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Education Funding: Wirral

Volume 630: debated on Tuesday 31 October 2017

I beg to move,

That this House has considered education funding in Wirral.

I am grateful to have obtained this debate about such a critical issue for my constituents ahead of the Chancellor’s crucial autumn Budget on 22 November. I trust that the Minister, who represents the Government, will listen to what I have to say and convey to the Chancellor as he deliberates on the content of his Budget the anxiety of so many people who are involved in education at all levels. The reality is that the overall funding pot for schools is too small. Whatever claims the Minister may make, the lived experience of my constituents—parents, teachers, support staff and pupils—is that school budgets are not enough to keep up with rising running costs. The consequences are huge pressures and deteriorating education opportunities for Wallasey’s kids.

In the 25 years that I have represented Wallasey in this place, I have paid regular visits to local schools and met many teachers, support staff, pupils and parents, and I have to tell the Minister that the warning lights are flashing. In all my time in Parliament, I have never heard expressed such wide-ranging concern about funding pressure as I hear now about the pressure that all Wallasey’s schools are experiencing. That pressure extends right across the Wirral. It came up forcefully during the general election, and the Government subsequently had to find extra funding. Although that is to be welcomed as a good start, it is not enough to alleviate existing pressures, and the Government’s decisions about how to distribute it disadvantaged further those who were already struggling from significant disadvantage.

This funding crisis hits the most vulnerable hardest. This crisis is happening now; schools in Wallasey are being forced now to cut back on staff, on the curriculum and on teaching materials. A National Audit Office report last year concluded that schools will need to reduce spending by an average of 8% per pupil by 2020. That would be the largest real-terms cut since the 1970s. School budgets have been cut by £2.8 billion since 2015 at a time of rising and additional costs, and schools are struggling to cope.

I very much endorse what my hon. Friend is saying about the crisis we are facing. Thanks to Feeding Birkenhead, Wirral adopted a policy of using its housing benefit data to identify those pupils who are eligible for free school meals and the pupil premium, resulting in another £750,000 for Wirral schools. However, despite that additional funding, which the council activated by using its IT sensibly, everything my hon. Friend says stands.

My right hon. Friend points out the layers of disadvantage that are often not taken into account by the Government’s distributive mechanisms. The proposed new national funding formula is one such mechanism, and it will do nothing to alleviate the crisis in Wirral schools.

What is particularly insulting is the Government’s persistent claim that the national funding formula is based on the principle of fairness and the frankly ludicrous claim that schools will see an increase in funding as a result of it. No one believes that there are no flaws in the current system—we all recognise that—but, rather than rectifying them, the new national funding formula simply creates new ones. It shifts an already inadequate sum of money from one area of the country to another, with some of the most deprived areas losing out. I do not know about the Minister, but that is not my definition of fairness.

I have no doubt that we will be told by the Minister about the additional £1.3 billion over two years announced in September by the Education Secretary. First, that is not new money but rather a sum that has been assumed to be available from unrealistic, so-called efficiency savings and cannibalised from other parts of the budget. Secondly, it will do little to compensate for the £2.8 billion of cuts schools have suffered since 2015. Ask any teacher in my constituency, or any school governor, and they will talk about the cutbacks that schools are already having to make as a result of the real-terms reductions in their budgets at a time of spiralling costs.

Lord Harris of Peckham, a Conservative party donor who runs a large academy chain, let the cat out of the bag recently. He said that the schools he runs are facing a 20% cut in funding by 2020 and that the Government should put more funding into schools. I agree with him.

I turn to the specific impact that the funding pressures are having on schools in the Wirral. As I mentioned at the outset, I have maintained a frequent dialogue with schools in my constituency throughout my time as an MP. Everyone I speak to tells me the same story: funding from the Government has failed to keep pace with running costs in schools. According to figures from the National Education Union, my constituency is set to lose an average of £149 per pupil in real terms between 2015-16 and 2019-20, with a total loss of 29 teachers. Wirral as a whole will lose on average £111 per pupil and 108 teachers.

The cuts come at a time of additional pressures on school budgets such as rises in national insurance contributions and pension contributions and, most recently, the apprentice levy. There are also growing demands on schools to offer social services support and family support and to deal with increasingly complex mental health issues. Meanwhile, cuts to local authority budgets have made matters even worse, because they have decimated the support that the local authority used to provide to our local schools.

Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council has lost £150 million since 2010 and is set to lose a further £132 million by 2020-21. That amounts to a 40% cut in its budget. As a consequence, local authority support for schools has been cut drastically. In Wirral, cuts to the education services grant have left the council with a £1 million shortfall. That grant funds areas such as mental health support, fire safety and the maintenance of school buildings and playing fields. Likewise, social services and family support have been decimated by the huge cuts to local authority budgets. To make up for the shortfall, the council will have to absorb it into its already shrinking budget, cut services or force schools to pay up themselves, heaping more pressure on their already stretched finances.

Adrian Whitely, headteacher at The Mosslands School in my constituency, told me about the impact of funding cuts on his school. His quote is worth reading out in full, and I do so with his permission. He says:

“Five years ago, The Mosslands School, an 11-to-19 boys school with approximately 1000 pupils on roll, had 79 teaching staff and 18 teaching assistants. Due to budget reduction and rises in running costs, today it has 60 teachers and 8 teaching assistants. Average class size has risen with the majority of pupils now taught in classes of over 30. Over 40% of its pupils are entitled to free school meals at some stage; 26% of the students are identified as having additional special education needs; the number of children meeting the threshold for social services intervention has doubled in 24 months; and there are a further 20 pupils who are in the care of a Local Authority. It is a popular school and was deemed to be a good school when it was inspected last year. This year, it had to make a further 6 redundancies to balance its budget. This clearly cannot continue.”

Cuts such as those cannot simply be dismissed by the Government as efficiency savings. I note that the Government are increasingly fond of claiming, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the cuts are actually increases. I intend to deal with that argument in detail a little later in my speech, but the fact is that the cuts are having a tangible effect on the breadth and standard of education that schools in Wallasey can provide.

I recently visited Birkenhead Sixth Form College, which as its name suggests sits just outside Wallasey in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), but it is attended by many of my constituents. In advance of the meeting, the principal, Mike Kilbride, wrote to me to outline the funding shortage faced by the college. He stated:

“At Birkenhead Sixth Form College we currently educate over 1,300 young people and passionately believe that every student deserves a first class education. Unfortunately, funding cuts and cost increases are making this increasingly difficult to provide. In the last year we have had to make many tough decisions including the withdrawal of some provision.”

Birkenhead Sixth Form College has had to reduce its curriculum in areas such as performance art and music. Perhaps the Government believe that such subjects are surplus to requirements, but I believe they are an integral part of a well-rounded education. The UK performs particularly well in music and the arts, and that success earns the country worldwide recognition and plenty of economic benefits. Those benefits are being put in jeopardy by short-sighted policies.

One headteacher of another school told me that funding for special educational needs children was becoming a cause for concern. There are statistically a high number of special needs pupils in the Wirral, and many of those needs are very complex. Many pupils have needs that require one-to-one attention from teachers with specific expertise. The funding that schools receive per SEN child does not always provide for that. The headteacher said that SEN funding “disappears in an instant”.

The vast majority of school spending goes on staff. With pay progression, the best teachers receive pay rises and older teachers tend to be paid more. However, as one headteacher pointed out to me, the national funding system takes no account of that. Schools are therefore struggling to fund pay increases as well as significant increases in national insurance contributions. One headteacher told me that

“teachers are teaching bigger and bigger classes”.

Not only does that create more work in the classroom; it also leads to more marking and more admin, and it is putting a bigger strain on them.

As figures from the National Education Union reveal, the pattern of funding cuts is being replicated in schools all over Wallasey and the Wirral. Most worryingly of all, some of the most deprived areas are being hit the hardest. To be clear, the figures I use take 2015 as their base year and reveal that, despite the Government’s attempted sleight of hand with what they like to call new money for schools, the funding given to schools has been cut by 4.6% overall between 2015 and 2020.

I will now deal with how that reality affects schools in Wallasey. The Oldershaw Academy, a school where 64% of pupils are on free school meals, is set to lose £233,000 in total by 2020, or £455 per pupil. St Mary’s Catholic College, where 53% of pupils are on free school meals, will lose £224,000, the equivalent of £186 per pupil. Primary schools in Wallasey are also being hit, and small schools, which can least afford to absorb huge funding reductions, are among the worst affected. Kingsway Primary School, where 53% of pupils receive free school meals, will see a real-terms cut of 19% per pupil. Eastway Primary School, where 52% of pupils are on free school meals, will see a cut of 10%.

As I outlined earlier, these figures do not tell the full story. They are accompanied by rising costs and additional sources of expenditure, such as the apprenticeship levy and national insurance contributions. There have been numerous press reports of state schools asking parents for donations to keep their school afloat—a double disadvantage for those schools that serve poor communities, where the parents simply cannot afford to fork out the extra money that schools now routinely ask for.

