeling about this issue?

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The feeling is shared by teachers, students, parents, governors and, indeed, the wider community; my hon. Friend is absolutely right.

My final point in the very short time I have left is that the situation in my borough is even further exacerbated by our selective secondary system. The House is well aware that I am deeply opposed to it, but this is not a debate about the merits or demerits of a selective education approach. However, it cannot be right that the additional funding that the Secretary of State announced last year for grammar schools to expand has in no way benefited the poorest and most disadvantaged children in my constituency. Indeed, the funding that has been secured for Trafford has gone not to schools in my constituency, but to the constituency next door. All the evidence I have seen shows that grammar schools educate a lower proportion of children with special educational needs or children on free school meals—children who need the very best education if they are to achieve their full potential. I strongly urge the Minister to look again at whether putting funding into the grammar system is the best way of improving the life chances of our poorest and most high-need kids.

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On the Wednesday before the recess, I submitted a petition to the House that had been signed by just under 1,000 residents of Henley. I will not read it out, but I hope the Minister will agree that it is a friendly petition. I am concerned about the gap between the enormous figures that are increasingly being put into education and what is actually happening on the ground in schools. The petition asked for a review in advance of the comprehensive spending review to settle once and for all what it costs to run education and how we can get that money to schools.

We have tackled a number of issues separately—we have tackled teachers’ pay and pensions, and agreed to fund them—but we need to know in what other areas funding is falling short in the squeeze that has occurred between keeping the budgets more or less as they are and inflation. Every year, the Minister makes the honest claim that we are spending more on the revenue budget for schools than we were the previous year. That is a very laudable thing to have done, provided the money actually gets to the schools themselves.

One of the things that will help is to bring out the difference between a soft formula and a hard formula. We have a soft formula at the moment, and local authorities have a role in distributing and, indeed, top-slicing the funds before they get to the school. It might be thought that they do not top-slice very much, but they do, and it can make a big difference to the schools. That also applies to schools that are part of multi-academy trusts. We must ensure that, in creating such trusts, we are not just creating another local authority equivalent that is able to top-slice more and more funds, resulting in schools getting less and less. A review and a move to a hard funding formula would be a very good way forward.

I will finish on a completely different matter. Apprenticeships form a large part of further education colleges’ income. In the Henley constituency, I am organising an evening to bring together schools and businesses in order to see what apprenticeships they want to fund and how they can be funded.

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on raising this issue. Although I realise that this is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland—the Minister knows that—I want to add to the debate to show how far these issues go in the United Kingdom. Indeed, they go as far as Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is recognised worldwide as having one of the best education systems. I have said many times over the years that I take great pride in that, but we are in danger of losing our wonderful education system due to the budgetary issues. The money is there, but it is not being allocated in the way that it should be.

I see a budgetary allocation that leads to parent teacher associations fundraising to pay for classroom assistants’ wages, rather than buy additional extras that enhance the children’s education. I see primary and post-primary schools being forced to take classes up to the statutory maximum without adequate support, as they need every penny of funding for children to make ends meet. I see staffing issues, such as staff being instructed by their unions not to organise after-hours meetings or run after-school clubs, or staff having to cross the picket line—such is their love for their children. I see qualified teachers working as classroom assistants or subbing for two days. When older teachers on the top pay band retire and are replaced by a new teacher, the savings should go to the school, not to the board that is negotiating the exit package. I see education authorities and boards with sufficient funds to send staff on team-building days. At the same time, I see headteachers attempting to teach classes as well as run their school. I see P1 parents being asked to bring in baby wipes and toilet rolls, as the school is no longer in a position to supply them.

I thank God for the parent teacher associations, the teachers and classroom assistants who work well beyond their paid hours, and the music volunteers who teach at no cost to the school. That does not make me less ashamed of the predicament of our education system because of the unwise and reduced allocation of funding. The stress on headteachers who are trying to balance the books is a disgrace. Only love for their school and their pupils would allow anyone to do that work.

We need to allocate an acceptable level of funding per child, as determined by their school’s area. I am concerned about the strain on teachers and schools to provide a world-class education that they can provide only with a decent budget. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has conducted an inquiry into the education system in Northern Ireland because the Assembly is not functioning correctly. I know that it is not the Minister’s responsibility to answer to those things, but they tell us about the crisis in education across the United Kingdom.

