Skip to main content

Pupil Attainment: Cost of Living

Volume 728: debated on Monday 27 February 2023

6. What assessment her Department has made of the potential impact of increases in the cost of living on pupil attainment. (903740)

Raising academic standards is at the heart of the Government’s education agenda. We routinely assess the impact on student attainment of a range of factors, including the cost of living. The schools budget will increase by £3.5 billion in 2023-24, combined with a £4 billion increase in the schools budget for this year. That amounts to a 15% increase in just two years. The pupil premium is rising to about £2.9 million in the next financial year, and it is supporting schools to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students.

The children at Dormers Wells Junior School in my constituency wrote to me about the challenges that they face with the cost of living crisis. Children should not have to worry about their next meal or about going back to cold and dark homes, but as this crisis marches on, pupils are increasingly exposed to those harsh realities. To combat this pressing situation, will the Government commit to starting new breakfast clubs in primary schools and to creating bursaries for the families most affected by the cost of living crisis?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about these issues. The Government are committed to supporting the most vulnerable households, with £26 billion of support announced for 2023-24. That is in addition to the £37 billion of support for households to deal with the cost of living this year. The Government are also committed to continuing the support for school breakfasts. In November last year, the national school breakfast programme was extended, and the Government are providing up to £30 million under the programme, which will support something like 2,500 schools.

The cost of living is not the only impact on pupil attainment. Around 4,500 children every year are diagnosed with cancer, and prolonged absences from school and the ongoing impact of treatment mean that they can expect worse educational outcomes. Currently, provision of access to education, health and care plans is not universal for children with cancer, and it can be long-winded and patchy. What thought has been given to automatic entitlement to EHCPs for all children with a cancer diagnosis, and will the excellent Minister meet me to discuss the issue?

I will of course meet the excellent former Minister to discuss this important issue. Of course, the special educational needs and alternative provision improvement plan will be published shortly, but I do share her concern. One issue that has come out of covid is that more remote learning is now available at home for children who are unable to get to school for whatever reason, and that will of course apply to children in hospitals as well.

Energy bills have jumped 300% in some schools, forcing many I have spoken with to increase class sizes, strip back their curriculum and make impossible decisions on what resources or staff members to cut to balance the books. Does the Minister accept that the cost of living crisis made in Downing Street is having a direct impact on the quality of education that children across the country are receiving?

The hon. Member may have missed the autumn statement, but we added £2 billion to next year’s school funding, meaning that it will rise by £3.5 billion next year. By 2024-25, we will be spending record amounts in real terms and per pupil on our schools. We take education extremely seriously and, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education said earlier, that is resulting in standards rising in our schools, with better reading, better maths, better attainment, higher quality and a higher proportion of schools graded good or outstanding—88%, compared with 68% when the Labour party left office in 2010. Of course, as I said earlier, we are also providing households with £26 billion of support for 2023-24.

First, on behalf of SNP Members present, I join other Members in paying tribute to Betty Boothroyd. I did not know Betty personally, but I am certainly well aware of her legacy, and I pass on our condolences to her family.

The Chancellor has recently received an unexpected £5.4 billion surplus due to higher than expected tax receipts. We know that hungry children cannot learn effectively, and the Scottish Government have committed to providing free school meals for all primary school children in Scotland. What discussions has the Minister had with Treasury colleagues, and indeed the Chancellor, on using a tiny part of that surplus to provide free school meals for all children in England?

Of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has frequent meetings with the Chancellor. Indeed, in her first few weeks in office she achieved an extra £2 billion of funding for our schools, bringing the increase next year to £3.5 billion. As I said earlier, the Government have extended free school meals to more children than any other Government over the past half-century. We remain committed to ensuring that the most disadvantaged children continue to be supported.