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Grammar School Funding

Volume 590: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2015

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Wallace.)

What better way to start a parliamentary Tuesday than with a debate on grammar school funding, in the name of Sir Edward Leigh?

Thank you, Mr Hollobone. It is a convention to say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, but in this case it is heartfelt.

This debate is about the funding not only of grammar schools, but of successful, well performing comprehensives with good sixth forms. I am proud to declare that one of my children attends a grammar school, and I am proud to have two excellent grammar schools in my constituency: Caistor grammar school and Queen Elizabeth’s high school. They are centres of excellence, and I salute the Lincolnshire county councillors who have always kept in mind the importance of our grammar schools and saved them.

The phasing out of grammar schools in most of the country was one of the greatest policy disasters of the post-war era. By the 1960s, grammar schools were so successful that we achieved an unqualified and unprecedented level of social mobility—it was greater than anything this country has achieved in its long history, before or since. Many of the nation’s poorest, most deprived people were given their first great chance to move up. Those schools were so successful that the independent sector feared that it would fade and decline into irrelevance, barring the odd Eton or Harrow. Across the country, we need to nurture those centres of excellence and learn lessons from them that we can apply across the state sector as beacons.

The purpose of this debate is not to honour grammar schools, but to ensure that they are not buried by stealth. A growing concern has emerged recently about the disparity of per-pupil funding for grammar schools, which also affects high-performing comprehensives with large sixth forms. Changes in the past three years have adversely affected grammar schools disproportionately in comparison with other state schools. The minimum funding guarantee of minus 1.5% gives the appearance of preserving per-pupil funding. However, as Mr David Allsop, the headmaster of Queen Elizabeth’s high school in Gainsborough, notes:

“Sixth form funding has been dropping much more significantly and we have managed to maintain our funding as flat by increasing the number of students in the sixth form.”

In 2013, Mr Allsop analysed Lincolnshire schools that were not academies, and looked at per-pupil funding. The grammar school that he heads was the least well funded school per pupil in the county. It receives £4,474 per pupil on average, while a similar sized comprehensive school in Lincolnshire receives £6,481 per pupil. Those figures are from the Government’s consistent financial reporting data. If we are to promote educational excellence, it is not a good idea to give the best school in Lincolnshire, which everybody tries to get into, only £4,000 per pupil per year, while giving the worst performing comprehensive in Lincoln, which nobody wants to go to, £7,000 per head per year. That is a daft way to run our education system.

We are asking only for fairness. Back in the 1960s, one of the criticisms of grammar schools was that they were treated unfairly well by county councillors. It is ironic that the reverse is now happening. Grammar schools are in a uniquely bad position, in terms of state funding.

My hon. Friend makes a compelling case. Is not the reason why grammar schools are so badly funded comparatively that they have disproportionately high numbers of pupils at sixth forms? Is not the real issue the way in which the Government have dealt with sixth-form funding, rather than with grammar schools funding per se?

That is exactly right, and I will come to that point in a moment. Mr Roger Hale, who runs the successful Caistor grammar school, wrote a heartfelt plea to me. Of course, he will struggle on and do his job—that is what teachers do—but he said:

“We were one of many schools who answered the call from Michael Gove to set off on our own as an Academy so that we would have better control over our resources. In the first few years, this worked very well. However in the last 18 months, the funding we receive to be an Academy has been sharply reduced.”

I have read letters from grammar schools from all over the country that say the same thing.

On the face of it, it seems fair that the Government equalised post-16 per-pupil funding between schools with sixth forms and further education colleges. A lot of the problems are due to the law of unintended consequences. I do not think for a moment that Ministers intended to hit grammar school funding adversely, but their laudable aims had unintended consequences. The funding for FE colleges and schools was equalised, which was fair enough. However, that ignored the significant further pastoral support and enrichment programmes for pupils in sixth forms. Sixth formers take on a broader programme of AS and A-levels, in addition to supervised study, sport and other programmes, in contrast to FE students. Per-pupil costs for sixth forms are in many cases higher than they are for further education colleges. Sixth formers, on the whole, have between 20 and 25 taught hours per week, while the figure for those in further education colleges is closer to 17. Furthermore, that equalisation was achieved not by choosing a figure in the middle of the previous levels of sixth-form and FE funding, but by brining sixth-form funding down to the same level as further education.

I am grateful for the argument made to me by Mr Önaç, the headmaster of St Olave’s school in Orpington. He said that the scale of the reduction that the change has brought has been huge, and that it often amounts to a whole fifth of the per-pupil budget. Although it has applied across schools, it has affected grammar schools, because almost all of them have sixth forms that comprise a much larger proportion of their total school population than other schools. That is why we have this problem. I am not sure that it was envisaged at the start of the changes.

It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman did not make the debate about 16-to-19 funding as a whole, because the same would equally apply to sixth-form colleges, which also have to pay VAT.

Although I wanted to talk about the problem affecting grammar schools—one should be absolutely honest—as I said at the beginning of my speech, the problem affects not only grammar schools, but successful comprehensives with large sixth forms. The hon. Gentleman is right to make that point. I hope we can look at this issue in a bipartisan way. It should not be about grammar schools versus other schools, but about fairness. All sixth-form pupils, whatever school they are in, should be funded as equally as possible.

Supplemental funding for the disadvantaged is widely welcomed, and we all accept it. Part of the reason why I and others are such passionate advocates for grammar schools is that they provide a superb helping hand for pupils from less-advantaged backgrounds.

I have a number of brilliant grammar schools in my constituency, but one of the reasons why they are comparatively underfunded is that, compared with the other schools in my constituency, they do not attract the pupil premium because they have fewer pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The funding system, which is skewed towards disadvantage, has disadvantaged grammar schools, so the claim that grammar schools help disadvantaged pupils is belied by the statistics.

Grammar schools can help people, in particular those from ethnic minorities. In the school that my son attends, 60% of the pupils are from an ethnic minority background, which is high. I believe that, if there were more grammar schools, we could do more to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds. One of the problems is that there are not enough grammar schools. We are not going to get into this debate now, but I wish county councils had the freedom to set up more grammar schools if they want to do so. That is what localism is all about.

The way that the funding is worked out—there is an over-emphasis on pupils who qualify for free school meals—is not adequately grounded in the hard evidence of the additional costs associated with disadvantaged pupils. The Government have injected additional funding into four sections: pupil premium; special needs; pupils who have failed GCSE English; and pupils who have failed GCSE maths. As I have said, that intention is laudable, but unfortunately, in many cases, it means that the Government have perhaps unwittingly pumped four different funding streams into the same child.

