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Schools: Staffing

Volume 797: debated on Thursday 4 April 2019

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the decision by some teachers to take a 20 per cent pay cut in order to prevent staff redundancies in their schools.

My Lords, it is for schools to make their own decisions about investing their funding and their staffing. The department publishes pay ranges and all maintained schools must follow these in setting pay. Although there is more money going into our schools than ever before, we recognise that there are some budgeting challenges. That is why we have introduced a wide range of practical support to help schools and local authorities economise on non-staff costs.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but it is the usual mantra about more funding going into schools. That is, frankly, sophistry, because 91% of schools have suffered real-terms cuts in per-pupil funding since 2015. My question highlights just one example of school budgets being stretched beyond breaking point, leading to situations where parents are asked to buy essential items such as books and stationery. Some schools now close on Friday lunchtimes to save money. Is it not a disgrace that, in one of the richest economies in the world, head teachers are forced to beg for funding in some situations? The very principle of free education is being undermined by Conservative cuts to our schools. The Government’s latest school workforce statistics show that, in 2017, there were 137,000 more pupils in England’s schools, yet there were 5,400 fewer teachers and 2,800 fewer teaching assistants. How can the Minister possibly justify that?

My Lords, I think that the school which has come to the noble Lord’s attention is Furzedown School in Wandsworth. The challenge which that school faces is declining pupil numbers. They have declined every year for five years, which is why it needs to keep an eye on its staffing levels. That is its problem. It is a well-funded school, receiving £4,900 per pupil, which is well above the national average of £4,166. On the bigger point of overall funding, the IFS has said, independently, that per- pupil funding for five to 16 year-olds by 2020 will be 50% higher than it was in 2000.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said “91%”; it is 91% of schools that have had their per-pupil funding cut across England. To have staff taking cuts in their salaries; to close schools on a Friday; to have so-called cost cutters going into schools and suggesting that school lunch portions are reduced in size; that is no way to run an education service. Does the Minister deny that there has been a reduction in funding in 91% of our schools? Since 2015, my home city of Liverpool has lost £48 million to our schools.

My Lords, as I said in answer to the Question, funding is going up. It does not help the debate to follow scurrilous articles about food portions. That school was throwing away a large quantity of food. No parent wants to see that happen. It is a huge environmental waste. It was highlighted simply as an area of inefficiency. As a Schools Minister, no one wants more funding into the system than me, but I want that system to be well run so that the money goes to the front line. Noble Lords will have seen the story in the press the other day about the Tolworth Girls’ School, where the head teacher claimed that she was so badly funded that she had to clean the lavatories herself. What she did not tell you was that she took an 8% pay rise, taking her to between £125,000 and £130,000, and increased the cleaning budget by nearly 90%.

My Lords, the Government speak a lot about the importance of social mobility for pupils. Does the Minister not think that this is an appalling situation for dedicated professionals to be in, taking salary cuts and doing all they have to do to keep schools running? Are the Government speaking to teachers’ and head teachers’ unions about this situation? If so, what is the response?

My Lords, last year we increased the main scale pay rate for teachers by the largest amount in nearly 10 years. Teachers are well paid, and deservedly so. This year, we are increasing the contribution to their pensions by some 43%, one of the largest increases in any pension contribution in the country.

My Lords, it is very difficult for those of us who are not experts in the subject to gather from the interchanges that have taken place the actual position of per-pupil funding in schools. I would therefore be very grateful if the Minister would tell me whether the assertions that have been made about per-pupil funding in schools are correct or not.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right: it is complicated, and that is why we introduced the national funding formula, which put another £1.3 billion into the system. Since 2017, we have given every local authority more money for every pupil in every school, while allocating the biggest increases to schools that have historically been the most underfunded. There are 43 local authorities that between 2017-18 and 2019-20 have seen a 4% or greater increase per pupil.

The average per-pupil funding is as I gave in an earlier answer: around £4,100 per pupil. On top of that we add pupil premium, which is some £12 billion we have put into the system for the most disadvantaged children, as mentioned by the noble Baroness earlier. The funding is good; I would like to see more but I want to see it go to the front line where children will benefit.