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School Funding: East Anglia

Volume 664: debated on Tuesday 3 September 2019

[Mike Gapes in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered school funding in East Anglia.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. We are here to talk a little about why the £14 billion package of schools funding promised by the new Government is too little and too late for schools in my constituency and across East Anglia.

My constituency boasts many very good, often outstanding schools run by hard-working headteachers, teachers and support staff, but school funding has fallen by 8% in real terms since 2015. The workforce has been cut systematically year on year because funding has not been available to replace valuable staff members who retire or move on. That has resulted in bigger classes, teachers teaching out of specialism, and a fundamental reduction in the quality of the service schools can provide to both children and parents.

Nine out of 10 schools have suffered Government cuts to per-pupil funding since 2015, and a parliamentary petition calling for increased funding for schools received more than 113,000 signatures. In response, the Government stated simply that they recognised that schools faced “budgeting challenges” and were

“asking them to do more.”

That has been taken more literally than any of us could have predicted, with schools asking parents to donate hundreds of pounds a year to buy textbooks and equipment and to repair leaking buildings.

Only last week, a school in my constituency made a plea to parents and guardians to come in during the holidays to prepare the grounds for the school term because it could not afford a caretaker. The headteacher said contractors would usually work over the summer but this year there was no room in the budget to cover the expense. Thanks to the good will of those already hard-working parents, the repairs will be done in time and the school will be safe and ready to welcome its pupils. However, schools across my constituency and the whole of East Anglia have had to go cap in hand to parents and carers, begging for help to cover basic supplies, when they should be focusing their energies on providing the best possible education.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this timely and important debate. He and I have been working with Educate Norfolk and Norfolk heads over the past year or so. When we asked them what funding increases would make a significant difference, they came up with the sorts of figures the Government have just announced. I appreciate there is a long lead-in time, but does he agree that that is at least a welcome start to restoring funding levels?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for being supportive of the debate and for the work he has done with me and local headteachers. That money is welcome, but it is not enough. I will come on to the details of that. I agree that any increase is welcome, but we need to ensure that it is the right increase.

Does my hon. Friend agree—he probably does not—that although Norfolk faces a difficult situation, the situation in Cambridgeshire is even worse? Tony Davies, the headteacher of St Matthew’s Primary School, tells us that the school will run out of money at the end of this year so it, too, is seeking contributions from parents. How is it that fantastically successful schools are literally running out of money?

I thank my hon. Friend for his input. We have to accept that our schools are running out of money for the same reason that our public services are underfunded: because of a damaging political choice. I will come on to that, but let me add that one of the reasons I sought the debate was that, as I understood it, every school in Norfolk was potentially going to put in a cost-overrun budget—an illegal budget—because of the funding shortfall. That is happening across the eastern region, and definitely across Norfolk.

Only last week, a local trust in Norfolk announced that it had had to cut 35% of its teaching assistants. That means the ratio of children to staff is bigger, creating myriad potential risks and increasing exponentially the lost learning time for children who need extra help in the classroom.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest problems we have with underfunding in education, certainly in Suffolk, is that there are not enough facilities and not enough staff to cope with children with special educational needs, especially attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? Some children receive no more than one hour’s education a day and are losing all their self-respect. We are storing up problems for the future in those cases.

I will address that in detail shortly, but there is indeed a crisis in special educational needs teaching.

Every parent and teacher knows how vital teaching assistants are to aiding our young people’s learning, yet a briefing meant only for Ministers and officials at the Department for Education, which was leaked last week, was clear that the Government still intend to slash the number of teaching assistants. The briefing stated:

“We recommend we continue to push No 10 not to include this publicly.”

Can the Minister tell us whether that is true? If it is, why do the Government not recognise the value of support staff in helping our children to learn and thrive?

Headteachers across the country have not been able to balance the books. It is no wonder they have had to make cuts: the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that if it were not for the sudden promise of new funding, school funding would have been £1.7 billion lower in real terms in 2020 than in 2015. The newly promised figure is not additional funding; it is to plug a hole that appeared due to the fact that total school spending per pupil fell by 8% in real terms in 2017-18. Even if headteachers trust the Government’s motives, that funding will go only a small way towards repairing the damage caused by years of continued cuts. In the face of such damning statistics, will the Government concede that the past nine years of austerity—a political choice by consecutive Conservative Governments—have crippled our schools?

The alleged new money for schools announced this week is something of a confession in itself. I happily acknowledge that that money—£14 billion over three years from 2020—is a significant and welcome change of direction. Finally, we can stop listening to Ministers continually claiming that schools have more funding than ever before. The centrepiece of the announcement was a one-off £2.8 billion cash injection, but I am sorry to say that that does not even come close to reversing the cuts made by the Conservatives over the course of this decade. The Institute for Fiscal Studies believes that to do that, £3.8 billion would need to be shared out among schools across the country every year.

This is where things seem to get even more controversial. Sadly, following the analysis in The Sunday Times this weekend, I am forced to question whether any schools in my constituency will receive any increase in funding at all. The supposed cash boost is nothing more than an election bribe, with the overwhelming majority to be spent on grammar schools and schools in Conservative MPs’ constituencies, helping the party target marginal seats as we build up to an almost inevitable general election in the coming weeks, months or perhaps even days.

Do the Government really believe that this is how our children’s future should be decided? Is this really the best way to educate the next generation and close the gap between rich and poor? From where I am standing, it simply plays into the same old Conservative rhetoric that sees inequality increase year on year. This is not sorting out our schools crisis; it is neutralising an electoral image problem. It is retrofitting policy to suit the polling objectives. Most of all, it is feigning concern while failing children.

Over this decade of cuts, our classrooms have been turned into the new frontline of the welfare state, with staff filling in for councils in financial collapse and for parents in precarious jobs or inadequate housing. Any serious attempt to fix our schools must be combined with money to rebuild our public services and our welfare state. I am afraid that the new Government do not seem interested in that.