We also need to recognise that that funding increase has a converse effect on the opposite end of the spectrum in grammar schools and sixth forms more generally. It would be counter-productive to unbalance the funding of education so much towards disadvantaged pupils that we undermine centres of excellence in the state sector that we want to protect. This is not a zero-sum game: we can help disadvantaged pupils and promote centres of excellence. Surely that is the right way to proceed.

The number of young people over the age of 16 educated on a full or part-time basis has increased in recent years as a result of raising the participation age to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015. Schools and further education colleges have come under pressure to expand to accommodate such increased numbers. That is fair enough, but at the same time, the funding pot for post-16 education has become fixed, and the method of distribution has changed from a model that included higher levels of funding for courses with large practical elements, and incentives for institutions with high levels of success and retention.

The simplification of the funding system—funding is attached to the student rather than the course—is welcome, but the impact on high-achieving academic schools with large sixth forms, including the grammar schools in my constituency and others, has become considerable. The funding system means that, in some local authorities, students receive more funding for education from 11 to 16 than from 16 to 18—can that be right?—even though it is widely recognised, and obvious common sense, that the cost of delivering the curriculum increases as a student gets older. That is why many universities feel justified in charging fees of £9,000 a year.

As students move through the school system, they can exercise an increasing level of choice over the subjects they study, which tends to reduce financial efficiency. More broadly, there is a bigger perspective, which I want to end on. We need to think about that point, which I want to emphasise. The world is becoming more and more globalised. As the Prime Minister keeps telling us, Great Britain is competing in a global race for excellence. For us to compete successfully, we need more scientists, more engineers, more mathematicians, more doctors and more innovators.

What evidence can the hon. Gentleman give to show that areas with selection at 11 produce more people in those professions than areas that do not have selection at 11?

I think I can establish that grammar schools provide real add-on value and are, in themselves, centres for excellence. I do not want to get into a wider debate about whether there should be more or fewer grammar schools in Lincolnshire, but the Government have decided that the existing grammar schools should survive. Nobody in the Government, or the Labour party, suggests that grammar schools should be phased out. Presumably, they accept that those schools have a contribution to make. All we are asking for is fairness. I am not saying to the Government that there should be more grammar schools, although I might well believe that. I am simply saying that I want fairness. The Government have decided that the schools should exist, so they should be funded fairly. The removal of additional programme weighting for sciences, technology and mathematics is particularly unwelcome.

I had thought that the grammar schools system controversy was found only in Northern Ireland, but it would seem to happen in England as well. The research notes we have received show that the Government gave a commitment as far back as 2010 that the disparity in funding would be addressed by 2015. Does the hon. Gentleman see any sign of that? Why the disparity?

The disparity exists for the reasons I have described, but we have a quite excellent Minister who has committed his whole life to education. We are all waiting for his response.

It is vital that our young people are equipped with the knowledge, understanding and skills that will enable them as individuals, and the United Kingdom as a nation, to compete successfully in a global marketplace. That is so obvious and we all agree with it. Changes to post-16 educational funding were examined in isolation from funding for 11-to-16 education, and therefore little is understood about the cumulative effects of decision making on particular schools.

Different types of school are affected in very different ways. Schools for 11 to 18-year-olds with large academically successful sixth forms—I cannot make the point too often that that category includes both grammar schools and high-performing comprehensives—have lost large chunks of money. Whatever one’s view on the grammar school debate, and whether one thinks they are good or bad, that is undoubtedly true. It is rooted in fact. Those are often the very same schools that are unfairly funded pre-16.

The sacrifices demanded of those schools compared with schools for 11 to 16-year-olds, in which levels of income have remained relatively stable, have been significant. As a consequence, the curriculum for students is narrowing, class sizes are increasing, teaching time is reducing and support staff are being withdrawn.

We are sleepwalking towards a future in which some of the country’s best performing schools—centres of excellence—will no longer be able to offer a broad and balanced curriculum to their students. Music and modern foreign languages will join Latin and Greek A-level to become largely the preserve of those whose parents can afford to pay for their education. Our nation’s brightest students will have access to fewer opportunities and resources than their peers. Is it fair that bright students whose parents cannot afford to pay are disadvantaged? Where is the fairness in that?

Christ the King College, the best school in my constituency for providing quality work for children—others schools are improving but that one is the best—is not a grammar school, but a good comprehensive.

The debate is about not just grammar schools, but good comprehensives. By the way, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) wanted to be here to make some of the points I am making, but she has to serve on a Committee elsewhere. I am grateful to all my colleagues who have turned up this morning. There is a lot of concern throughout Parliament about grammar school funding.

What we need is not 80% or 90% of funding allocated on pupil-led factors, but simply funding per pupil fairness between pupils. To that end, we need to achieve a meaningful, basic entitlement, and genuinely fair and transparent funding. That would ensure that all of our children, whatever background they come from and whichever kind of school they attend, can enjoy a broad, balanced education that will equip them for life in the 21st century.

Order. The debate will finish at 11 am and I do not want to call the Front-Bench Members later than 10.40 am. We have just under an hour and six Members are seeking to speak, so we are looking at nine or 10 minutes each. Please do not exceed that time, because that will mean that someone at the end will have less. We have just had an eloquent plea for fairness from Sir Edward and I would like you to apply that to yourselves. We will be led by Damian Green, an exemplar.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) not only secured the debate, but set it out in the way he did. Sixth-form funding is a real issue and I hope that even those across the educational ideological spectrum who oppose the existence of grammar schools can be, as he said, united on that, because children’s chances are being affected. That is at the root of what we seek to bring to the Minister’s attention.

As it happens, I attended a grammar school and I support them in my constituency, more widely in Kent and throughout the country because they provide a route for disadvantaged children to reach the top of the academic ladder. Providing that opportunity is one of the core objectives of any sensible education system.

Given the right hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks, does he regret that the debate is limited in scope by its title to only 160 or so schools? The issue that he seems to want to highlight affects many more institutions throughout the country.

The hon. Gentleman may have a discussion offline with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough about the title of the debate, but my hon. Friend and I have made it clear that we are not talking only about grammar schools. There are comprehensive schools in my constituency, including one extremely good one, and there are others around the country—the hon. Gentleman mentioned sixth-form colleges. This is a wider debate but, clearly, among the schools most appallingly affected by the unfairnesses in the funding system are grammar schools.

Is this debate about grammar schools in fact about the fundamental unfairness of the whole funding formula? That is what we are actually talking about, that is what the F40 campaign is all about and that is why we need to see fair funding for pupils wherever they are.

We all agree that we want fair funding. It is not an easy issue and Ministers in this and previous Governments have grappled with it. The principle that we all start from is that allowing all children to reach the full extent of their potential must be the aim of every school.

