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Schools: Spending per Pupil

Volume 805: debated on Wednesday 23 September 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies 2020 annual report on education spending in England: schools, published on 18 September, what plans they have to increase school spending per pupil.

My Lords, we are investing more in schools over the next three years, starting with an additional £2.6 billion this year and rising to £7.1 billion by 2022-23, compared to 2019-20. This will ensure that per pupil funding for every school can rise at least in line with inflation this year, and faster than inflation for most. The IFS has said that this investment will near enough restore schools’ per pupil funding to previous levels in real terms.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer, but schools in England have suffered the most severe funding cut in 40 years, with the biggest brunt falling on secondary schools in areas with the lowest 20% of incomes. School spending has decreased by around £1,000 per pupil over the past 10 years, and even the extra £7.1 billion which the Minister just mentioned will not reverse those cuts; there will still be a 1% in gap in funding since 2010. I should say that 1% equates to around £500 million per year.

With the Covid catch-up fund due to be spread across all schools, regardless of disadvantage, I ask the Minister when the Government’s commitment to levelling up educational opportunity will be translated into a greater targeting of additional funding to schools in more deprived areas, and a real increase in funding per pupil.

My Lords, the national funding formula obviously takes deprivation into account, and 18% of that formula—£6.2 billion—is aimed at disadvantaged students. That is in addition to any supplementary funding such as that for music hubs, which is also directed funding to free school meal areas. There is also, in the catch-up fund, the £350 million national tutoring programme, aimed at disadvantaged students. Some of the figures that the noble Lord outlines, in relation to schools in the most deprived areas, relate to the fact that the most deprived students are now spread across more areas of the country. That is why there has been a decrease in funding in some of the most deprived areas, because the most deprived students—for whom the funding is there—are spread more evenly across the country. Therefore, the funding formula has taken that into account.

My Lords, I welcome the IFS report, which clearly outlines that the recent and future strategy for education spending in England was on track to deliver the Government’s commitment to level up poorer regions of the country and to narrow the achievement gap between children from rich and poor families. However, the closure of schools during lockdown, and the need to restructure both teaching timetables and physical resources, is creating immense challenges for schools, which I particularly understand as a previous chair of a large academy in a deprived area in Plymouth.

I welcome the extra provision that the Government have already committed in recognition of the difficulties ahead for pupils and staff this year—but is it enough? Could the Minister inform the House whether additional funds will be announced, in the forthcoming spending review, for sixth-form pupils to accelerate their learning where cuts had been significant in previous years? Will there be a capital investment programme to return school buildings to at least a satisfactory or good condition, which the National Audit Office estimated in 2017 would cost in the region of £6.7 billion?

My Lords, in relation to the particular challenges—I mentioned those attendance statistics, and one cannot underestimate the effort made in our schools to get attendance at that level. In relation to 16 to 19 year-olds, £96 million of the national tutoring programme fund is aimed at disadvantaged students in that year group, and an extra £400 million is going into 16 to 19 funding. Indeed, we should in the autumn get the list of the first 50 schools that will be rebuilt under the repair programme. Over the last five years, £23 billion has gone into the school estate. The noble Baroness is correct that we need to accelerate the building programme, not only to give our children the buildings they need to learn in but to motivate the economy and the recovery that we need.

My Lords, the House will have become familiar with the many government pronouncements of overwhelming investment in education and public services. Equally, the House will have noted the persistent and alarming social divisions shamefully ever increasing in the fifth-largest economy in the world. With the Government’s levelling-up agenda and intention to close the gap between students from wealthy backgrounds and those who battle an onslaught of socioeconomic conditions—poor housing, poverty, racial and religious discrimination, and now the digital divide—what additional resources have the Government allocated to meet these challenges? Does the forward strategy include increasing the recruitment, retention and promotion of teachers from minority communities in leadership positions, which remains unacceptably low?

My Lords, in relation to the issues that the noble Baroness outlined, the Government are obviously concerned about the attainment gap and are trying to ensure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds have the opportunity of a great education. That is why £2.4 billion has gone into the system as pupil premium money for those students. At the moment, we have spent £100 million on remote education, and in addition to the 220,000 laptops that have been distributed, another 150,000 are being delivered to ensure that we can help schools, particularly in those areas with disadvantaged students, if they have to learn at home. As I have outlined, the national funding formula prioritises the most deprived students, and a significant proportion of that money goes to them.

BAME teachers are part of the recruitment strategy. In relation to governors, we are now making it a KPI of the forthcoming contract subject to spending review that they should be able to achieve targets for BAME representation in the governing of our schools.

My Lords, schools might be saving money on the large number of children being home educated, many of whom then miss out on proper education entirely and are vulnerable to being caught up in county lines and criminal gangs. What are the Government doing to enable proper standards in, and preferably to register, home education?

My Lords, the noble Baroness may be aware that, before the pandemic, the Government had consulted on precisely that issue of whether to have a register for the local authority of those who are home educated. There will be in the coming months, when it is appropriate, a response to that consultation. At the moment, the teams on the ground are in contact with local authorities, and we have made it clear to local authorities that we want as much data as possible on trends in home education. We are advising local authorities to make clear to any parents thinking of opting for home education, although it is their right, the responsibility and obligation that this is. Delivering home education is very different from supervising at home the curriculum delivered by schools, and we recognise the safeguarding issues for many children if they are electively home educated but are then not actually being educated.

Sitting suspended.