To put the situation in perspective, a headteacher from my constituency recently told me that on top of the inescapable loss of teaching staff due to budget cuts, the school has had to cut back on support for students, reducing or removing core support in the form of counselling, behaviour support and mental health support. That, alongside the significant cuts to external support services such as child and adolescent mental health services, social services and special school support, has been disastrous for many vulnerable students in my constituency who have nowhere to turn for help. That, somewhat inevitably, has resulted in an increase in the number of permanent exclusions that schools have had to make, a pattern sadly replicated across the UK, leaving both students and parents desperate and with nowhere to turn.

Consider also the renewed focus of the new Government on headteachers being encouraged to use “reasonable force” on misbehaving students. Education officials caution that such a policy will

“impact disproportionately on children in need of a social worker, children with special needs and...Black Caribbean Boys”.

In other words, as summarised by The Guardian,

“it will be state-led discrimination against minority groups. Ensuring that more kids are excluded will simply feed them into pupil referral units or lead to them getting schooled by gangs.”

So much so that police and crime commissioners worry about rates of exclusion driving knife crime even higher. I would say, “Don’t worry—the Home Office has a plan: anti-knife crime advertising on fried chicken boxes,” but we will not go into that. Is this really the big society that the Government want to create? Does the Minister really believe that these devastating cuts and archaic forms of punishment will impact positively on our children?

The Prime Minister recently stated that there should be no winners or losers when it comes to our children’s futures, but I find it hard to see how the decimation of state school funding and the services it pays for helps to level the playing field between students educated in our state schools and those who can afford to be educated at elite private schools such as Eton and Harrow.

I turn to an issue of huge local importance. The funding crisis in East Anglia has had huge knock-on implications for our children with special educational needs. In Norfolk alone, there are 21,000 children with special educational needs and disabilities. Of those, 15,000 children with SEND are in mainstream schools and only 6,000 have an education health and care plan. Only 1,000 referrals for EHCPs are received by Norfolk County Council each year, and 150 children with SEND are still waiting for a special school place. Nationally, that figure is 8,500, and only 3% of children in England have SEND statements or EHCPs.

I recently met a group of parents who have been severely affected by the lack of provision for their children. I have constituents whose children, despite having EHCPs that clearly state that they cannot cope with mainstream schools, still cannot be provided with places in specialised schools. Staff cuts in mainstream schools have had a significant impact on all pupils but particularly those with SEND. The cuts have seen a reduction in specialist teaching assistants, counsellors and speech and language therapists, all of whom pupils with special educational needs and disabilities rely on for their needs to be properly met.

I also know of children who have been forced to stay at home due to lack of staff and spaces in specialised settings, meaning that they are effectively excluded through no fault of their own. There is nowhere else they can go, and the impact on their families is catastrophic: parents have to give up work and livelihoods are lost. Sometimes, even homes are lost and marriages fail.

Specialised schools provide invaluable support and education that these children are legally entitled to, but, without sufficient money from central Government—I assure the Minister that the £700 million announced for SEND children is not sufficient—they cannot get that, and there is nothing that parents or teachers can do. More parents are taking Norfolk County Council to tribunal over SEND provisions, and winning, because they are right: their children are not getting the education they have a right to as set out in legislation. Does the Minister accept that unless there is a significant increase in high-needs funding, the Government will fail to deliver on the reforms they introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014? These devastating cuts have, to quote my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), brought services for children with special educational needs and disabilities to a “dangerous tipping point”.

Last year, I met headteachers at the Educate Norfolk annual conference, and some of the statistics they gave me were staggering. Eighty-two of our schools have reported that they have cut their support staff budgets and 39 had to reduce SEN support for no reason other than funding. In real terms, that means teachers having to administer medicines to children with medical needs and perform other tasks usually carried out by support staff. Can the Minister answer how those same staff can also adequately support children with special educational needs?

It is not just about provision for SEN. Overall, changes to the benefit system have resulted in a reduction in the number of households eligible for free school meals. That, in turn, reduces the amount of pupil premium funding that a school receives. Increases in staffing costs from increased national insurance and pension contributions and pay increases, which are not fully funded by central Government beyond 2020, come out of school budgets. That will get worse, with staff having to work longer and retire later.

This is completely unsustainable. We need a better strategy, based on inclusivity—not a theoretical idea of inclusivity—that ensures that there is more SEND training for teachers and non-teaching staff, so that staff, children and parents are properly supported. Labour pledges to deliver a strategy for children with special educational needs and disabilities, putting more money into those services while working more strategically with schools and SEND providers. We want to introduce a fairer funding formula that leaves no school worse off.

The years that children spend at school should not just be time that they must get through. They should be a wonderful time of learning. We know so much more about the psychology of childhood and what makes children thrive in education. That must apply to all children so that they can leave full-time education with a real chance in life, not a chance restricted by Government cuts. Joint general-secretary of the National Education Union, Mary Bousted, said:

“Teachers know that their working lives would be more fulfilling and less conflicted if fewer of the children and young people they teach were not themselves suffering from the devastating effects of increasing child poverty caused by…deliberate policies.”

In 2015, I campaigned against the academisation of some of our Norfolk schools, which is yet another example of the mismanagement and greed of the Government, with reports of headteachers and executives being paid five-figure sums. Money is floating to the top, with schools left in deficit, and spending on buildings and learning resources is being cut. Similarly, free schools, aimed at the middle classes, and which the Government want more of, are diverting money from existing state schools and are being run like private companies.

I think the hon. Gentleman misspoke—at least, I hope he did. Will he confirm that since £10,000 is a five-figure sum, he meant to say “six-figure sums”?

Yes. As ever, the hon. Gentleman has spotted a small mistake, and I am glad that he rectified it. Maths was never my strong point; I have always been a history man myself. I now see what he was sniggering about earlier—[Laughter.]