When the rhetoric and emotion that have begun to enter this debate, and which have gone on for decades, are stripped away, all grammar schools are is specialist academic schools. Under successive Governments, we have thought it a good thing to allow schools to specialise in music, sport, science, maths or languages, but the one thing that the education establishment has never allowed schools to specialise in is academic excellence. That has always seemed completely perverse: we allow schools to specialise, but not at being good in schoolwork.

The right hon. Gentleman is discussing specialising in academic excellence. In Northern Ireland we have attempted to do that. Does he agree that grammar schools in England, as in Northern Ireland, need to continue to do more to dispel the perception of elitism that continues to dog the sector?

Absolutely. There is a different debate to be had about how grammar schools can attract children from across the economic and social spectrum. They are particularly successful at attracting students from minority communities in the UK, which is hugely welcome—and, I suspect, illustrates how committed to the education of their children such communities are. As I say, however, that is a separate debate. The point of this one is that grammar schools and other schools with large sixth forms deserve a fair funding regime, along with all other schools.

A number of complex interactions have led to the unfairness. The Minister needs to address two basic issues: first, that post-16 funding is not protected in the way that the rest of the schools budget is, so that any school with a large and growing sixth form is in a financial straitjacket—grammar schools in particular are disadvantaged, but not only them. Secondly, there is the wide amount of local variation that has arisen, again from perfectly good motives. That can be illustrated in a number of ways.

Some of us attended a meeting of grammar school heads and I was struck by one of the illustrations, which comes from Buckinghamshire, although I am sure the same would apply in Lincolnshire, Kent or other areas in which there are many grammar schools. We were shown what would happen if a Buckinghamshire school moved next door: if it moved to Oxfordshire, it would gain 6% in funding and if it moved to West Berkshire, it would gain 8%. If it moved to nearby urban areas, it would gain even more—in Reading, it would gain a 10% uplift and in Luton it would gain 18%. One can understand all the reasons why such disparities might have arisen, but it is not unreasonable for the heads of successful schools to observe the situation as an unfairness from which they suffer in their daily lives.

One of the reasons why I wanted to contribute to the debate was the effect of unfairness on the day-to-day teaching at the two grammar schools in my constituency, Highworth and Norton Knatchbull. Mr Paul Danielsen, the head teacher of Highworth, told me that, despite being oversubscribed, having full classes and having made staffing reductions and other economies, the school can no longer offer the full range of provision. He thought that some schools, at the extreme, might not be able to operate at all—I think that that is unlikely, but it is a possibility. We are talking about the cumulative effect of funding decisions.

Is there not a further irony? At a time when we want a broader curriculum taught post-16, it is often grammar school sixth forms that teach the most challenging A-levels, such as single sciences, which are among the things that lead to more scientists and engineers. Is there not a terrible danger that the squeeze on funding might reduce that breadth, rather than increase it?

My hon. Friend is not only right, but uncannily anticipates my next point.

The practical effect on day-to-day education is a smaller offer in the sixth form for many pupils. Highworth school does a lot of challenging A-levels. Languages are a particular problem, unfortunately, because they have become a less attractive subject for many pupils. German A-level classes are being run with class sizes of 11 and French and Spanish ones with class sizes of seven. With the financial squeeze, they might no longer be viable, which would be appalling. Already in that school, the number of A-levels offered has gone down from 40 to 32, which is completely perverse. I know that the Minister agrees. It is a nonsense that good pupils at good schools are being penalised. They are losing opportunity, and levels of attainment that could be reached are not being reached.

What has happened has not been because of Government intention. Much hugely beneficial education reform under this Government has massively improved the life chances of millions of young people in the country, and I applaud that wholeheartedly. The one perversity in the system, however, is damaging the life chances of children—of some of our most academic children at some of our best schools. I fervently hope that the Minister and the Government can address that in the months head.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, as always. I echo congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) on securing this important debate.

I want to take the opportunity to highlight some of the work achieved by the four grammar schools in my constituency: Dartford grammar school for boys, Dartford grammar school for girls, Wilmington grammar school for boys and Wilmington grammar school for girls. Like my hon. Friend, I should declare an interest, in that I went to Dartford grammar school, I am a governor at Dartford grammar school for girls, where my daughter goes, and my son has, fortunately, just passed his 11-plus and is hoping to go to Wilmington grammar school. Grammar school education therefore runs through my DNA. It is essential that we enable it to continue to be successful.

Grammar school education plays a crucial role in providing a diverse range of educational opportunities for children and helps to prevent there being a one-size- fits-all system. Children are different—we all know that—so we should not have an educational system in which every school tries to be the same. Grammar schools also provide social mobility for aspirational people and their children. I accept and concede entirely that grammar schools are not for all children, but many thrive in the academic environment of such schools.

It is essential that we allow grammar schools to thrive financially—that is the substance of this debate. Like all schools, grammar schools need to be adequately funded. I urge the Department for Education to be as flexible as it can with any grammar school approaching it with funding issues—something I know schools are able to do.

The Government have maintained funding for schools. I welcome some of the changes that have been made but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough pointed out, we must ensure that there are no unintended consequences. There clearly have been—that has been part of the problem with funding grammar schools—and they have impacted disproportionately on grammar schools. That situation must change.

The change in funding for A-level pupils from a per-A-level structure to a per-pupil structure has tackled an issue of concern to some people: that pupils were simply being asked to take more and more A-levels when universities were looking only at the top three that pupils were able to pass. I understand why the Department for Education wanted to recognise that issue in the funding structure, but the changes have had a disproportionate impact on grammar schools, particularly those that relied on the extra funding that the previous system provided.

I will keep my comments short as many people want to speak, but I want to establish a thread to run through the debate—that grammar schools are simply good schools and that we need good schools to flourish. I am grateful for the Government’s support for existing grammar schools, which has enabled all four grammar schools in my constituency to expand and encourage and enable more pupils to attend and enjoy the benefits that they provide for the local community.

The Department for Education has recognised the importance of allowing specialisms in schools. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) made the important point that we need to allow the specialism of being good at academic work. That has been recognised by the Department through the university technology colleges being built around the country. I was proud to see the first UTC in Kent open in my constituency. That college specifically encourages pupils to specialise in maths, engineering and science, providing a block or cork for the gap in skills that we had. Having organisations that allow specialisms to flourish can be highly successful. Grammar schools can also provide specialism in academic work, enabling some children to obtain the benefits of that specialism.

In addition, there is now a general recognition that it is perfectly right and effective to allow streaming within schools, so as to have children taught according to their academic abilities. I fail to understand why some people feel that it is perfectly fine to stream within schools but not between them. That argument against grammar schools is illogical.

Grammar schools also help the schools that surround them. There is a myth that they somehow bring other schools down—that they cream off the pupils with the top abilities in a particular area, and as a result of having a grammar school as a neighbour other schools collapse and fall down. In my experience, that is simply not the case. Next to one grammar school in my constituency is the Leigh academy, which is the most over-subscribed school in the county of Kent. It leads a trust that is, perhaps, one of the best in the country. It is a non-selective school in a constituency that has four grammar schools, yet is the most popular school in the whole county.