Let the PTA fundraise for school outings or for the latest gadget for the school. Let the Education Authority do its job by paying for the heating, lights, teachers, classroom assistants, cleaners and dinner staff, and the pens and paper. It was not too much for the Government to provide for my education during my time in the education system in Northern Ireland, so why does it seem so far out of the grasp of the Education Authority right now?

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The spring statement came and went, and I am still here making the plea for the worst-funded schools in the country, which are in York. We cannot go on like this; we have had many debates about funding for schools in this Chamber, but the situation does not improve. Schools are struggling more and more every week, which I experience as I talk to schools across York.

There are particular things that need urgent attention, such as the capital funding of many of our schools. Some schools are crumbling, such as Tang Hall Primary, where the children are so cold as they study, or Carr Junior School, which desperately needs building upgrades but is unable to access the funding it needs. All Saints Roman Catholic School, a secondary school, is on a split site and needs a new location in which to educate its children.

I want to focus on disadvantage. In my constituency, Tang Hall Primary, which as I mentioned needs infrastructure upgrades, saw a spending drop of £559 per pupil, whereas in more affluent areas of the city, the drop was smaller. The Government funding formula is therefore punishing disadvantage and the children who most need resources to advance their education. That is driving inequality into the system for the long term.

In York, we already have real issues, with an attainment gap of 31 points—the largest attainment gap in the country—as well as the worst funding. I say again to the Minister that the two are correlated. I still wait for a response and for recognition of that fact. The cuts across the city are resulting in some of the largest increases in class sizes in the country and the biggest reduction in staff numbers. Those facts cannot be denied.

It is the wider impact that that is having on children’s opportunities and on their health and wellbeing that causes me the most concern. A secondary school in my constituency wants to employ more mental health staff to support the children. I recognise that schools might not have had to deal with those challenges a decade ago, but they do have to deal with them now. It is therefore incumbent on the Minister to ensure that schools are properly resourced to ensure the holistic wellbeing of the children. Only when that is in place will children be able to learn as best they can.

I will turn to my secondary schools. Archbishop Holgate’s School, for instance, will not have the capacity to teach children next year, because of the expansion of class sizes and the demands on space. South Bank Academy is also struggling for space, yet the Government have just refused to build a new school in York.

We are struggling and it is time that the Minister recognised the challenges faced by different places in the country, instead of hiding behind figures and saying, “More money is going into schools.” We recognise that they can talk about headline figures, but the money is not going to the right places. Per pupil funding is falling, which is evidenced by the statistics that we continue to churn out, and the money is not going towards building the school system that we desperately need for our children in the future.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) for securing this important debate.

The issue of general funding is beginning to sound a bit like a broken record. The Government claim to spend record amounts on education, but claiming to spend a pound more this year than last year is irrelevant, because it is meaningless in real terms. That is the basis of the debate; per pupil funding is falling in real terms. It is widely known that it has fallen by 8.8%.

The Government have succeeded in delegating the risk and responsibility entirely to schools. Warwickshire is 120th of 140 in the funding per pupil rankings and is one of the worst-off areas in the country. Although Warwickshire does not have it as tough as what my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) illustrated, it has it tough none the less, and is a member of the f40.

I do not want to dwell on other areas of education—we have recently had debates about nursery education and further education, which have also suffered severe cuts—but will illustrate some of the challenges in our primary, secondary and special needs education sectors. Just 10 days ago, I visited one of the best primary schools in Warwickshire. The headteacher just sat there frustrated, saying, “This afternoon I will have to decide how to cut £50,000 from our budget. That is a further £50,000 and I am not sure who I will have to let go.” Those are the real challenges faced by the headteachers and leadership teams across our schools.

I spoke to one of my secondary schools a couple of months ago and it said that in the past three years it has had to cut 11 full-time teachers, leading to larger class sizes. The remaining teachers have to cover their colleagues who are off sick. The school has had to make cuts in associate staff in the back office and in frontline services, such as teaching assistants.

Schools face the consequences of austerity because of cuts to wider public services. Just this week, one school said that because of the cuts to the council’s children’s services, it has closed yet another case. The responsibility to pick up the pieces of a very challenging situation will now fall to that school, bringing ever greater pressures. It had to lose its school counsellor last term. It is faced with a dilemma: does it replace that counsellor or invest in support for students with the most complex needs?

One of our fine special needs schools in south Warwick has had to lose its comfort dog, half its playground and its minibus, which it cannot afford to replace, because of the cuts that it faces. Those are some of the most vulnerable children in our society, and they are being hurt the hardest. That is just not right.