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is also a problem in Norfolk with some schools that went into major building programmes under PPI? We heard at one school that we visited in Taverham that after 6.30 pm the school does not belong to the teachers and that they cannot have outside events there because it is in the hands of PPI managers.

I might get my figures wrong, but I get my acronyms right. I think we are talking about the private finance initiative. I was with the hon. Gentleman at a fantastic school in Taverham where the PFI contract stated that its vast resources, including the gym and the swimming pool, could not be used by the local community. Once the school gates were locked, that fantastic resource could not be used by the rest of the community. Given that taxpayers’ money from that community is paying for that school, that is a complete outrage and I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

In 2017, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith) won her seat as a result of a campaign based on school funding, not Brexit. That was the issue her constituents were up in arms about because it was their children, jobs and livelihoods at stake. The Prime Minster is in trouble on schools, and he knows it. When, last week, the Government announced that they would be providing £14 billion in one-off funding between now and 2022, headteachers responded by saying it was not enough. As I said earlier, we will continue to need an extra £3.8 billion every year to keep our schools afloat and £12.6 billion to reverse the effects of austerity altogether, not a one-off pre-election bribe.

The National Education Union says that headteachers are unlikely to

“trust the motives, or the professed support, of ministers who have, time after time, voted through measures that have made families poorer. Teachers deal every day with the effects of increased child poverty in children’s inattention and distress and know that it is these causes that need to be addressed if pupils are to behave better and achieve more in schools.”

The Government need to stop their panicky pre-election promises to increase school finances and give schools the funding they need, when they need it, not because there is a general election looming. A whole generation of young people have already been failed because of cuts to education funding, and simply announcing a specialist academy trust in the north of England does not count as trialling a new approach. We have already been there and done that; it did not work.

Here is a suggestion: rather than prorogue Parliament to get a no-deal Brexit through, let us ensure that that does not happen, save the £2.1 billion it is said that we will spend in the event of a no-deal Brexit and spend that on education. We can put that hard-earned taxpayer money towards keeping our schools open and our school buildings safe and maintained, and giving our children the education and the childhood that they deserve.

Before the hon. Gentleman goes further, I should have said that the question is that this House has considered school funding in East Anglia.

Thank you, Mr Gapes. I made exactly the same mistake when I was chairing in here the other day, so I have every sympathy.

Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich South. He and I have worked closely on this agenda. We may differ in our outlook on various matters concerning education, but we have a shared sense of complete and utter respect for the teaching profession in Norfolk, and for the hard-working headteachers and teachers in schools across the county; they have an incredibly important task.

This debate is timely because, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, we have had an ongoing dialogue with Educate Norfolk, which is a group of secondary and primary headteachers. Those meetings have been excellent and have given MPs first-class briefings on most aspects of schooling in Norfolk. As my colleagues from Norfolk and elsewhere in East Anglia will know, one of Educate Norfolk’s consistent demands was for more funding—not just in penny packets, but as a significant uplift in school funding.

I slightly disagree with the hon. Member for Norwich South on this point. We have a new Prime Minister who has a new agenda and has his priorities, and he has made it clear that school funding is one of those priorities.

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis). Would he agree with me that to say that the new Prime Minister is in trouble on schools is an exaggeration at the very least, if not a distorted caricature? With other Norfolk MP colleagues, I have attended meetings with the excellent headteachers at Educate Norfolk. They were making a careful and balanced case for more funding, which was well explained. The Government have responded by giving the education budget more or less what they asked for.

There is a lot of truth in what my hon. Friend says: Educate Norfolk asked for a significant real-terms increase. I made a note at the time that one of the figures they pointed out was that the schools budget in 2017-18—that is two financial years ago—was £41 billion. They felt that over the next four financial years it should go up by at least £10 billion. As we know, under the announcement made a few days ago, the increase will be £2.6 billion next financial year, £4.8 billion the following year and £7.1 billion in 2022-23. That brings the schools budget up to £52.2 billion in 2022-23; the Minister may correct me on this, but I think I am right. That is not just some increase in the future; it is an increase next year and the following year. It is extremely significant given the context that we still have a budget deficit and a national debt, which will carry on going up in actual if not real terms.

We all agree that any money is welcome, but it is not right to say that our schools can wait for one, two or three years. There is a school in south Cambridgeshire—admittedly not in my constituency, but that of the hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer)—that now has to close on one day a week; it cannot open its doors every day any more. Accepting that money will not flow so freely—particularly if we have a no-deal Brexit; we all know we will be short of cash then—is it appropriate for the Minister to look at an interim solution? For example, did the hon. Gentleman know that schools across the UK are sitting on surplus reserves of £1.7 billion? To balance the deficit between schools that are underfunded, in counties such as mine, and where they should be, we need £223 million; that figure is more than covered. Would the hon. Gentleman accept that perhaps that is an interim solution, while we are waiting for the money to flow through?

The devil will be in the detail, but it is incredibly important to get the money flowing quickly. The Minister can look at that, but, as I understand it, this is new money coming into the Department. It will mean that every school will get a real-terms funding rise next year, and hopefully that will have a significant impact on our schools. Secondary schools will receive an increased minimum of £5,000 per pupil and primary schools will get the minimum of £3,750, going up to £4,000 per pupil in 2021-22. There will also be an extra £700 million for special educational needs and disabilities. It is significant and I welcome it.

I also welcome the announcement made by both the Education Secretary and the Chancellor regarding teachers’ pensions. As the hon. Member for Norwich South pointed out, having high morale in the profession is crucial in terms of retention, managing mental health, the welfare of teachers and making sure we get the absolute best out of all our pupils.