It is often said, quite rightly, that education is about maximising each child’s abilities and ensuring that they reach their full potential. All children are different, and we must enable the existence of an education system that reflects that fact if we are going to achieve that goal. Only a diverse system of education will be able to cater for the needs of all of our children, and grammar schools provide a crucial part of that diversity.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I add to the congratulations given to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) on bringing this important issue forward at this time, when there a great deal of interest in the role of and proposals for grammar schools.

I am fortunate to have grammar schools in my constituency, and they remain extremely popular. One measure of that popularity is the distances from which parents apply to them because of the high quality of education pupils receive there. Like other Members who have spoken, I should declare an interest, as I am going to give some examples from the grammar school in Rugby where my own daughter is a pupil.

As with other grammar schools, a feature of grammar schools in Rugby is that their sixth forms are very large. They provide post-16 education for many feeder schools across the town, and those who start their secondary education in one of our—very good quality—comprehensive schools very much aspire to have the opportunity to move to a grammar school sixth form, so sixth-form funding is particularly important.

We had a previous debate about funding for education in this Parliament, and the cross-party F40 campaign—a very effective campaign organised in this place by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker)—has drawn attention to the differences in education funding per head. The Government have, appropriately, provided an extra £390 million for the 69 worst-funded authorities, of which Warwickshire is one. That is a welcome attempt to address the problem, but it is not a cure, as substantial differences remain in per-pupil funding.

To give a local example, the average student is allocated £917 less funding in Warwickshire than the self-same student would be allocated in Birmingham, a difference of 21%. There is no dispute today that the impact of deprivation needs to be addressed and that additional resources should be targeted at it. However, that should not affect the majority of schools nor those schools with larger proportions of brighter children or children who do not attract additional funding. In Warwickshire, a student with no characteristics attracting additional funding is allocated just £3,569 of funding—£381 less than the DFE’s minimum funding level of £3,950 for a key stage 3 student.

Does my hon. Friend agree that his points effectively prove the need for floor funding, so that funding is fair and decent for all forms of education, including grammar schools and other good schools, and that that is the way forward, certainly when we bear in mind additional funding from the pupil premium and other such funding streams?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. In this debate, we are calling for a fairer funding formula for schools across the board. I am concerned that pupils in Warwickshire are receiving less than the DFE’s own minimum.

I turn now to the effect on sixth forms. They are at an additional disadvantage as a consequence of the good intention to equalise post-16 funding between sixth forms and further education colleges. That decision did not allow for the fact that schools provide supervised study, teach additional elective subjects and provide sport and other enrichment programmes, so there is more teaching time in schools than at further education colleges, where students often have a proportion of free time. In some instances, that has led to a loss of £1,000 per student.

This has had a particularly adverse effect on Rugby high school. If it had been an 11-to-16 school and its numbers had remained the same each year, its funding would have been static at £2,042,000. Unfortunately, the changes in post-16 funding have resulted in a 15% reduction in the school’s sixth-form funding—the equivalent of the salaries of 6.7 teachers paid at point 6 on the main professional scale. Schools such as Rugby high school, whose academic sixth forms are large in relation to the remainder of the school, have been particularly affected, although, of course, the issue also affects high-performing comprehensives.

The result is that Rugby high school receives less funding for post-16 students than for students aged 11 to 16. The figure is £4,080 for students post-16 and £4,350 for students aged 11 to 16, so there is £270 less per pupil when students transfer from GCSE courses to A-level courses, despite general agreement that the curriculum becomes more expensive to deliver as students pass through secondary school. We are perhaps getting to a situation where funding for 11 to 16-year-olds is having to subsidise sixth-form students because of a lack of sixth-form funding. That £4,080 represents just 45% of the £9,000 a top university would charge in tuition fees when students move on from sixth form. That massive difference cannot possibly be the best way to ensure that those studying for A-levels and preparing for entry into university get a top-quality education.

The funding issue has meant that schools such as Rugby high school have had to be very creative in balancing their books. The school has a particular problem because it is the only secondary school in Rugby without a sports hall and cannot provide sport. In addition, it has had to increase class sizes, reduce teaching time and, most significantly, drop some subjects. Particularly vulnerable subjects, which may disappear from the curriculum altogether in coming years, include modern foreign languages, music and Latin.

The solution to the problem is twofold. First, we need to speed the move towards a national formula that will provide agreed national minimum funding per pupil at each key stage. Secondly, we particularly call for an end to the anomaly of post-16 students being funded at a lower level than pupils aged 11 to 16.

I have a great interest in supporting the excellent education provided by grammar schools and good comprehensives, and I very much look forward to the Minister’s response to the points that have been raised.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Unfortunately, public grammar schools are all too often dismissed in public debate as a mode of education supported by an out-of-touch elite interested only in the education of a privileged few. Indeed, last August, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) accused the Secretary of State for Education of pursuing education policies based on “1950s Grammar School nostalgia”. I disagree. Such comments, which seek to make grammar schools a tool of ideological division, do not serve well those pupils who attend our grammar schools up and down the country and get so much out of them. It is not nostalgic to want our children to benefit from a rigorous education that inspires them to aim high, achieve excellent results and lay the foundations for success. I want those principles embedded in all schools, and we should embrace that approach to education generally. That has been at the heart of the Government’s policies, and it needs to remain so.

Some people may wish to talk about increasing the number of grammar school places, but we are here to discuss the challenges facing the 164 grammar schools in our country today. As a number of colleagues have said, there is a real concern that we are putting our grammar schools at risk—not, perhaps, because of a wilful desire to eliminate them, but as an unintentional consequence of some of the funding reforms that have taken place.

I have two outstanding grammar schools in my constituency: South Wilts and Bishop Wordsworth’s. They have faced similar, increasingly challenging financial settlements, primarily because of the decision to ring-fence the education budget for five to 16-year-olds, while the 16-to-18 budget has no such protection. That has had a significant impact, particularly on Bishop Wordsworth’s, which faces a deficit of more than £300,000 in its sixth-form budget this year. In the past three years, it has seen a 7% reduction in its per sixth-form pupil funding. Next year, it faces a budget deficit of more than £150,000.

I am not here to advocate special treatment for grammar schools, because this issue affects all 16-to-18 providers. However, there is a case for arguing that the problem needs to be re-examined and that we need to look at the principle of ring-fencing. It is illogical that a school can run healthy surpluses in its 11-to-16 budget, but that they are immediately absorbed by a growing deficit in its sixth form.

