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Secondary Schools: Funding

Volume 779: debated on Monday 27 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effect of proposed levels of funding allocated to secondary schools on the quality of education including the teaching of non-English-Baccalaureate subjects.

My Lords, through our careful management of the economy we have protected the core schools budget in real terms. This means that in 2017-18 schools will have more funding than ever before for children’s education, totalling more than £40 billion. We are also committed to ensuring that all pupils receive a broad and balanced curriculum that includes both an academic core and additional subjects that reflect their individual interests, strengths and characteristics, including arts subjects.

My Lords, is not the Minister alarmed by the recent comments of the head teacher of a school in Cheshire, who said that if further cuts—and they are cuts according to the National Audit Office—go ahead then all non-EBacc subjects could be removed from the curriculum, meaning no art, music, drama or design and technology? Arts departments across the country are already bearing the brunt of the current cuts, such as to specialist teachers, provision of materials and ICT. Will the Minister accept that there is simply not enough of a funding cake to go round?

I am alarmed by the comments because it is quite clear that those schools that perform well in arts subjects also perform particularly well in the EBacc. As the NAO has said, by comparing efficient schools with others, there is plenty of money in the system and we have a number of tools in the department to enable schools to run themselves more efficiently, and those that do have sufficient resources, particularly for the classroom and for their curriculum.

My Lords, it must be the case that these cuts will fall disproportionately on non-EBacc subjects as schools encourage pupils to take more EBacc subjects to boost their results. To avoid a ticking time bomb for the creative industries pipeline, will the Government consider including design and technology as well as computer science as part of the EBacc, as proposed by his colleagues in the other place?

There is no evidence that the take-up in GCSE art subjects has declined as a result of the EBacc. In fact, the New Schools Network found that the number of art GCSEs taken by pupils has gone up since the introduction of the EBacc. We have to remember always that when we started in 2010, sadly, only one in five pupils in state schools were studying a core suite of academic subjects. That is why we focused on the EBacc and have doubled the number of pupils who have these academic subjects, which are particularly important for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

My Lords, the Minister says that his Government have protected the main core school budget, but would he not accept that on-costs which schools have to pay, such as national insurance, have ensured that schools have not got the money? In fact, the IFS yesterday reported that, for the first time, there is a real cut in school budgets. Would this account for the fact that there has been a 10.6% decrease in the number of hours given over to creative art teaching?

The IFS pointed out that over the 20 years from 2000 to 2020, schools will have a 50% per pupil increase in real terms. As I said, we believe that there is considerable scope for savings in schools’ efficiency. We are already on course to save £250 million in academies by next year alone with our RPA scheme substituting insurance costs. We believe that our buying strategy can save £1 billion out of £10 billion a year of non-staff spending.

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, quoted a head teacher and I would like to do the same. Last week, the head teacher of the Forest School in Winnersh, Berkshire, resigned her post because of the increasing amount of cuts facing her school. In a letter to parents, pupils and staff, she said:

“The situation with regard to schools funding, both nationally and locally, is bleak: in common with other headteachers, I did not enter the teaching profession to make cuts that narrow the curriculum, or to reduce the number of teachers and increase class sizes, yet my hand has been forced and I see no immediate easing of the situation. Consequently”—

this impacts directly upon the question—

“I feel unable to deliver the quality of education the boys at The Forest so clearly deserve”.

The National Association of Head Teachers says that that is increasingly becoming the situation across England. That is not surprising, as the National Audit Office has reported that there will have to be an 8% real cut in the schools budget up to 2020—this, it should be said, by a party that in its 2015 election manifesto pledged to protect the schools budget. The Government say that the new funding formula—

I am not surprised that Members opposite are unhappy about this, because it is unpalatable. The Government say that the new funding formula is about fairness. How can the funding be fair when it is not sufficient?

I do not think that time will permit me to respond to that speech. I can only repeat what I said: that schools that run themselves efficiently have ample resources for a broad curriculum. I invite the noble Lord to go on to the department’s website and watch a clip by Sir Mike Wilkins about the curriculum-led financial planning at Outwood Grange. Academically, this is one of the most successful and, financially, one of our most efficient multi-academy trusts.

Will not the production of a national funding formula assist the progress of our education system in a substantial manner?

I agree entirely with my noble friend. This is long overdue. Previous Governments have not done this, but it will enable a much fairer system from which 54% of schools will benefit. Schools can lose only 3% of their costs.

Does the noble Lord agree with what Professor Brian Cox said when I asked him about the fetishisation of science in the school curriculum? He said that physics has taught us that the world had a beginning and will most probably have an end, but the arts will teach us how to live in the vast expanse of time in between.

I agree entirely with the noble Baroness about the importance of arts. We all know that the STEM subjects are very important, and it is encouraging to see that the STEM intake at A-level has gone up substantially in recent years. However, as I said, there is plenty of room in the curriculum. The EBacc takes only five subjects and on average students now take nine qualifications, with many taking 10 or 11. Therefore, there is plenty of room in the curriculum for arts subjects.