I welcome the announcement on pensions and the pledge to meet the £4.5 billion requirement from outside the education budget; maybe the Minister can clarify that. I look forward to hearing what he says about this, as my understanding is that it will not impact on the extra money for schools. The employer contribution of 23.6% will be on top of the salary, which will ensure that the scheme is fully funded. One can link that to teachers’ pay, which again is crucial to morale and retention.

I agree with a lot of what the hon. Member for Norwich South said, but I hope that many of his concerns and the examples he gave will soon be historical, because they will be overtaken by the new funding that will become available. It is important that teachers are well rewarded. A starting salary of £30,000 by 2022-23 will help to make teaching salaries among the most competitive in the graduate labour market.

I have a specific question for the Minister: in July, he announced that teachers would have a 2.75% pay increase, but that his Department would only fund it to the tune of 0.75%. The understanding was that schools would have to pick up the rest. Can he clarify the situation? Obviously, we do not want school budgets to have to in any way subsidise the increase in teachers’ pay. I very much hope that the announcement made last week will cover that key point.

As I mentioned, the devil will mostly be in the detail. How quickly will the funding reach the schools? I am optimistic, on the basis of what the Minister has said in his interviews; I congratulate him on his performances in the media over the past week or so. He has been very clear and upbeat about this, and very passionate as well, because this funding will enable him to move forward in some of the key areas of priority within his portfolio.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the majority—more than half—of the promised money will be paid after the next general election, even if the next general election takes place at the latest possible time, and so this is a promise of money that the current Government have no way of controlling?

I will just say to the hon. Gentleman that, yes, it is not all coming in one go, but there will be a £2.6 billion increase next year in 2020-21 and, if this Parliament goes its full five years, in 2021-22 it will be £4.8 billion and then up to £7.1 billion.

This is new, real money, now. It is incredibly important that we recognise that point. We can argue that it will not be enough, but I have also heard hon. Members talking about social care, the health service, the A47 and other priorities. It is a question of balancing priorities, and I am pleased that this Prime Minister has recognised that schooling and our young children are a key priority.

I suppose the question I have is: what on earth are my schools supposed to do now? Compared with, for example, a Westminster school, we get roughly £1,600 less per head per year, £400 less than the average across the UK. What on earth are we supposed to do now?

What I would say to the hon. Lady is very simple: the fairer funding for schools formula did indeed discriminate against a lot of small schools. I will come on to that in a moment, because what we need to know is whether the small schools in my constituency, in her constituency and in the constituencies of my right hon. and hon. Friends will see significant benefits. I would suggest, on the figures being put out by the Department, that that definitely will be the case. It is exactly what different teaching groups have been asking for.

I would also like the Minister to comment on one announcement that he made, which is relevant to the small schools that the hon. Lady has mentioned: the £700 million extra for special educational needs and disabilities, the so-called SEND pupils. There is a shortage of special educational needs co-ordinators in Norfolk and a significant lead-in time to get more in place. How quickly does the Minister think this extra money will be available? What impact will it make, and when will it make that impact?

I also ask the Minister another question about small schools, because we have in Norfolk—as I am sure we also do in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and other counties in the country—the sparsity factor, which is designed to assist very small rural schools in areas that are sparsely populated. In my constituency, I have a number of federations of small schools, which have been a great innovation, because they can leverage their success and capabilities in different areas and put extra resources into individual schools when they need it. Working together in a federation is often a really good way of going forward, rather than closing a small school. However, we have a situation in which some small schools in a federation get the sparsity factor money, but schools nearby, in next-door villages, do not. I have never yet heard a satisfactory explanation of why.

My hon. Friend makes some good points on the challenges faced by smaller rural schools, particularly on special educational needs. I am sure that we all welcome the extra £700 million being put into special educational needs funding nationally, but it is important that that money gets to the frontline and to pupils. Does he agree that it is important that there is a mechanism in place to ensure that county councils such as Suffolk give that money rapidly to schools that need it, and to ensure that there is no delay in allowing those schools to recruit the extra number of SENCOs that they need to recruit?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Maybe the Minister can comment on how quickly we can get those extra SENCOs in place and what extra support there will be for their training.

Like the hon. Member for Norwich South, I have come across many schools around my constituency that are extremely concerned about the problems and challenges they have faced. Quite a few of the extra financial challenges have been on the back of Government-imposed costs—for example, the teachers’ pay increase awards in 2017 and 2018, which had to be partly funded by schools, the apprenticeship levy imposition and additional human resources, pension and rural bus costs. Hopefully, many of those costs will now be taken on board by the Department and therefore not imposed directly on schools. Can the Minister also confirm that?

We hear from dedicated headteachers—I have heard from many in my constituency—who have had to make savings by, for example, increasing class sizes, reducing teaching hours, cutting pastoral support, asking parents to contribute to the running costs of their children’s school and so on. No teacher should have to face that type of challenge. I am confident that this funding, which we should not be churlish about, will really make a fundamental difference, so I thank the Minister for that and look forward to his comments.

Finally, I was going to say something about further education colleges, but I think that that is a story and a subject for another day. I will say something about mental health in schools, because there is a real issue with both teachers’ and pupils’ mental health. This has been a recurring theme in the meetings we have had with Educate Norfolk. A number of headteachers have said to me that even though the Government talk quite a positive story about helping teachers with mental health, not a great deal actually happens. For example, there is no Government data on mental health problems among teachers, or indeed among pupils.

I ask the Minister whether, when he moves forward with the teacher recruitment and retention strategy, there will be specific measures in that strategy to help teachers with mental health. As far as pupils are concerned, does he agree that every single school should have a lead individual who can give mental health support? Can he tell the House what percentage of schools, both secondary and primary, have a lead person in place to handle this important matter?

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for making this announcement. We should recognise it as not a penny-packet sum, nor a sum that is way out into the blue sky in the distance, but a sum of money that will be available next year, the following year and the year after that, and that, if properly spent—and if the framework around it, addressing some of the issues that I have flagged up, is got right—can make a fundamental difference, both to the schools across our constituencies and, above all, to the future of those children in the schools.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) on securing this debate.