Many parts of Wallasey and the Wirral have high levels of deprivation. In Wallasey, a total of 41% of pupils are in receipt of free school meals, but we will lose £149 of funding per pupil by 2020. I do not call that an increase, even if the Minister is going to claim in his reply that it is. By contrast, the constituency of Bournemouth East will gain £36 per pupil, despite only having 19% of pupils on free school meals. North East Hampshire will see a small gain, despite only having 10% of pupils on free school meals. How can the Minister possibly justify that?

Another of the Government’s flagship education policies is multi-academy trusts, which have implications for, and give rise to questions about, funding and accountability. In June this year, just after the general election, the Government took the decision to close the Kingsway Academy in Leasowe, in my constituency. The school will close on a phased basis by the end of the 2017-18 academic year, and many pupils have already been forced to move on to neighbouring schools. The school, formerly known as the Wallasey School, has a long and proud history, and provided an education for pupils in Wirral for generations. It is astonishing that the multi-academy trust, the Northern Schools Trust, was allowed to walk away as soon as it became clear that it could no longer turn a profit, just three years after taking over the school. That was after it had summarily closed down the sixth form a couple of years ago, leaving 80 pupils high and dry.

I cannot stress enough how much anxiety the announcement caused parents, pupils and staff when it appeared out of the blue just four weeks before the end of the academic year, but that was par for the course with the Northern Schools Trust. The decision was taken behind everyone’s back and the local community was kept in the dark throughout the process. As soon as I heard rumours of the school’s closure, I asked the Minister to meet me. By the time he had agreed to do so, he had already taken the decision to close the school. I believe that the episode exposed a worrying lack of transparency and accountability at the heart of the Government’s policy on multi-academy trusts. Had Kingsway been a maintained school, it would have been obliged to conduct a 12 to 18-month consultation, involving parents, trade unions and the local community, before a closure; yet there is no such obligation on academies to consult.

When we look at the list of income allocated to schools, we find that the only school in Wallasey that has had an increase, at £524 per pupil, and a 9% uplift in its funding, was the Kingsway Academy, which is now being closed. The Northern Schools Trust essentially announced closure within four weeks, having left council officials, unions and other stakeholders in the dark. The multi-academy trust seems to be free to walk away from the school, leaving the local authority to pick up the pieces, with the future of pupils’ education left in the balance.

The lack of accountability was highlighted in the Education Committee’s report on multi-academy trusts, published in February this year. With a multi-academy trust, the accountability is transferred from local governing boards to a central trustee board that holds the decision-making responsibilities. The report noted:

“We were told by parents that MATs are not sufficiently accountable to their local community and they feel disconnected from decision making at trustee board level. There is too much emphasis on ‘upward’ accountability and not enough on local engagement.”

The report went on to recommend:

“MATs should demonstrate a sincere commitment to outreach and engagement with the local community.”

In my experience, they are a long way from doing so. That is certainly advice that the Northern Schools Trust should have heeded during the Kingsway debacle.

Multi-academy trusts are recipients of huge amounts of public money, but they do not seem to be subject to the same standards of accountability. When school budgets are being squeezed as they are, and when schools are having to reduce staff numbers and are struggling to purchase equipment, is it right for MATs to pay their chief executive officers an annual salary of £160,000, as the Northern Schools Trust does? If multi-academy trusts were an unrivalled success, there might be at least a case for it, but when they are allowed to take over a school, fail to turn it around and walk away with no public consultation and little in the way of repercussions, the Government should ask themselves whether the policy is acceptable.

I have no doubt that the Minister has come armed with the Government’s own figures, giving the impression that Wirral schools will receive funding increases as part of the new national funding formula. After all, he has been going round claiming that cash increases are actually real increases, and hoping that nobody would notice the huge rise in running costs that all schools have to cope with, which more than wipe out any of the so-called gains for which the Minister is spuriously claiming credit. If the claim of increases were remotely true, does the Minister imagine that Wallasey’s headteachers, staff, parents and pupils would be complaining so much about the funding pressures that are causing them to cut back on the curriculum, sack teachers and increase class sizes?

Let us take a moment to interrogate these figures before the Minister brandishes them about in his reply. The Government’s figures show that in 2018-19, Wirral schools will receive, on average, a 1.6% increase in cash terms. Government figures also show that they will then receive a further 0.8% cash-terms increase in 2019-20. Schools in my own constituency in Wallasey will receive a 1.5% cash-terms increase—slightly less than the average for Wirral—in the first year, and an additional 0.6% the following year. Again, that is slightly below average. I note, however, that revealing ministerial phrase, “cash terms”. It does not take an economic genius to work out that, with inflation running close to 3%, that amounts to a significant real-terms cut.