Our sixth forms have seen cuts of 24% to their budgets and a reduction in their choices. One of my sixth forms has had to close. Education is an investment not just in our young people, but in our future. It is time that we invested in them, stopped the cuts and held a review of the fair funding formula.

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this important debate. My experience in Brighton and Hove echoes the many stories that we have heard from around the country. It is quite clear that our schools are buckling under the pressure to do more with less. With their general budgets savaged by more than 8% in real terms, it is not surprising that they have to make devastating cuts.

As the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said, we have this debate time and again. The Government tell us that austerity is supposed to be over, so let us see that in our schools. Right now, our schools know that Ministers are not being straight when they say that they are spending more per pupil or in real terms; actually, less is being spent per pupil and in real terms, and any attempt to say otherwise glosses over a serious and damaging crisis.

Headteachers in Brighton write to me regularly and in desperate terms about the sleepless nights that they face because of the impact of the funding crisis on their ability to support pupils, particularly those with complex needs. The Local Government Association identified a potential £1.6 billion deficit in special needs education funding, but the Government responded with an inadequate £350 million. Headteachers say that that is obviously too little, too late.

These are the kinds of things that headteachers have said:

“We have less support staff than we need to run the school effectively and give the children the support they need”,

and

“We will have to drop our counsellor service”.

One described

“having sleepless nights trying…to make the budget work”,

and another said:

“We have already closed our nursery, reduced staffing through redundancies and not replacing those who have moved on to save money. The support we have for children with special needs is now at a basic level particularly for those who struggle socially and emotionally.”

I have many more quotes from our teachers, who are struggling so much to make ends meet. The Minister needs to listen far more closely to them.

I want to say a word about sixth-form funding. Sixth forms, too, are in a difficult position, with huge funding pressures. I have two fantastic sixth-form colleges in my constituency: BHASVIC, the Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College; and Varndean College. Funding for 16 to 18-year-olds has also been savagely cut: according to research by London Economics, in real terms, sixth-form colleges received about £1,300 less per student in 2016-17 than they did in 2010-11. That is a 22% decline in funding. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said:

“Funding per student aged 16–18 has seen the biggest squeeze of all stages of education for young people in recent years.”

At the same time, costs have risen, the needs of students have become more complex, and Government are asking more of school and colleges. The purchasing power of sixth-form funding has been hugely diminished as a result. I am sure that the Minister has seen the powerful funding impact survey by the Sixth Form Colleges Association, which makes genuinely shocking reading. It reports that 50% of schools and colleges are dropping modern foreign languages, and 34% are dropping STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects. The only way to address that funding crisis in 16-to-18 education is to raise the rate per student. I implore the Minister to do that, and to listen to the many people who say exactly the same.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this timely and important debate. I thank everyone else for contributing, including my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). To make a parochial point, at least Trafford now has a majority Labour council, under the superb leadership of Councillor Andrew Western; that will mitigate some of the pressures on schools in our borough. I also thank the hon. Members for Henley (John Howell), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), and my hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell), and for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western).

In a moment, the Minister will say that more money is going into education than ever before, but Members—not just in this Chamber, but Conservative party leadership candidates—are saying that it is not enough. The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) said that all schools should “level up”, that there should be no differentiation in funding formulas, and that school funding should be protected “in real terms”. There are no facts or figures behind that statement, but he obviously does not want the truth to get in the way of a good story on education.

The right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), a former Education Secretary, said that he wants £1 billion extra, but this Government took £5 billion out of the system. He plucked another figure out of the air, just as he threw this country’s education system up in the air in 2010 and let it shatter. We are still trying to reassemble the pieces.

The right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) said that some of that £20 billion extra going into our NHS should be used for our schools, which is robbing Peter to pay Paul. This is my favourite: the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) wants private companies to run schools for a profit—so it will not just be the NHS that is open to trade negotiations. The right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) made a spending pledge that the Minister will like: he pledged an extra £3 billion a year, in a spending spree that would go on for five years. I make that £15 billion. I can see the Minister smiling, but that gets us towards where we need to be.