East Anglian schools have had a raw funding deal for many years. The Government’s announcement last week of an additional £14 billion for schools nationally provides an opportunity to put right that unfairness, which so wrongly penalises pupils in Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. It is important that that money is spent wisely, in a pinpointed and targeted way, and that priority is given to underfunded areas such as East Anglia. To be fair, the Government do recognise the latter need.

Time is short, so from a Waveney and Suffolk perspective I shall briefly highlight the four issues that I believe need to be addressed. First, the national funding formula needs to be made fairer, simpler and more transparent. Suffolk is a member of f40, a group of education authorities that receive the lowest per-pupil funding settlements. At present, the formula does not give enough basic entitlement to schools and allows too much for add-ons, resulting in big funding differences between different local authorities and schools across the country. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that, as local authorities have faced ever tighter budgets, schools have been asked to take on more and more work traditionally undertaken by others, including youth work and parental and mental health support, as we have heard.

Secondly, it is also necessary to ensure that pre-school early years funding gets through to those organisations and groups—often from the private and voluntary sectors—that do great work in deprived areas where there are gaps in the provision of primary schools. A good example is Little Buddies in Lowestoft, which has suffered significant funding cuts at the same time as incurring additional costs. We have heard about the pension scheme costs, and it is important to welcome the Government’s announcement that the £4.5 billion required for teachers’ pensions will be met from outside the Education budget. I urge the Government to work with local education authorities and, through them, with pre-schools such as Little Buddies, to ensure that they receive a fair share of the additional funding now being made available.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about early years funding—which is notoriously complex, it is fair to say. I am not sure about the pattern in Waveney, but certainly my area has some fantastic maintained local nursery schools, which incur additional costs and have been under considerable financial pressure. Does he agree that it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that this additional funding will flow through to those excellent maintained nursery schools?

The hon. Gentleman’s point is well made. A lot of the problem is that, although the Government announced the additional funding for early years two or three years ago, the money is not getting through to several establishments, such as Little Buddies and the Rainbow Day Nursery in the Harbour ward in Lowestoft. We had meetings with the then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), and the county council, and we had a lot of difficulty working out where the problem arose and why the money was not getting through to those schools. The urge for simplicity and transparency in how this money is spent is very important.

The third point, as we have heard from a number of Members, is about special educational needs. This is a problem throughout the whole country, but I sense that it is a real problem in Suffolk. The county faces—I will not call it a perfect storm; that sounds awful—an imperfect storm of factors that create a real problem in SEN provision in Suffolk. The first is obviously rising demand: there is a yearly doubling of requests for education, health and care needs assessments. Secondly, complexity of need is rising, particularly for children with autism. Thirdly, the council receives historically low levels of funding for high-needs learners, compared with other local authorities.

A lot of the problem is caused by funding for specialist placements coming from the dedicated schools grant. As Suffolk is an f40 authority, its overall funding for schools is lower, and therefore its funding for higher-needs learners is also that much lower.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept a fourth point from me: the local authority’s lack of any ability to make coherent plans, because of the undermining of its ability to plan across the entire county?

The hon. Gentleman is right. I was coming on to my fourth point, which might broadly coincide with his. An historical issue in Suffolk, probably for the best part of 20 years, is the low number of special schools and special unit places in the county itself, meaning that Suffolk has to buy more places—both in the independent sector and out of area—at enormous cost. This problem needs to be put right. It has happened over a number of years and, I suspect, over a number of different administrations running Suffolk County Council. It will not be put right overnight. To be fair, the council recognises the problem, but I sense that it will be with us for a few years to come.

The fifth point, as touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham), is about the need to ensure that sixth forms and further education colleges are properly funded. The 16-to-19 age group has been overlooked in recent years. In a town such as Lowestoft, it is important that funding for this group is put on a financially secure and long-term footing.

Colleges and sixth forms provide an important bridge from the classroom to universities and the workplace. In a coastal town such as Lowestoft, where there has been long-term economic decline, these schools, sixth forms and colleges are the cornerstone on which we can rebuild the local economy and give young people the opportunity to realise their full potential and, in doing so, to increase social mobility. The additional funding that the Government provided for sixth forms and colleges is a welcome step in the right direction, but at £200 per student, it falls short of the minimum £760 per student sought by the Sixth Form Colleges Association in its “Raise the Rate” campaign.

As we know, a lot is going on at present, but whatever the outcome of Brexit, nothing is more important than investment in the next generation. The Government have recognised this with the extra funding provided. They now need to work with schools, the regional education commissioner and the local education authorities to ensure that this money is spent prudently and properly on tackling the unfairness that has built up in East Anglia over many years.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. Unfortunately, this is not a forum where we can indulge in our usual conversation about football. However, I will try to introduce some elements.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) on securing this important debate on funding. Straight out of the gate, I join him in saying that we should all praise teachers and hard-working staff, which we sometimes forget to do in our debates. I wish the best of luck to all schools, many of which went back to work yesterday or today. He mentioned his love of history, but not so much his love of mathematics. He said that austerity had been going on for nine years, but I have to pick him up on that. Actually, school budgets were protected under the coalition Government until 2015, so the slashing and burning of budgets that we have seen has happened in only four years, not nine. That is why it has had such a huge impact.

My hon. Friend also raised the hugely important issue of off-rolling across our country. We know that this has significantly led to gang violence, county lines and, yes, the rise of horrific knife crimes under this Administration’s watch. We know that, in 2016-17, nearly 10,000 children were off-rolled by schools in our nation, and the Government did not know where those children went on to. That is a disgrace in this day and age.