The Government’s wilful and convenient confusion between a cash-terms and real-terms increase is only part of the story. The Minister’s figures show modest cash-terms rises from 2017-18, using that year as a baseline. By choosing that baseline, the Government are entirely and deliberately ignoring the cuts that took place before that—cuts that even as I speak are already being felt in classrooms across the country. That is pretty shoddy, but there is even more bad practice to come. The Minister’s figures also overlook the additional pressures on school budgets that I outlined earlier: the apprenticeship levy, national insurance contributions, pension contributions, any increases in staff pay, loss of education services provided by local authorities and any additional help on issues such as mental health and social services support, which used to be provided by local authorities but have now been decimated by the swingeing cuts this Government have made to local authority budgets.

Despite this accumulation of budget cuts and cost increases, the Government insist on perpetuating the ridiculous and false claim that schools are actually receiving more money. I suppose they are, but only in the most meaningless, technical sense. Actually, they are not really. I hope that the Minister will be reasonable enough to not treat us to another bout of that nonsense. How can he claim that schools are getting more money when they are sacking staff, increasing class sizes and cutting subjects from the curriculum? Frankly, Ministers are living in a parallel universe if they think that their farcical claims bear any relation to the situation confronting headteachers and staff on the ground, where the effects of austerity are being felt in classrooms all over Wallasey and all over Wirral.

I encourage the Minister to visit the schools in my constituency and across the Wirral to observe the real-terms cuts that schools are having to make, and the very real consequences that those cuts are having on our schools’ capacity to provide an outstanding education for all. Perhaps he may then see the error of his ways and realise that he has to persuade the Chancellor to put our children first and finally agree to the real-terms increases needed to give the next generation the educational chances they really deserve.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) on securing this important debate.

According to the Government’s own figures, funding for schools in Wirral under the new formula will rise from £194.7 million in 2017-18 to £197.8 million in 2018-19, and then £199.3 million in 2019-20. Funding in Wirral in 2019-20 is scheduled to be 2.4% higher than in 2017-18. However, the average national increase for that period is 3.2%, so it is clear, even from the Government’s own figures, that Wirral is set to miss out.

Figures from the National Education Union tell a different story, showing that funding for schools in Wirral is to fall by nearly £4.8 million between 2015-16 and 2019-20, and revealing a loss in per-pupil funding of 2%—£111 per pupil. It predicts that, as a result, schools in Wirral will lose more than 100 teachers overall. It has also pointed out that school cuts have not been reversed, and that the vast majority of schools will have less money per pupil next year and in 2020 than when the Government took office in 2015. As a former schoolteacher college lecturer myself, the quality of education we provide to our young people is a subject very close to my heart. I know only too well, from first-hand experience, what happens when schools struggle with cuts by Conservative Governments, because, of course, we have been here before.

The loss of 100 teachers from Wirral schools will have huge implications for pupils and teachers. Cuts are likely to lead to increased class sizes, the loss of subject choice and curriculum areas—especially in the arts, which are so important to ensure the development of a rounded education—and increased pressure on the remaining staff, who will have to teach the same number of pupils. All of that matters because education is vital to the development of the next generation and to the future of our country, and I believe there really can be no shortcuts. The National Education Union has said that high-needs, early years and post-16 education have suffered the biggest cuts and are not being fairly funded.

Headteachers of schools in my constituency have told me that they face a real challenge in supporting children with special educational needs. In one school, Fender Primary School, 39% of pupils have special educational needs, compared with the national average of 13.5% for primary schools, while more than 50% of its pupils are eligible for free school meals. That presents particular challenges, but the school’s most recent Ofsted report noted that

“The school’s commitment to ensuring all pupils equally succeed is strong. All pupils achieve well, and some outstandingly so, including disabled pupils and those with special educational needs.”

I pay tribute to the school’s staff, its pupils and their parents. The report also said:

“The headteacher has high ambitions for pupils’ personal development and academic achievement”,

and that she is “driving improvements”. High levels of support are important for children with special educational needs, whether provided by teachers or classrooms assistants, who of course can often be very highly qualified.

In some cases in which a child is experiencing special difficulties, one-to-one support may be necessary; for other pupils, smaller class sizes may be sufficient. It can take considerable time for an education, health and care plan for a pupil to be approved. During that time, schools have to fund that extra support themselves and are not compensated for it, even though some pupils may actually have moved to another school by the time the plan is in place. In 2017-18, 145 pupils out of 244 at Fender Primary School qualified for the pupil premium. It is clear that extra funding, whether through the pupil premium or SEN funding, is vital.

