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School Budgets

Volume 662: debated on Monday 24 June 2019

Congratulations on your 10 years in office, Mr Speaker.

We are spending £43.5 billion on schools this year, but we recognise the budgeting challenges that schools face and will continue to listen to teachers, to help us to inform decisions about future funding. As we prepare for the spending review, the Government are determined to ensure that schools have the resources they need to deliver high-quality education and that our reforms continue to drive up education standards.

I thank the Minister for meeting me and local headteachers from my Enfield, Southgate constituency last week. I know that he gets the problems with school funding, but I do not believe that the Chancellor does. Will the Minister join me in demanding more funding for schools from the Chancellor?

It was a real pleasure to meet all the headteachers to whom the hon. Gentleman introduced me on Wednesday, including Kate Baptiste, the headteacher at St Monica’s Primary School, where 78% of pupils achieve at least the expected standard in reading, writing and maths. That is way above the national average of 64%. In fact, all the headteachers were from schools with high standards. We had a constructive discussion about the challenges that those heads face in respect of school funding, and we will take all those challenges on board, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, as we prepare for the spending review and our discussions with the Treasury.

The funding crisis for schools in Bath is getting worse and worse. For example, one school has not employed a new teaching assistant in three years and another has only one teaching assistant for every 102 pupils. Only two weeks ago, teachers and parents went on a huge march in Bath to express their alarm about the threat to their children’s education. What can the Minister say to them?

The hon. Lady will be aware that schools in her Bath constituency have attracted 6.3% more funding per pupil this year, compared with 2017-18. There are now 10,000 more teachers in our system and 40,000 more teaching assistants are employed today, compared with 2010. As I said to the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), we will make the strongest possible case to secure the right deal for education in the spending review.

In March, I surveyed Nottingham South schools about the effects of funding cuts, and their responses were frankly disturbing. They revealed concerns not only about their inability to buy books and equipment but about pupils being unable to attend school full time because a lack of special educational needs provision. One headteacher even told me that their school may have to close the hall and dining room because it cannot afford to undertake the urgent repairs that are needed. Will the Minister tell parents in my constituency what he is doing to secure extra funding for Nottingham schools in the forthcoming spending review?

The hon. Lady will be aware that, since 2017, every local authority has been given more money for every five to 16-year-old pupil in every school, with the biggest increases being allocated to schools that have been most underfunded. As for special educational needs funding, that has increased from £5 billion a year in 2013 to £6.3 billion this year, but as I have said to other hon. Members we will be making a strong case to the Treasury as part of the spending review process.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the report by the Children’s Commissioner and the Institute for Fiscal Studies stating that education spending per pupil at primary schools is up 80% under this Government? Across my constituency, schools are receiving a very welcome above national average uplift in funding, including schools in my most deprived areas, which will go to support pupils of all abilities to perform better and close the gap between them and their peers?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to her for her interest and passion for educational standards in her constituency. She will be aware that, compared with 2017-18, per pupil funding in Medway is going up by 3.4% and in Kent by 6%. On top of the national funding formula, Medway will receive £12 million and Kent £57.7 million in pupil premium funding.

I add my congratulations to you, Mr Speaker. I hope that you get your testimonial.

Broad Oak School in my constituency is under threat of closure. It is heavily dependent on its pupil ratio, but the number of pupils it has is down by about 60%. The wider area is down by 20%. What more can the Department do to encourage local authorities to make sure that we build the homes in the areas where we have falling rolls at schools?

Of course, we have a presumption against the closure of small rural schools. Closing a school is a very difficult decision to take, but my hon. Friend is right. This is a Government who are committed to ensuring that young people can get on to the housing ladder and, because we have a strong economy and a determination to build those houses, we hope that young people will have the homes that they need.

The Minister knows very well that, while I broadly welcome the increase in funding in Wiltshire, schools that are funded under the private finance initiative have particular difficulties. Abbeyfield in my constituency has historic debt and therefore cannot become an academy. Royal Wootton Bassett has had a very big cut in its budget overall, and Malmesbury has some detailed problems with regard to IT under the PFI contract. If I were to convene such a thing, would the Minister agree to meet with the three heads from the three secondary schools I have mentioned, either here or, even better, in Wiltshire?

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the headteachers of the schools concerned. We do specifically, in most cases, fund PFI costs that relate to schools through the national funding formula, but I do understand the pressures and problems that PFI can cause during the process of academy conversion. Our officials are becoming increasingly experienced at handling those challenges, but I will meet my hon. Friend with those headteachers.

The Minister talks about the funding going into schools, but the fact that he admits that those schools have increased costs shows that there are real-terms cuts to those schools. Members across the House have told him that many times, and he would be advised to take that on board. Let me see whether he will be more open about another report, which suggests that the national funding formula will be delayed by the Treasury in order to reserve money for a no-deal contingency fund. Can he give us any guarantee today on the timetable for that much-needed formula?

We are having discussions across Government on these issues of school funding and as we lead up to the spending review. We understand the need for schools to have clarity about their level of school funding and we are committed to the national funding formula, which is a much fairer way of distributing funding to our schools.

I am not sure we are any wiser about the outgoing Prime Minister’s plans, so let me turn to the future. The leading candidate—the blond one, not the bland one—promises minimum funding of £5,000 per pupil, but can the Minister confirm that this is under £50 million a year, an increase of just 0.1% in the total schools budget? Does he accept that this amount is less than the increase promised in his party’s manifesto, less than the amount that the outgoing Prime Minister apparently accepts is needed and, I hope, less than the amount that he will ask for at the spending review?

It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specific proposals of the contenders, although I am very pleased that all the contenders in the leadership contest have made education a focus of their platforms. We are committed to ensuring that schools are properly funded, and that work is happening now as we prepare for the spending review.