If we are honestly to discuss the financial difficulties facing grammar schools, in particular, we need to acknowledge the wider social mobility issues. Grammar schools must remain focused on doing more in that respect. It is true that, although 16% of pupils are eligible for free school meals in an average school, the figure is considerably lower in a large proportion of grammar schools. However, that is because the pool is smaller in the first place, and those figures do not tell the whole story because they are so small.

Importantly, we need grammar school heads to focus on extending the benefits of a grammar school education to as many as possible in the community, as Stuart Smallwood is doing at Bishop Wordsworth’s. I welcome the steps Salisbury grammars have taken to reach out to local primaries by running 11-plus coaching sessions in schools that have traditionally sent fewer pupils to grammars at 11. However, I ask the Minister how that can be sustained when budgets are in the position I have outlined. If we are to advocate more funding, we must unambiguously acknowledge the value of grammar schools—the transformational impact they have on children’s life chances and ability fully to achieve their aspirations.

I am a governor, not of one of the grammar schools, but of Wyvern college, which is very much on the up under a new headmaster. I can attest to the thoughtful partnerships that exist between grammar schools and schools such as Wyvern. Grammar schools act as beacons of excellence, and they raise standards across the board by working constructively with other local schools.

In welcoming today’s debate, I want to highlight the particular challenge facing grammars whose sixth forms are in dire need of cash injections. Many children in my constituency and nearby commute to Salisbury to attend sixth form, because many schools in the area do not have sixth-form provision. That demonstrates how grammars are perceived as the means of completing a high-quality education in south Wiltshire, providing opportunities not afforded to those educated from 11 to 16 at other schools nearby.

When I visited the Minister for Schools, all he really wanted to focus on was the percentage of pupils on free school meals. His logic was, essentially, that unless schools raise that percentage, they will encounter difficulties. It is quite obvious that they cannot sort out the problem overnight, and the Minister’s argument is an empty one when it comes to dealing with the realities schools have been faced with overnight.

On funding and particularly the pupil premium for some of our poorer children, does my hon. Friend agree that there are occasions when the excellent grammar schools in cities such as his and mine lose some contact with the community by taking a majority of pupils from some of the richer rural areas further away? Does he agree that, if the DFE gave grammar schools a bit more flexibility on entrance qualifications so that people who have great potential but who are not necessarily well coached beforehand could come in, that might increase the number of pupils getting the pupil premium?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his characteristically constructive and thoughtful intervention. There is a debate about how the 11-plus exam works and how it could be improved so that it brings in more people. Grammar schools in Salisbury are looking carefully at that issue. However, I repeat that that reform—that enhancement of the journey of moving to grammar school—will not happen overnight. There are some issues to do with the flexibilities, such as discretion over the catchment area, and so on; but let us not be ashamed of the fact that grammar schools are about academic excellence. There is an exam for entry to the school at 11, and we should not be ashamed of the academic criteria.

I urge the Minister to acknowledge the vital role that grammar schools play in social mobility and to allow them to do more of what they do. Let us celebrate the excellent outcomes that they achieve, and not be inhibited about talking about excellent grammar schools. We would do well to have a model of and approach to education that celebrates their achievements and acknowledges the desire that we all have for excellence in all secondary schools, whatever form they take and wherever they are. I believe that that is the motivation of all of us who are here for this morning’s debate.

It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), who secured the debate.

I do not particularly want to enter into the “grammar schools or not” debate. I declare an interest as a product of that social mobility of the 1950s, related to grammar school education, that my hon. Friend mentioned. However, I also spent 38 years of my teaching career in very large comprehensives, and want to mention, as he did, the fact that large, successful comprehensives with large sixth forms face some of the same issues as grammars.

Call me a conservative, Mr Hollobone, but I start from the principle that I do not want any child’s education today to be sacrificed for a possible nirvana in 20 years’ time or for something that our education system has constantly failed to bring about since 1945. We are where we are, however.

I am in the great position, for a Member of Parliament, of representing a constituency with no particularly bad school, secondary or primary. There is a mix, which includes two large grammar schools—Lancaster royal grammar school for boys and Lancaster girls’ grammar—and, also in Lancaster, an extremely large Church of England comprehensive, Ripley St. Thomas, which has a large sixth form. I am beholden to their heads, who have raised the problems, including the decision in 2013 to bring payment for sixth forms on to a level with that for further education colleges, without taking into account the cost of the extras provided by school-based sixth forms. That reduction, by about £1,000 per pupil, has a massive impact, as other hon. Members have said, on schools that have large sixth forms.

In addition, the sum in question is the maximum. I am told by Mrs Nicholls, the head teacher of Ripley St Thomas, that per sixth form pupil

“£3700 is the maximum we can receive but it is almost unattainable as it reduces depending on attendance, hours of study, completion and success factors.”

The grammar schools I mentioned raised similar issues. Mrs Nicholls reports that, as other hon. Members have said:

“A level classes, once typically 10-15, are now increasingly over 20 with sets of 25+ not uncommon. Sadly, subjects which do not recruit in large numbers are, out of financial necessity, being dropped”.

The head teacher of Lancaster girls’ grammar school, Mrs Cahalin, says:

“Traditionally we have always looked to allow external students to join our sixth form so that they can benefit from an outstanding sixth form education and very few girls leave, so our sixth form has been very large and so we will be hit far more.”

So schools must now take into account the people who want to join. Mrs Cahalin added:

“We also offer a large number of science courses which are more expensive to teach”,

as other hon. Members have mentioned. Dr Pyle, the head teacher of Lancaster royal grammar school, says:

“Class sizes are increasing, and we share some teaching with the girls’ grammar school”—

to allow for that—

“but the real threat is to the breadth of the curriculum. At the moment we are practically the only state school in the north of England to offer Latin and Greek A-level. We still offer German and Music to A-level—but we know that all of those subjects have been cut elsewhere.”

Those problems are in the system because of the decisions made in 2013. However, I want to consider the future, too, because costs are coming down the line. As to the teachers’ pension scheme, the Government have confirmed that they are introducing changes to the employer’s pension contributions for teaching staff from September. Making up the difference for that change alone will increase the employer’s contribution that schools need to make for their teaching staff to 16.48%, from 14.1%. That is a 2.47% increase. Salaries are the biggest cost that schools have, and that change will come down the line in September. Teaching staff have received a 1% pay award for 2015-16. Support staff have recently agreed a pay increase of 2.2%. All those things are at present unfunded in the grant system to schools. On top of that, the introduction of the single-tier state pension from April 2016 has implications for the employer’s national insurance contribution.