Fender Primary School works hard for the community it serves. It remains open for four weeks in summer and all of Easter to support the families of its children in a range of ways that go beyond the purely educational, such as emergency food parcels and furniture for families who need it. However, despite the clear high level of need, according to the School Cuts website, Fender Primary School is predicted to lose £109,500 per year by 2020—amounting to £452 per pupil and the loss of two teachers. I will be grateful if the Minister sets out what action he will take to ensure that Fender Primary School and others like it get the funding they need, particularly for SEN, and what he will do to drop the planned cuts to Wirral’s schools as a whole.

Staff in schools across Wirral show immense dedication to their pupils. One such school, which works with children in their early years, which we all know are so important for everything that happens in the rest of their lives, is Ganneys Meadow Nursery School. Around 20% of the children there have special educational needs and/or a disability, including autism, epilepsy or mobility problems. The families of a number of the children are on low incomes, and some children may be quite vulnerable. The Ofsted report published this month judged it “outstanding” in every respect, and said of the children:

“Their joy at being at Ganneys Meadow is evident from the moment they walk through the door with happy, smiley faces.”

Ganneys Meadow’s chair of governors even voluntarily teaches GCSE maths to mothers, such is the level of commitment at the school. However, like many other maintained nursery schools, it is under extreme financial pressure. We all know how important the early years are, and it is essential that the Government give the sector the funding it needs to give children the very best start in life; the Government should match the immense dedication shown by teachers by giving them the funding needed.

Post-16 education has also received severe cuts. In his March Budget, the Chancellor announced an extra £500 million a year in funding for technical education reforms. Wirral Metropolitan College, which sits in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), has provided technical education for people in Wirral for more than 160 years, but it, too, has been hit hard by a severe squeeze in funding, like so many colleges. The National Education Union’s website reports that funding for 16 to 19-year-olds fell by 14 % in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15. The Government announced in November 2015 that 16-to-19 funding would be protected in cash terms between 2016 and 2020. However, taking inflation into account, that is still likely to mean a real-terms cut of around 8%.

There is also the introduction of adult loans. Since their introduction in 2013-14 for students aged 24 and above, and their extension to 19 to 23-year-olds in 2016-17, 58% of the total budget—£910 million—has been left unspent, according to the Student Loans Company. In other words, people have not been taking out loans. I used to work in a further education college, and although the sector can often be overlooked, it has to be recognised just how hugely important these colleges are for people as they progress from their school years through to their workplace—particularly for people who may have struggled during their time at school, due to something happening in their family, such as a bereavement, or because they were ill. It is a massively important sector, and the Government should look at it very closely.

Wirral Met serves a diverse population in Wirral, including many people from deprived backgrounds, who may be less likely to take out loans because they are already at higher risk of being in debt, which the head of the Financial Conduct Authority recently stressed as an issue. There has also been a fall of nearly 40% in the number of levels 3 and 4 learners since the loans were introduced, which the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills actually predicted back in 2012. I will be grateful if the Minister outlines his plans to address the clearly detrimental impact that cuts to post-16 education and the introduction of loans is having on the education and training of young people in Wirral.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) on securing this very timely debate on funding in the Wirral and on her excellent speech. It appears that both her and her sister, my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), have impeccable timing when it comes to winning Westminster Hall debates.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey rightly spoke about the Government’s sleight of hand in announcing further funding for education to appease their Back Benchers that never seems to materialise, and we have no idea where it comes from. As she said, it is not enough to alleviate current pressures, and the most vulnerable are the hardest hit. In the Wirral alone, the figures are stark: £5.1 million is being taken out of the system by 2020, which equates to 108 teachers.

Just last week, hundreds of teachers and school leaders descended on Westminster to do what is their democratic right: to lobby this place and the Government on school funding. Unfortunately, the Minister took a different view and took the opportunity to label those parents, teachers, school leaders and trade unionists as scaremongers. He has the opportunity today to apologise for using that language to ordinary working people who have come to this place to exercise their democratic right by protesting about school budgets being cut up and down the land.

Let us assess the facts. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey said, £2.8 billion has been taken out of the schools budget. That means 88% of schools still face real-terms budget cuts per pupil. For the average primary school, there will be a loss of around £50,000 a year. For the average secondary school, it will be a loss of £178,000 a year. It gets worse. As Members have outlined, the primary schools with the neediest intake are set to lose £324 per pupil, per year, while the least needy primary schools will lose £116 per pupil, per year. For the secondary schools with the neediest intake, the figure is £343 per pupil, per year, while the least needy secondary schools lose £62 per pupil, per year. That certainly does not sound like scaremongering to me.