We can be in no doubt that schools are in crisis. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Education Secretary have both stated in the main Chamber that every school in England will see a cash-terms increase in their funding, but that flies in the face of reality. Our schools have experienced cuts across the board. Since 2015, the Government have cut £2.7 billion from school budgets in England. Only last week, concerned parents and teachers protested in their thousands about cuts to special educational needs provision. According to research by the National Education Union, such provision in England is down by £1.2 billion, because of shortfalls in funding increases from the Government since 2015. The Government’s own data show that 4,000 children or young people with an education, health and care plan or statement were awaiting provision in January 2018. In other words, they were waiting for a place in education.

As we have heard in Members’ stories today, the cuts mean that teachers are buying essential supplies, bringing in breakfast cereals for food-hungry children, and having to source shoes, uniforms and coats for children whose parents can no longer afford to provide them. Schools are starting late or closing early to save money, and the curriculum is narrowing. There is a crisis in our schools and this Government are turning a blind eye to it. They have made a concerted effort to fudge the figures, and to deflect attention from the school funding cuts over which they have presided. Across the country, schools are having to write to parents to ask for money to buy basic resources. They need money not for little extras, but for essentials.

If funding per pupil had been maintained in value since 2015, school funding overall would be £5.1 billion higher now, so 91% of schools face real-terms cuts. People in this Chamber know all too well the impact on the ground. The average shortfall is more than £67,000 in primary school budgets, and more than £273,000 in secondary school budgets. 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 that they really need.

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It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this debate and on his excellent opening speech.

The Government are determined to create a world-class education system that offers opportunities to everyone, no matter their circumstances or where they live. That is why we are investing in our education system, to ensure that schools have the resources that they need to make that happen. The point of our investment is to help children to achieve, and I will first emphasise the significant progress we are already making towards creating a world-class education system.

Thanks in part to our reforms, the proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools has increased from 66% in 2010 to 85% in 2018. My hon. Friend cited the figures in his local area as well. In primary schools, our more rigorous curriculum—now on a par with the highest-performing ones in the world—has been taught since September 2014. Since it was first tested in 2016, the proportion of primary school pupils reaching the expected standard in the maths test has risen from 70% to 76% in 2018; and in reading, which is dear to my hon. Friend’s heart, from 66% to 75% in 2018.

In secondary schools, the more rigorous academic curriculum and qualifications support social mobility by ensuring that disadvantaged children have the same opportunities for a knowledge-rich curriculum, and the same career and life opportunities as their peers. In primary schools, the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged pupils and their peers, measured by the disadvantage gap index, has narrowed by 13.2% since 2011.

To support such improvements, the Government prioritised education funding while having to take some 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 our stewardship of the economy, which has reduced the annual deficit from an unsustainable 10% of GDP, or some £150 billion a year, to 2% by 2018. The economic stability that that has provided has resulted in employment rising to record levels and unemployment being at its lowest level since the 1970s, halving youth unemployment and giving young people leaving school more opportunities to have jobs and start their careers.

It is that balanced approach that allows us to invest in public services and education. 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 announced in 2017, which we invested across 2018-19 and 2019-20, over and above plans set out in 2015. That means that, while we do recognise the budgeting challenges that schools have faced, funding remains high by historical standards. Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that real-terms per-pupil funding for five to 16-year-olds in 2020 will be more than 50% higher than it was in 2000. However, that does not mean that we do not understand the pressures that schools face.

We are committed to direct school funding where it is needed most. This is why, since April last year, we have started to distribute funding to schools through the national funding formula. The formula is a fairer way to distribute school funding because each area’s allocation takes into account the individual needs and characteristics of its schools and pupils. That means that, as indicated by my hon. Friend, Kent’s allocation will not be the same as that of an area where pupils have a greater amount of additional needs. It is right that schools with a higher proportion of pupils with additional needs, such as those indicated by deprivation or low prior attainment, should get extra funding.

My hon. Friend cited the overall average funding per pupil in Kent compared with Greenwich. Those figures are averages and reflect overall numbers of children with additional needs in those two local authority areas. In each authority, Greenwich and Kent, a child with particular additional needs will be funded on the same basis. The only difference between the funding that the pupils will attract will be the area cost adjustment, reflecting salary costs in the two areas. That represents about £831 million in overall funding out of the £34 billion school funding total. Areas will not receive the same amount, but they receive per pupil on the same basis.