What that means, I am told by Mrs Cahalin in particular, is another increased cost—of 3.4%, for salaries and pensions. She says that in her budget for 2015-16 she expects a drop in income of at least £100,000, with increased costs of £100,000. That means taking £200,000 out of the school’s budget—and the prospect of many subjects disappearing. As Dr Pyle and Mrs Nicholls say, there is now the prospect that grammar schools, which were, as hon. Members have said, looked to as centres of excellence, will provide just the minimum. They will provide the minimum three A-levels, whereas they used to provide courses with four A-levels, and they will restrict entry by other people to their sixth forms, because of cost.

That serious issue affects children’s education today. I have mentioned my professional life in education, trying to turn around state comprehensives, and have also described the incredible institutions that are to be found in my constituency, alongside successful comprehensives. Dr Pyle says:

“Our proudest boast has been that pupils from exceptional state schools like ours can take on the independent sector and win!”

It seems to me ironic that under a coalition Government with a Conservative majority, we may lose that. I hope that the Minister will address the problems raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, and the serious concerns expressed by head teachers about funding problems coming down the line for the future, because of salary and pension decisions taken by the Government.

I am proud to represent a town that has some of the best schools in the country and is in the top 10 for GCSE achievement; I am talking about both grammar and non-selective schools in Slough. I am very concerned about the consequences of the sixth-form funding situation for all schools in Slough. When I was first elected, not all the schools in my constituency had sixth forms, but they now do. Some sixth form pupils transfer from their secondary school to a grammar school, to do the A-levels that they want, but there is a thriving set of schools in the town. I am concerned that despite claims about protection of a balanced school budget, several Government decisions are harming those schools, particularly for children who want to stay on to do A-levels.

Targeting funding towards children with particular characteristics, measured by deprivation and low attainment, penalises schools that have low numbers of such students, as we have heard. That equally affects academic comprehensive schools in relatively prosperous areas, as many Conservative Members have said. Also, recent changes to the way the relevant characteristics are measured and funded through the local formula have resulted in some of Slough’s successful non-selective schools losing funding; Slough and Eton school in my constituency is an example. Our modelling for Slough for next year’s budget indicates that that suffering might be more widespread, largely because of the reduction in post-16 funding.

I am very concerned because I am with the parents of my constituency who recognise that although East Berkshire college is the right setting for some 16-year-olds—the adventurous kids who like the mix of vocational and academic subjects available there—there are other kids who need the closer pastoral network that exists in a school or want to carry on the sporting history and so on that they have developed in school. It is wrong that the Government’s funding arrangements for 16-plus are removing that choice for parents; one of my concerns about grammar schools is that the people who do the choosing are not the parents but the schools.

I wish that we had a range of schools that did not exclude children out but included them in, but that is beside the point in a debate about funding—at the heart of it, funding at sixth-form level. Funding for all post-16 providers is being reduced to the level associated with further education colleges, but school sixth forms just do not have the economies of scale associated with large college provision, so are disproportionately affected. Grammar schools with large sixth forms are the most seriously affected by the changes.

I have looked at the plans for schools in my constituency. Upton Court grammar school, which, I profoundly regret, changed its name from Slough grammar school, has given me a list of some of the ways in which it is affected:

“Cuts to the curriculum—we have already had to reduce the number of subjects that we can offer to students at GCSE and A level. We have collaborated with a nearby school to retain some subjects…Increased class sizes—to avoid operating at a loss we have comprehensively reviewed our work force needs and increased class sizes.”

It goes on to state that

“at a time when costs such as salaries (costs of living) and pensions (government reform) are rising our income is being reduced. The only thing we can do to counter this is reduce the breadth of the curriculum even further and reduce the level of pastoral support we offer to students.”

Frankly, that is not a record of which any Government should be proud. We must help all our schools with successful sixth forms to provide pastoral care and the range of options that kids are capable of following.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) on his speech and the way in which he introduced the subject. He was entirely right to concentrate on the overall objective of fairness. The tone of the debate has been excellent in every respect. I went to St Bonaventure grammar school in Newham in the east end of London—for a time, its headmaster was the current chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw. I am pleased to have noted during the debate that three colleagues present contributed to a pamphlet on working class Conservative Members of Parliament, which says everything about how colleagues see grammar schools as a focus for opportunity.

In Southend, we have the following grammar schools: Westcliff high school for girls, Westcliff high school for boys, Southend high school for girls and Southend high school for boys. I am delighted to tell the House that those schools have produced a number of Members of Parliament; I am not so pleased to tell the House that they have produced more Labour than Conservative ones. A number of those Members now sit in the House of Lords, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) also went to one of our excellent local grammar schools.

I would like to mention just a few of those schools’ achievements. Four pupils from Westcliff high school for boys competed in the UK Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge, a national competition sponsored by the university of Oxford and ARM Holding plc. They will appear in the Bebras hall of fame for 2014. Recently, Southend high school for boys and Southend high school for girls qualified to represent England at the World School Championships Athletic in China in June this year.

To return to the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, this debate is very much about fairness. The idea that any political party is going to abolish grammar schools is, frankly, for the fairies. That argument is over. I have my own views on grammar schools. When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was the shadow Secretary of State for Education, she had in mind the expansion of the number of grammar schools. It is a shame that my party abandoned that policy, but I will not revisit that argument. The issue is entirely a matter of unfairness in funding per pupil.

We have with us an excellent Minister, for whom I have the highest regard. He has visited a number of schools in my constituency. I have met the heads of the grammar schools in Southend, and the meeting was attended by the gentleman in charge of their funding. That was very positive, but I have now been waiting six weeks to hear what the outcome of that meeting is. I say gently to my hon. Friend the Minister that officials need to be geed up on this matter. The House will rise at the end of March; this Member of Parliament will not wait until the end of March for a firm assurance that the four grammar schools in Southend are going to be funded fairly.

At Southend high school for boys, the deprivation rate is 5%, yet it receives £4,503 per pupil; at Southend high school for girls, the deprivation rate is 6%, and it receives £4,540 per pupil; at Westcliff high school for boys, the deprivation rate is 5%, and it gets £4,503 per pupil; and at Westcliff high school for girls, the deprivation rate is 4%, and it gets £4,449 per pupil. Those are among the lowest funding figures in Essex, in both absolute and relative terms. That is an absolute disgrace.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely illogical to have a post-16 funding system that penalises the very schools that are producing the results in STEM subjects that we so desperately need? That is clearly one of the driving issues in this debate.

I absolutely agree. The funding for the four grammar schools in Southend is totally unfair compared with others in Essex.

Another indicator is free school meals. Between 1.4% and 2.2% of pupils at the four grammar schools in my constituency are eligible for free school meals; Colchester County high school for girls has only 1.3% of pupils eligible for free meals and a record low deprivation rate of 1%, but it receives a lot more money—about £450 more per pupil—than my local schools.