There may be more money going into education than ever before, as the Minister will point out—that is the Government’s mantra—but that is because of the simple mathematics: there are more children in schools than ever before. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey and my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) made the point that the Minister will come back to us by talking about increases in cash terms, but that does not take into account inflation, the apprenticeship levy, changes to national insurance and all the other pressures currently placed on schools.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey pointed out, there are more and more cases of multi-academy trusts siphoning money out of the education system—another issue that the Secretary of State and the Minister are failing to acknowledge. My hon. Friend mentioned the disaster that happened in the Wirral with the Northern Schools Trust. We saw a few weeks ago a multi-academy trust collapsing in Wakefield, affecting a whole city and 21 schools, on this Minister’s watch. It does terrible reputational damage to Government when that type of thing happens. As The Guardian pointed out, there is now an investigation into that trust, with hundreds of thousands of pounds allegedly siphoned off before it collapsed and walked away from the children of Wakefield.

The fact is that the £1.3 billion of additional funding announced by the Secretary of State is nowhere near enough to reverse the £2.8 billion in cuts that schools have suffered since 2015. We also know that none of the money announced so far is actually new money for education. I take this opportunity to ask the Minister again—I have asked in writing and in this place before, and I will do it again—whether he will confirm, in the interests of transparency and accountability, where the cuts to funding in the Department for Education budget will fall in order to fill the black hole that the Secretary of State has created.

As has been eloquently outlined, the overall level of education funding is totally inadequate and is resulting in devastating cuts to our schools, sixth forms and colleges as we speak. When will the Minister wake up to the fact that the Government need to invest more so that our children’s education is not sacrificed? The impact of these real-terms cuts in school funding are there for all to see. It means that schools are having to cut subjects and children are being taught in supersize classes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West pointed out.

Schools are cutting staffing, and we have a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. Since 2011, a third of teachers who have trained have left the profession. We have 24,000 unqualified teachers working in our state schools and reductions in support for vulnerable children. Schools are once more beginning to crumble, and teachers are even having to pay out of their own pocket for supplies, let alone what is happening to our special educational needs system, where children’s needs are not being met. We have a crisis in our schools that the Minister is simply not willing to acknowledge.

Our key education unions—“the scaremongers”, as the Minister likes to refer to them, or the “truth-sayers”, as I prefer to call them—have set out five tests of what is required of a new fair funding settlement for schools to ensure that the education of our children and young people does not continue to suffer. The fact is that the Minister has failed on every one of them. School cuts have not been reversed; 88% of schools still face real-terms budget cuts per pupil. There is no new money in the education budget, and we are yet to discover where cuts will be made to fill the funding shortfall. High needs, early years and post-16 education will not, as promised, be fairly funded under the proposed new formula.

The Minister has made no long-term funding commitments, so schools are still in limbo. What happens beyond 2020? When can our schools expect the information they need about longer-term funding so that they can plan their budgets effectively? Yet again, historic underfunding of schools is not being addressed. We have teachers leaving the profession in record numbers, more than half a million students now crammed in supersized classes and there are more than 24,000 unqualified teachers, as I just pointed out. If I were still a teacher, I would not be able to say that the Minister has managed a passing grade.

While I of course support the principle that all schools should receive fair funding, the answer is not to take money away from existing schools and redistribute it when budgets all across the country are being cut. A fair approach would be to apply the lessons from schools in the best-performing areas in the country everywhere. It would look objectively at the level of funding required to deliver in the best-performing schools, particularly in areas of high deprivation, and use that as the basis for a formula to be applied across the whole country.

Goodness knows, we have had enough Westminster Hall debates over the last few months where Members from every area of the country have expressed concerns about school funding cuts in their area. When will the Secretary of State and the Minister remove their heads from the sand and begin to truly hear the voices of schools, teachers and parents across the country? If they do not do that soon, it is our children’s education in the Wirral and right across the country that will continue to lose out.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) on securing the debate and on her excellent speech.

I am delighted to be able to address this issue at a time when the Government have recently announced the outcome of our consultation on the national funding formula—an historic and necessary reform that will, for the first time, distribute funding on the individual needs and characteristics of every school in the country. This Government believe that all children should have an education that unlocks their potential and allows them to go as far as their talents and hard work will take them.

We are making significant progress. More schools than ever before are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, and 1.8 million more children are in good or outstanding schools today compared with 2010, including 90% of schools in the Wirral. The attainment gap between poorer children and their wealthier peers is closing; it has not closed totally. We have launched 12 opportunity areas to drive improvements in parts of the country that we know need to and can do better.