I have to say that it is a joy to see the Minister, my opposite number, in his place. He has survived more regime changes, and now a change to a minority regime after the events of today, than you could shake a stick at. He must be the little-known fourth member and brother who, along with Barry, Robin and Maurice, made up the Bee Gees. The Minister’s motto, which he sings in the bath every evening, is “Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive”. I want to know whether his superhuman power of being Minister for six years, under so many regimes, comes with tights and a cape, and will he confirm that he does wear his pants on the inside of his trousers?

I loved the Augustinian notion that the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) came up with about the world as it was and the world as it should be, but all we know is the world as it is currently. Let’s just go around the counties, shall we? I have figures for Norwich school cuts between 2015 and 2019. I will be giving my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South statistics that he already knows. Tuckswood Academy?

It lost £432 per pupil and £282,000 out of its budget in that period. Bignold Primary School?

It had a £516 loss per pupil and is £430,000 down on where it should be. Clover Hill infant school had a £757 loss per pupil; it is £276,000 out of pocket. But let us go around the Chamber. Let us look at the East Anglia county average—the loss between 2015 and 2019. In Norfolk, there was £279 less per pupil. It has lost £66.6 million-worth of spending power in the last four years. Suffolk—let us go there. It had a £178 loss per pupil. It has £40.3 million less spending power since 2015. Let us go a little further south, to Essex. It is £257 down per pupil. In Essex, £134.4 million has been taken out of school budgets since 2015.

We can be in no doubt, after all that we have heard again today, about the impact that this Government’s continued austerity in our schools is having across East Anglia and the whole country. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer, the new Secretary of State for Education and the long-standing—as I have pointed out—Minister for School Standards have announced over the last few days more funding for schools and teachers. Unless or until we see that new money and the magic money tree that it is coming from, we can only assume that it is business as usual for this regime.

I hope that my hon. Friend is coming to Cambridgeshire. If he is, I can tell him that the figure is £208 per pupil and £45 million overall.

I was pleased to be at the Bury-Cambridge game last year. What a sad indictment it is that Bury has now left the Football League. I forgot to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South that I am visiting his beautiful city in just a couple of weeks to see Manchester City play and to spend some time. I can see the Ipswich Members getting a bit edgy, but we will not go there.

After sitting at the Cabinet table agreeing to years of real-terms pay cuts for teachers, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education have finally admitted that austerity has failed our schools. The announcements prove the veracity of what we have heard today. Statistics from the Department for Education show that the number of children and young people with special educational needs or education, health and care plans in England rose by 34,200, an increase of 11% from 2018. The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) spoke articulately about SEN provision and how it is currently failing young people in his patch and across the country, yet research by the National Education Union has found that special needs provision in England is down by £1.2 billion as a result of shortfalls in funding increases from the Government since 2015.

The Government’s own data shows that, as of January 2018, 4,050 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. Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities are struggling to get the help that they need, yet last week, in the school spending announcements, the Secretary of State did not even offer to cover half the funding shortfall, and not for another year. But as the hon. Member for North West Norfolk articulately pointed out, mental health is severely impacted when young people cannot get the provision that they need.

The shadow Minister makes the basic point that the challenge with special educational needs is actually a challenge in getting the educational support, but the reality for many schools in Suffolk and elsewhere in the country is that the slowdown is very often due to an inadequacy of child and adolescent mental health services, or NHS resource, to address the needs that have been identified. I hope that he will agree with me that if we are to address the problem, there needs to be significant investment, which has indeed been promised by the Government, in CAMHS, to help young people with learning disabilities and mental health problems who have special educational needs.

I suspect that most hon. Members’ constituency surgeries on a Friday are now full—mine certainly is, and I hear the same when I talk to colleagues across Greater Manchester—of parents trying to get special educational needs provision for their children. The hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) rightly mentions CAMHS, but again the promises are of money in the future. This is the unicorn; this is what will happen. We can only see what this Government have done to education funding since 2015.

The hon. Member for North West Norfolk also mentioned class sizes, but there are now half a million children in super-size classes. There is an unquestionable recruitment crisis in our schools. It is almost a case of one teacher in, one teacher out. And it is not just because of the money. The Government have promised £30,000. I would like to hear that that will apply to all new teachers’ starting salaries and that there will not be differentiation between subjects. The Government have missed their own recruitment targets for six years; every year on the Minister’s watch, they have missed their targets, and teachers are flooding out of the classroom. We need urgent action to retain the most experienced teachers and to recruit new staff. But even now, as we have heard the Education Secretary announce higher pay, teachers will have to wait years for the promised pay rise, and there is every chance that they will never see the fruits of this Government’s promises.

On top of that, despite the Work and Pensions Secretary’s claim that no child would lose their free school meal eligibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that 160,000 children who were eligible under the legacy system will not be eligible under universal credit. We regularly hear stories of teachers buying essential supplies for their classes. We heard earlier today that schools are having to shut for a day. Even schools in the Minister’s own constituency are threatening a four-day week. The curriculum is narrowing: we see schools cutting subjects such as drama, art and music, restricting our young people’s horizons.

There is a crisis in our schools, and beyond, 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. If funding per pupil had been maintained in value since 2015, school funding overall would be £5.1 billion higher than it is now. That means that 91% of schools are still facing, as we speak here today, real-terms cuts.

Hon. Members here today know all too well the impact on the ground already. Headteachers tell us every day. The Government need to stop their sticking-plaster approach to school finances and give schools what they need. Although I am pleased to hear the Government announce more money for schools, I hope that the Minister has truly removed his head from the sand and begun to hear the voices of schools, teachers and parents. I joke that I see more of the Minister than I do of my wife—because it is not just East Anglia that is the subject of Westminster Hall debates. We are here almost weekly or twice a week. We spend hours having to debate what is happening in all our regions—the exact same problems that schools up and down our country face. I have lost count of the number of debates that there have been.