Head teachers have voiced concerns about the 10% reduction in their budgets between 2012 and 2017. Such reductions are obviously understandable in the case of services that fail to manage their budgets efficiently, but that is not true of the four grammar schools in Southend, which do an excellent job. Importantly, the Government have announced that those studying four A-levels will receive about £400 more a year, and that those studying five or more A-levels will receive around £800 more. I just cannot understand how those amounts have been calculated. It costs around £1,000 per student per year for each successfully completed A-level.

Supporting underperforming schools in disadvantaged areas is a commendable aim, but it cannot be achieved at the expense of grammar schools, which are some of the best-performing schools in England. The Government should do their utmost to invest in the talented young people who want to work hard and take up extra A-level subjects. Their aspirations must be backed by sufficient funding calculated appropriately in collaboration with education professionals, rather than pulled out of thin air, as currently seems to be the case.

Perhaps at the outset I should say that I was educated at a comprehensive school, I taught at a comprehensive school, and my daughter attended a comprehensive school. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) very deftly tried to change the terms of the debate away from the title on the Order Paper. He opened his speech by saying that the debate also applies to comprehensive schools. It is a pity that he did not actually put that in the title of the debate and say that it would be about sixth-form funding. I understand why he might have put it in the terms he did—the juxtaposition of the terms “grammar” and “school” is catnip to his Conservative colleagues. Had he said that the debate was about 16-to-19 funding, many other colleagues from areas of the country that do not have one of the 164 remaining grammar schools might have liked to attend and raise with the Government their concerns about 16-to-19 education funding in schools and sixth-form colleges in their constituencies. It may well be that another debate is needed to enable a broader cross-section of the House to participate.

In introducing the debate—I thank the hon. Gentleman for the advance copy of his speech, which he supplied to me prior to the debate, and wish I was that well organised—he said:

“Supplemental funding for the disadvantaged is widely welcomed”.

He then went off script and said “we all accept that”, and yet, towards the end of his speech, he said:

“What we need is not 80% or 90% of funding allocated on pupil-led factors”,

but simply “funding per pupil”. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman squares those two statements, and how he can achieve that without reducing funding to the other schools in his Lincolnshire constituency. He might want to explain to the head teachers of the other schools in his constituency how much of their budget he thinks should be cut to accommodate what he said in his speech.

The right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) went as far as saying that the current 16-to-19 funding system introduced by the Government is

“damaging the life chances of children.”

That is very serious, and I hope the Minister will respond to that charge in his summing up.

The hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) talked about grammar schools in Kent, but he did not talk about the overall impact of a selective system and how Kent overall gets poorer results than many comparable non-selective counties. That feature in defence of grammar schools was not entered into during the debate. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) also criticised the effects of the Government’s policy on 16-to-19 funding.

The hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), along with many others, said that what was happening was due to the unintended consequences of what the Government have done on 16-to-19 funding. He called for a re-examination of the policy of ring-fencing the schools budget for five to 16-year-olds because of the impact it is having on the 16-to-19 budget. I would be interested to know the Minister’s response to that suggestion. By the way, if it is an unintended consequence, that calls into question the competence of the decision in the first place, because if funding at 16 to 19 was going to be levelled down while protecting the five-to-16 budget, it was obvious that that would have significant impacts. Presumably Ministers, and the submissions they received from civil servants—we do not get to see those—went through fully and in detail the consequences of taking the decision and the impact it would have on sixth forms and sixth-form colleges.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), who, like me, is a former school teacher, pointed out all the other additional costs that are coming down the pipeline for schools. Again, the Minister should respond to that point. I recall from an earlier debate that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood taught in comprehensive and secondary modern schools, so he has a full experience of both sides of that equation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) pointed out the impact of 16-to-19 funding on all post-16 providers, not just the selective ones—although all post-16 providers are selective in some ways, because that is the very point at which selection is permitted within our system overall. The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) agreed that 16-to-19 funding was unfair and gave examples from his constituency.

I should say something about grammar schools, as that is the advertised title on the Order Paper. Overall, it is the Opposition’s view that a system of selection at 11 is not the way to raise school standards or to promote social mobility. In fact, that is currently the Government’s position. Instead, we should focus relentlessly on supporting schools to raise standards for all pupils regardless of their backgrounds. The most effective way to do that is through promoting great teaching and leadership in our schools. The evidence for that is absolutely clear internationally. Andreas Schleicher, who is often quoted by the Government and who oversees the OECD programme for international student assessment scores, has made it absolutely clear that the international evidence shows that systems with selection for children at the tender age of 11, and all that that entails, perform less well than non-selective school systems.

Far from promoting social mobility, selective systems entrench social division. The difference in the domestic average wages between the top 10% and the bottom 10% of earners is much wider in selective areas than in non-selective areas. Schools that select at age 11 are also highly socially selective institutions overall. Almost all the remaining 164 grammar schools in this country have fewer than 10% of pupils eligible for free school meals. In 2010, 96,680 year 7 pupils received free school meals from a total of 549,725 pupils in state schools. Of the 22,070 grammar school pupils in that age bracket, only 610 were receiving free school meals. It is undeniable that the poorest children are losing out, in part because in some areas almost everyone who passes the 11-plus has had private tuition of one sort or another.

I will not go into great detail about the evidence from the past—it is probably not where we should go in today’s debate—but suffice to say, the rose-tinted view of the selective system of the past is not true. At its height at the beginning of the 1960s, a third of grammar school pupils got only three O-levels, and only 0.3% of grammar school pupils at that time with two A-levels were working class. It is therefore a myth that grammar schools were great engines of social mobility. There are many reasons for the great surge in social mobility, but selection at 11 is not one of them.

That is why the current Prime Minister was absolutely right in 2007 when he said that those who wanted to expand the number of grammar schools were

“splashing around in the shallow end of the educational debate”.

He went to say that his party was in danger of becoming “a right-wing debating society” rather than

“an aspiring party of government”.

That is why the current Government have held on, largely, to the policy of not allowing more schools that select at age 11, although they have permitted a loophole to those that he said were

“clinging on to outdated mantras that bear no relation to the reality of life”—

they have created a loophole to allow the expansion of selective provision by stealth to locations many miles away from existing grammar schools.

Let us agree to disagree on grammar schools. In the last couple of minutes of his speech, will the hon. Gentleman focus on the fact that the Labour party presumably is committed to a fair funding formula for all schools with successful sixth forms?

Yes, I can do that, and I can confirm that. Labour policy remains that the remaining selective schools should be a matter for local parental choice. Our policy has not changed on that since it was introduced in 1998, and it has been reconfirmed by the current Government. In the course of the hon. Gentleman’s speech, he was right to point out that sixth-form or 16-to-19 funding is causing a great problem for many schools across the country. Of course, there is no different formula for grammar schools—I would like to make that point, so there is no myth about it. The difference in funding between grammar schools and others is largely because of the difference in their pupil intakes, because of all the factors we have heard about. However, he is right that many schools, including grammar schools, have been hit very hard by the severe cuts in sixth-form and college funding that the Government have imposed. As I said, it might have been more fruitful to have a debate under that broader title to allow others to introduce that subject.