I refer my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to the schedules that show how the national funding formula is made up. Local authorities will attract the same figure for every primary school pupil in 2019-20, regardless of where they are in the country, and the same figure for secondary and key stage 4. That represents about 73% of the total funding per pupil. The remaining 27% is made up of additional needs. For example, a pupil who has qualified for free school meals in the last six years will attract £540 in primary and £785 in secondary. If that secondary school pupil is in band D of the income deprivation affecting children index, they will attract another £515. If that secondary school pupil has low prior attainment based on primary school results, they will attract an additional £1,550. If that secondary school child has English as an additional language, they will attract an additional £1,385. That applies whether that pupil lives in Sheppey, Greenwich or York. The only difference will be that those figures are multiplied by the percentage area cost adjustment.[Official Report, 15 July 2019, Vol. 663, c. 6MC.]

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 left most underfunded. This year, all schools have attracted an increase of at least 1% per pupil compared with their 2017-18 baselines and the most underfunded schools have attracted up to 6% more per pupil compared with 2017-18. A caveat to that is the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell): the local authorities will receive that on the basis of the national funding formula, but we are still using the local formula to allocate that funding to schools. That is why there is a discrepancy between the national funding formula allocations and the actual amounts allocated to the schools. At the moment, we are allowing some discretion and flexibility in the system, so that local authorities can decide how that money is allocated to local authority areas.

Under the national formula, schools in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey will attract an extra 4.8% per pupil in 2019-20 compared with 2017-18. That is what Kent will receive for schools in his constituency. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), schools will attract 2.6%. In York Central, schools will attract 5.4% more per pupil in 2019-20 compared with the baseline of 2017-18. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) mentioned Tang Hall Primary School. I add my congratulations to that school, where last year 77% of pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared with 64% nationally. They are above average in reading and well above average in writing.

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I appreciate that the Minister praises the hard work of the teachers in supporting children’s learning in that school; however, it is the 23% that I am most concerned about. That we have the largest attainment gap in the country while our funding is the lowest is of great concern.

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I am concerned about that too. I want that 64% nationally to be significantly higher. That is the drive of this Government. Since 2010, standards have been rising. I am particularly proud of what we have achieved in reading in primary schools. Our nine-year-olds have achieved their highest ever score in the progress in international reading literacy study test—we rose from joint 10th to joint eighth between 2011 and 2016. I hope that, in the long term, that will address the real concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey.

My hon. Friend raised the issue of capital funding. Government funding for school places is based on local authorities’ own data; we fund the places that they report are needed. Local authorities can use that grant funding to provide places in new schools or through expansions of existing schools, and can work with any school in their local area in doing so. Kent has been allocated £328 million to provide new school places between 2011 and 2021. It is for Kent County Council to decide how to allocate that capital. Nationally, the Government have already committed £7 billion to create new school places between 2015 and 2021, which is on top of investment in the free schools programme. We are on track to create 1 million more school places this decade—the largest increase in school capacity in at least two generations.

As important as the funding that schools receive is how they spend those resources. It is essential that we do all that we can to help schools to make the most of every pound. That is why we have set out a strategy to support schools to make savings on the more than £10 billion they spend each year on non-staffing costs. That strategy provides schools with practical advice on how to identify potential savings, including deals to buy energy, computers and so on.

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Order. I am afraid we have run out of time; this is the equivalent of the school bell having rung. The Minister may want to send his remarks to the Members present. I call Gordon Henderson to give his closing remarks.

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Thank you, Mr Hollobone. I intend to be brief, so the Minister could probably have finished his speech. I would like to thank all the Members who have taken the trouble to come along to the debate. Westminster Hall debates are often difficult if only the Minister is present. I am delighted that more people have shown an interest.

I thank the Minister for his response. He gave us a lot of statistics—I refer to my opening speech, in which I talked about lies, damned lies and statistics—and I will read Hansard with great interest to take them in more fully. I do not think there is anything he could have said or did say that will convince me that it is right that a secondary school in Greenwich should get so much more—£1,700 more—on average than secondary schools in my constituency.

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I failed to mention that, in addition to the funding formula, there is a transition—a minimum floor standard whereby we protect schools that would have received less under the formula. That will be another reason for the discrepancy between Greenwich and my hon. Friend’s constituency.

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I appreciate that, and I hope that my schools will feel the benefit. I would be very surprised if they are as grateful as some might expect them to be. I reiterate that education is the most important gift that we can give people. Sadly, historically, too many people living in my constituency—I am talking about people in their 40s, 50s and 60s—are still unable to read the language of their nation. I think it is shameful that we are not able to find a way through our education system to enable those people to write and read the English language.

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).