With the economic uncertainty of Brexit, and especially a no-deal Brexit, which the new Prime Minister seems so keen to pursue, it defies all logic to have a Government who are failing to invest properly in education and skills—particularly, as the hon. Member for Waveney pointed out, in our coastal towns. Further education is vital to their regeneration; it will be the silver bullet for regenerating our coastal towns. We are struggling to find the teachers to go and work there.

I have said this before and will say it again. As a former primary school teacher, I know the difference that 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. Our schools do not want to see one-off, headline-grabbing handouts; our schools need fair funding now.

Labour’s national education service will change this situation when we come to power. The national education service will create social mobility; it will create ambition for all. Our national education service will pay teachers what they deserve. The national education service will provide the investment that our schools so desperately need.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) on securing this debate in the week that many schools are starting the new academic year and just days after the Government announced a giant cash boost for schools across all parts of the country. I add my thanks and admiration to all teachers and teaching assistants starting the new term this week.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will set out in a statement to the House just after the statement on preparations for leaving the EU, we have committed an extra £14 billion of funding to schools throughout England over the next three years. That delivers on the Prime Minister’s pledge when entering Downing Street to increase school funding by £4.6 billion over and above inflation, levelling up education funding and giving all young people the same opportunities to succeed regardless of where they grow up or go to school.

We have been able to do this because of our balanced approach to the public finances and careful stewardship of the economy, which has resulted in the lowest level of unemployment since the mid-1970s and record levels of people in employment, a state of affairs that would be wrecked by any Labour-led Government. This funding settlement means that we can continue to build a world-class education system, helping to continue to raise standards in our schools.

The funding package includes a cash increase of £2.6 billion to core schools funding next year, which increases to £4.8 billion and then £7.1 billion in 2021-22 and 2022-23. That is in addition to the £1.5 billion per year that we are injecting into the school system to cover additional pensions costs for teachers over the next three years, ensuring that employer contributions to teachers’ pensions—equivalent to 23% of gross salaries—is fully funded. That addresses the concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham), who asked whether that teacher pension employer contribution would be fully funded. The answer is yes and it will be in addition to the £14 billion that we have announced.

This is a three-year settlement. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) criticised it for going into a period beyond this Parliament, but schools are seeking a three-year settlement; most schools with which I discuss school funding have been asking for a three-year settlement. In total, across the country, core funding for schools and high needs will rise to £52.2 billion—my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk was right about that figure—by 2022-23. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, this funding will reverse the reductions in real-terms per-pupil funding for five to 16-year-olds since 2015. That should address the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Norwich South.

As part of this significant investment, we will also deliver on the Prime Minister’s pledge to level up funding, providing increases for our lowest funded schools. Every secondary school will be allocated at least £5,000 per pupil next year, and every primary school will be allocated at least £3,750 per pupil, putting primary schools firmly on the path to receiving at least £4,000 per pupil in the following financial year. In East Anglia this means that per-pupil funding for 46% of secondary schools in the region—160 secondary schools—will level up to at least the minimum of £5,000 next year. In addition, per-pupil funding for 30% of primary schools in the region will level up to at least the minimum of £3,750 next year—that is 594 primary schools on the path to receiving at least £4,000 per pupil. We are also allocating funding so that every school’s per-pupil funding can rise at least in line with inflation and to accelerate gains for areas of the country that have been historically underfunded, with most areas seeing significant above-inflation gains.

I challenge the hon. Member for Norwich South on his characterisation of this year’s school funding. Even before this major announcement, funding in Norfolk has increased from £460.3 million in 2017-18, to £482 million, which is a 4.7% rise and equates to a 3% per-pupil rise.

The Minister has talked about the impact on primary schools and secondary schools. Could he say a little about the impact on maintained nursery schools?

The hon. Gentleman will have to wait, because we have not made the announcement for early years funding. If he can be patient a little longer, we will be making that announcement.

We will continue to distribute this money through the national funding formula, which is our historic reform to the schools funding system that continues to ensure that funding is based on the needs and characteristics of schools and pupils, rather than on the accidents of history or geography.

Today we have reaffirmed our intention to move to what is called a hard formula, whereby all school budgets are set on the basis of a single national formula, guaranteeing equity among all schools, wherever they are in the country. Moving to this approach will mean that neighbouring schools that happen to sit on different sides of a local authority boundary will be funded on the same basis, and it will no longer be the case that different decisions made by different local authorities mean that similar schools receive different budgets. We intend to move to this hard formula as soon as possible. Of course, we recognise that this will represent a significant change and we will work closely with local authorities, schools and others to make this transition as smooth as possible.

The hon. Member for Norwich South said that he was opposed to academies. He has publicly expressed what I would regard as unwarranted hostility against the Inspiration Trust—a multi-academy trust that is doing huge work to raise school standards in his part of East Anglia. That probably explains why he failed in his speech to congratulate Jane Austen College in his constituency, a free school, which this year published its first GCSE results. Its provisional Progress 8 score places it in the top 10% of schools nationally. Some 75% of pupils achieved grades 9 to 4 in maths and English, and 30% of students at that school achieved a grade 8 or 9, which are the top grades that can be achieved in a GCSE. I offer huge congratulations to Jane Austen College and all the staff and teachers at that school.

My hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for North West Norfolk raised the hugely important issue of special educational needs funding. We are absolutely committed to supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities to reach their full potential, and we expect all schools to play their part. That funding increase therefore includes more than £700 million of extra funding to support children with special educational needs and disabilities to access the education that is right for them. We recognise that local authorities have pressures on these budgets for next year, and alongside that additional funding we will continue to work with local authorities and schools to ensure that this investment is working well for those children in greater need. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney also raised the important issue of funding for 16 to 19-year-olds.

Will the Minister look at the point about the long lead-in time in training more SENCOs? There is obviously a shortage at the moment and that could hold things up.

I will look at that point. Ultimately these are matters for the schools themselves. The schools have an autonomous system, but we want to ensure that they have the funding they need to employ sufficient numbers of sufficiently well-trained SENCOs and teachers who are trained in helping children with special educational needs.