Those improvements have been made against a backdrop of an unfair and arbitrary funding system. Similar schools across the country get markedly different levels of funding for no good reason and resources are not reaching the schools that need it most. The funding system has acted as a barrier to improvement, when we need it to be a support. That is why we are delivering on our promise to reform the unfair, opaque and outdated school and high needs funding system, and introducing a national funding formula.

A prime way in which the Government have tried to direct resources to the poorest pupils, sometimes to schools in the poorest areas, has been through the pupil premium. As I said in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), the data from housing benefit will be lost as universal credit is being rolled out. I ask the Minister to take away the idea, and talk with the Department for Work and Pensions, so that the data that is in universal credit will be made available on housing circumstances to councils, so that they can automatically offer registration for the school premium and free school dinners.

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. All these issues are being considered as we move to universal credit, to ensure that children who need to be funded through the pupil premium continue to be funded.

Will the Minister take the issue away and, when he has consulted his colleagues in the other Department, write to me please?

I am happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman, but these issues are being considered as we speak.

Given the significance of this reform, it was vital that we took into account as many views as possible, and the consultation process generated over 26,000 individual responses and responses from representative organisations, and we considered all of those views. The existing system is out of date. It is based on data and decisions from over a decade ago. Funding for each area has been determined by simply rolling forward the previous years’ allocation, adjusting only for changes in the total number of pupils in each area and ignoring all the other changes.

I have read some of the right hon. Gentleman’s responses to other debates like this and he spends a great deal of time not responding to the actual questions that have been raised, by telling us in great technical detail about what the national funding formula is meant to do. Will he address some of the issues that I raised about the unfairness of Kingsway Primary School, which has 53% of pupils on free school meals, having a 19% cut in its funding, under the system that he is praising? How can that kind of result possibly be right or fair?

If the hon. Lady will be patient, I will come to each of those issues and specifically talk about the funding position of Kingsway Primary School, among the other schools that she mentioned, but I want to put this debate in the context of the reality of the situation that we are seeking to address.

When the proportion of secondary school pupils eligible for free school meals in London fell by more than 5% between 2007 and 2017, more than 25 times the decline nationally, the funding system did not respond to that change in the wealth level of London as the capital city. Addressing these damaging inequalities in the current system represents the biggest improvement in the school funding system for a decade, and from April 2018 we will introduce a national funding formula, which will, for the first time, put the funding system firmly on track to deliver resources on a consistent and transparent basis to every school in the country.

In September we published full details of the school and high needs national funding formula and the impact that it will have for every local authority. We have also published notional school-level allocations showing what each school would attract through the formula. This means that for the first time everyone can see what the national funding formula will mean for them and understand why. Alongside addressing these historical injustices, the importance of ensuring stability for all schools was also a consistent message throughout the consultation process. In recognition of that, over the next two years local authorities will continue to set their own local formula in consultation with the schools in their areas, which will determine each individual school’s budget. This will provide a small but important element of flexibility for local authorities, to allow them to respond to the changes as they come through.

School funding, as the hon. Member for Wallasey acknowledged, is at a record high because of the choices we have made to protect and increase school funding, even as we faced difficult decisions elsewhere, across Whitehall, to restore our country’s finances, and to address the historic budget deficit that we inherited in 2010. We understand that just like other public services, schools are facing cost pressures, and in recognition of this we announced in July an additional £1.3 billion for schools and high needs across 2018-19 and 2019-20—over and above the funding confirmed at the 2015 spending review. This additional funding means that the total schools budget will increase by over 6% between this year and 2019-20. As the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has confirmed, that will mean that funding per pupil for schools and high needs will now be maintained in real terms for the remaining two years of the spending review.

The right hon. Gentleman is taking as his baseline this financial year, yet there have been real terms cuts in schools for the last two years, as I thought I had explained, so he is trying to claim that there has been an increase, when in fact he is discounting the cuts that have already happened. He knows that it is not an accurate way of talking about what happened. Why doesn’t he just admit it?

There have been no cuts in funding to schools. There have been cost pressures, as I have acknowledged time and time again, that schools have absorbed, as have other parts of the public sector and parts of the private sector. There have been cost pressures of higher taxes, higher employer’s national insurance contributions and higher employer’s contribution to the teachers’ pension scheme, because we believe it is right that teachers’ pensions are properly funded, but I am telling the hon. Lady and this House that spending will rise in real terms on a per pupil basis.