Finally, there are a few questions that the Minister needs to address. Was the decision to slash 16-to-19 funding intended to impact hardest on sixth forms, colleges and, indeed, selective schools? What was the rationale for that decision? Was the result deliberate, or is it, as many hon. Members have suggested, an unintended consequence, in which case there would be an issue of incompetence in relation to the decision?

Since 2006, the Conservative party has said that it is against more selection at 11. Is that still the case? Will the Minister tell us what is happening with the decision about the satellite grammar school in Kent? Will he pledge to include financial data in performance data relating to academies, so that we can debate them?

The issue of competence relates to a budget deficit left to the current Government by the Government whom the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) supported and served in. That is the basis behind everything that we are discussing this morning.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) on securing this important debate, and other hon. Members on their thoughtful and principled speeches, on which I will continue to reflect. Creating a world-class education system that enables parents to send their children to good or outstanding schools is central to the Government’s plan for education. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) said, the Government’s education reforms have massively improved the life chances of millions of children in this country, and they will continue to do that. Grammar schools, with their focus on the highest standards of teaching, play an important role in delivering on that goal. There is no ambiguity about the Government’s views on grammar schools.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford and other hon. Friends referred to unfairnesses in the funding system. That is inherent in the way local authorities historically have been funded for their school budgets. In 2014, we announced the introduction of minimum funding levels, which will allocate, as has been pointed out, an additional £390 million to the least fairly funded local authorities for 2015-16. That includes Warwickshire, which received £15.4 million, and North Yorkshire, which received £9.8 million. That increase in funding represents a huge step towards removing that historical unfairness in the schools funding system. The Government have made more progress in that area than any recent Government. That puts us in a much better position to implement a national funding formula when the time is right.

As my hon. Friends will know, faced with the historically high budget deficit when we came into office in 2010, the Government needed to identify savings from across Whitehall and the public sector. Despite that, we have consistently prioritised funding for schools, ensuring that spending has been maintained in real terms. The schools budget for five to 16-year-olds has been protected since 2011, in addition to which the pupil premium to support disadvantaged pupils is worth some £2.5 billion this year. Those commitments have been possible only because the Government have found savings elsewhere, including other parts of the education budget, but I understand the concerns that the burden of those savings in education has fallen disproportionately on grammar schools or successful comprehensive schools with large academic sixth forms.

Two concerns have been particularly prominent in today’s debate. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) pointed out, grammar schools are more likely to have large sixth forms, which may have seen reductions to funding as we have reformed the 16-to-19 funding formulas. Secondly, grammar schools are less likely to be eligible for funding made available on the basis of low prior attainment and deprivation, as the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and other hon. Members pointed out.

As the hon. Member for Cardiff West pointed out, funding for grammar schools is allocated in precisely the same way as funding for all other schools, whether academies, local authority maintained schools or non-selective schools, but I recognise that some features of the funding system will have resulted in grammar schools receiving less funding than many non-grammar schools in similar areas.

I will deal with those concerns in a moment, but I should first like to pay tribute to the exceptional results achieved over the last five years by some of the schools mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough in his opening remarks. Since 2010, 100% of students attending Caistor grammar school have achieved at least five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths, and in 2014, 96.8% of students received 10 A* to C grades. Also at Caistor grammar school, 76.4% of A-levels were at grades A* to B, and at Queen Elizabeth’s high school, 61.5% of A-level grades were A* to B. Those schools are achieving remarkable high-quality, high-standard academic education results.

My hon. Friends are right that grammar schools are less likely to be eligible for funding made available on the basis of, for example, low prior attainment or deprivation. Local authorities set their own funding formulas to decide how to distribute funding for pupils aged five to 16. Low prior attainment is a common factor used in those local formulas. Given that grammar schools select their intake on the basis of ability, they are by definition unlikely to have pupils who have attained poorly in the past, so they are unlikely to qualify for that element of the local funding formulas. The purpose of low prior attainment funding is to ensure that as many young people as possible leave school with the right knowledge and skills to be able to succeed in adult life and in modern Britain. For a strong economy and society, it is important that we continue to target funding towards pupils who are not on track to do that.

Equally, grammar schools are less likely than other schools to have large numbers of pupils from poorer backgrounds, including pupils eligible for free school meals. Local authorities have to use a deprivation factor in their local formulas, meaning that schools with higher numbers of such pupils will receive additional funding. The evidence is clear that economic disadvantage remains strongly associated with poor academic performance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) will be aware that all grammar schools can adopt a pupil premium admissions priority for children eligible for free school meals, provided that they meet the entry criteria. Currently, of the 164 grammar schools, 32 have done so and 65 are consulting on adopting that priority in their admissions criteria from September 2016. The Government have encouraged greater collaboration between grammar schools and local primaries specifically to identify those disadvantaged children with potential at key stage 4, and to encourage them to take the 11-plus and apply to enter a grammar school.

Closing the attainment gap between those from poorer and wealthier backgrounds has been the central objective underlying all the education reforms in our plan for education, but of course the pupil premium is in addition to the main dedicated schools grant, which means that no schools are losing out as a result of the pupil premium, regardless of their pupil demographic.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough pointed out, grammar schools tend to have a greater proportion of their students in the sixth form than other 11-to-18 secondary schools. That means that any reduction in funding for pupils aged 16 to 19 will have a greater impact.

My hon. Friends are right that we have ended the disparity between school sixth forms and colleges. By August 2015, schools and colleges will be funded at the same level for similar programmes. However, there has been some mitigation—transition funding so that schools do not suffer abrupt changes to their funding straight away. We fund all 16-to-19 providers for study programmes of 600 hours per year for full-time students. That is sufficient for a study programme of three A-levels plus one AS-level, and up to 150 hours of enrichment activities, over a two-year study programme. There should be no need to cut those extra-curricular activities, which are such an important part of a rounded school education. In addition, as has been mentioned, we have, in 2013-14, increased the rate for larger programmes of study. For students who are studying four A-levels, the school will receive an extra £400 per pupil, and for those who are studying five A-levels, the school will receive an extra £800.

Tackling a £150 billion budget deficit has had to be a priority for a Government with a clear long-term economic plan to return our economy to one of strong growth and increasing employment and opportunity. Despite that, the schools budget has been protected in real terms, but I acknowledge that difficult decisions have had to be taken and I accept that some of those decisions have impacted on funding.

Order. I thank all hon. Members who took part in that interesting and important debate. I ask all those not staying for the next debate to leave quickly and quietly.