Despite all the positive announcements and the extra Government funding that will be passed on to local authorities to give to schools for special educational needs, there is a challenge. As we have raised previously, in many areas there is a lack of provision in the local NHS, particularly for children with moderate to severe special educational needs, and a lack of CAMHS and learning disability psychiatrists and nurses. What conversations will the Minister have to ensure a renewed focus from the Department of Health and Social Care, to ensure the recruitment of these important healthcare professionals, without whose expertise many young children will not get the extra help they need?

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. We take the issue of mental health very seriously. He will also know, given that he is in the medical profession, that very significant extra funding was announced last year for the health service, with £20.5 billion more per year by 2023—these are huge sums of money—which will help to address many of the issues he has raised.

We also take mental health issues seriously in schools. We have published the Green Paper on the mental health of children and young people, which will put a mental health lead in every school. I think that issue was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk. At the moment, I think—this is off the top of my head, but I think my memory is right—that about half of secondary schools have such leads. We want every school to have them, supported by a mental health support unit. That is part of the Green Paper’s proposals and it will be very significantly funded as well. We also, of course, want to reduce the waiting times for children who need more specialist help with their mental health issues through CAMHS. We have given a commitment on reducing those waiting times.

On the issue of 16-to-19 funding, in addition to the schools and high needs blocks the investment also includes an additional £400 million to provide better education in colleges and school sixth forms in 2020-21. This means a 7% uplift to overall 16-to-19 funding, in addition to funding for staff pensions. We will also protect and increase the 16-to-19 base rate with funding worth £190 million, and provide a further £120 million for colleges and school sixth forms so that they can deliver those crucial but expensive subjects, such as engineering, that are vital for our future economy. This investment will help to ensure that we are building the skills that our country needs as we prepare to leave the European Union.

Of course, there are no great schools without great teachers. That is why this settlement offers a pledge to the members of this hard-working profession to put teaching where it belongs—at the top of the graduate labour market. Subject to the School Teachers Review Body process, this latest investment will make it possible to deliver the biggest reform of teacher pay in a generation, lifting teachers’ starting salaries to at least £30,000 by 2022. I reassure the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) that that will apply to all teachers; it will not differ by subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk raised the issue of sparsity funding. The national funding formula includes support for small schools, especially in rural areas, and provides a lump sum of £110,000 for every school as a contribution to the costs that do not vary with pupil numbers. That gives schools certainty that they will attract a fixed amount each year in addition to the pupil-led funding. Last year, the sparsity factor in the formula allocated additional funding of £25 million specifically to schools that are both small and remote. Last year, therefore, 161 schools in East Anglia attracted a combined total of £3.2 million of sparsity funding.

With other schools in East Anglia that do not attract sparsity funding, either because they are not among the smallest schools nationally or because they are not far enough apart to meet the distance threshold, we have been clear that we want all schools to operate as efficiently as possible, and we believe that there is scope for rural schools in close proximity to work together to get the best value from their resources. However, we of course keep the formula under review and we are always prepared to change approaches to how we calculate sparsity. For example, should it be calculated based on as the crow flies, or should it be based on the actual distance travelled between schools?

While this additional funding will provide a crucial foundation on which to continue to build an excellent education for every pupil, it will also be vital to make sure that we get the very best value from every extra pound. Therefore, the Department’s support stretches much further than providing additional funding. Our announcements sit alongside our efforts to drive greater efficiency in school spending, and the Department’s school resource management strategy, which was launched last year, supports schools to make the most of every pound of their budgets. It includes deals to help schools to save money on the things they buy regularly, such as printers and photocopiers, and the roll-out of a free teacher vacancy listing website to help schools to find teachers and drive down recruitment costs.

In conclusion, I thank Members for their contributions to this debate and I am sure that many will want to know what the recent announcement means for their area and the schools in their own constituency. This information will be published early next month, once illustrative school-level allocations and provisional local authority-level allocations through the national funding formula are announced. I will end by reaffirming that this Government are committed to ensuring that all young people get the best possible start in life, and that includes ensuring the right funding for our schools. The substantial investment that we are making in our schools, the fairer distribution and levelling up of school funding, and the support to use those resources to the best effect are proof that that commitment is being delivered on in full.

I thank the Minister for his response, and I thank all those who have contributed to this timely and interesting debate.

On the issue of Jane Austen College and the Inspiration Trust, I have always been supportive of the teachers and the pupils in such schools. My issue has never been with them; it has always been with the philosophy behind free schools and academies, and sometimes with their leadership. We should understand the philosophy of free schools, which is—to quote a member of the Department, although I am not sure whether they expected their words to go public—to bring the chaos of the free market to our public state school education system. That has been one of my key concerns about free schools and the academy system.

I will make a last couple of points. The question that many of us have now is about this new money. It is welcome, but we ask ourselves, “Will our constituencies actually see any of this money, or will it be used disproportionately and cynically in key Tory marginals?” The answer remains to be seen.

Labour Members have always claimed that cuts to public services have been a political choice. Having listened to the Minister today, I think it is quite clear—now that this money has been found—that the last four years of cuts to our education system have been a political choice. We are glad that the money has been found, but the past four years have been very difficult for schools and they are still struggling.

Regarding pupils with special educational needs, we need to understand that £700 million will simply not be enough. This is a problem that goes far and wide and deep. It is systemic, and far more than £700 million will be needed if it is to be tackled properly. I think the Minister understands how severe this problem is, so I hope that more money can be found for children with SEN, their families and the support that they and their schools need.

Finally, no amount of new funding can ever make up for the lost opportunities—the lost childhoods—of those pupils who have been failed by successive Conservative Governments for these past few years, after billions of pounds of cuts have led to underfunding. No new money can ever make up for that.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered school funding in East Anglia.

Sitting suspended.