I will now come to the issue she raised about her schools. As a consequence of the consultation process, we introduced a de minimis funding level for the very lowest funded schools. We introduced a de minimis funding level of £4,800 per pupil for the very lowest funded secondary schools in the country. St Mary’s College in the hon. Lady’s constituency received £5,625 per pupil, and that will rise by 1% to £5,680 according to the national funding formula. The national average under the national funding formula for a secondary school is £5,389. On top of that, the school will also receive £935 per pupil for every pupil who qualifies or has ever qualified for free school meals over the past six years.

I am sorry. I am talking about St Mary’s Catholic College in the constituency of the hon. Member for Wallasey. That school’s funding per pupil will rise from £5,625 to £5,680.

We also introduced a de minimis figure of £3,500 per pupil for the very lowest funded primary schools. Kingsway Primary School receives £5,376 per pupil, and that figure will rise to £5,422. On top of that, the school will receive £1,320 per pupil for every pupil who has ever qualified in the past six years for free school meals. The hon. Lady referred to 53% of pupils as qualifying at some point for free school meals—all those pupils will bring the school an additional £1,320 on top of the £5,376.

Kingsway Primary School will face a cut of £39,400 by 2020. That is £233 per pupil. It has already lost one teacher.

No, it is not receiving any cuts in funding at all. Its funding will increase from £5,376 per pupil to £5,422 per pupil. That is an increase of 0.8%. It is an increase in funding, not a cut. I acknowledge there are cost pressures facing schools, but to go around saying that schools have had their funding cut is simply not true. If I can refer to Eastway Primary School—

Eastway Primary School is having its funding increased from £4,495 per pupil to £4,604 per pupil—an increase in funding of 2.5%. On top of that, it will receive £1,320 for every child eligible for free school meals—on top of the £4,604.

I will not give way again because we are running out of time. The hon. Gentleman seeks to cite the National Education Union’s schools cuts campaigning website, which says that schools are facing a cut in funding. Schools are not facing a cut in funding. Every single school across this country will get an increase in funding.

No, I will not give way. I have only four minutes left. Every school in this country will see an increase in funding to it.

The hon. Gentleman cannot cite a website that claims there are cuts in funding when every school in this country will receive an increase in funding. There are costs that schools face, whether those be national insurance in 2015-16 or pension contributions, and there will be salary increases to pay in the future, but those are cost pressures that are being incurred right across the system.

I have put the record straight on these matters so that we can have an honest debate about the issues. Opposition Members would acknowledge that every school, including those in the constituencies of the hon. Member for Wallasey and the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), who cited Fender Primary School, will, like that school, see its funding increase. There is no cut in funding to Fender Primary School. The funding will rise from £4,649 per pupil to £4,690 per pupil.

Order. I remind Angela Eagle that she does have a minute or so at the end to wind up, so she has an opportunity

There is no cut in funding at Fender Primary School. The funding will increase, on top of which it will receive £1,320 per pupil in pupil premium.

We will also be able to go further than our manifesto commitment that no school would lose funding as a result of the national funding formula. Now, every school in the country will attract at least 0.5% more per pupil in 2018-19 and 1% more per pupil in 2019-20. Thirty five of the 111 schools in the Wirral will attract funding increases as a result of this decision to raise the funding floor, but all schools in Wirral will see an increase in their funding over the next two years.

Our formula will also rightly result in a significant boost directed towards the schools that are currently the least well-funded. I have said that the formula will provide for all secondary schools to have a de minimis per pupil funding of £4,820 in 2019-20 and for primary schools to have £3,500. My consultation confirmed the importance of funding for additional needs such as deprivation and low prior attainment. The consultation found that those factors were the best way to identify the children most likely to fall behind and to remain behind their peers. It is only right that we provide the greatest resources to the schools that are educating the greatest numbers of those children. In the Wirral, more students on average face these additional barriers, with greater than average percentages of children eligible for free school meals and living in the most deprived areas. Nationally, the formula will allocate £5.9 billion to additional needs funding and will distribute that funding more fairly. We have also protected the high needs budget, and there will be an increase in high needs spending in the Wirral.

In view of time, I will just say that for this Government, social mobility and education are a priority. The additional funding that we have announced, together with the introduction of a national funding formula, will provide schools with the investment that they need to offer a world-class education to every child in the country.

The Minister is living in a parallel universe. He says that schools are getting increases. Kingsway Primary School is going to lose £131,306—a 19% fall in what it would have expected—and three teachers. St Mary’s College will lose £223,778—a 3% fall in funding—and four teachers. Fender Primary School, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), will lose £109,000 on what it could have expected by 2020—that is £452 per pupil—and two teachers. If the Minister insists on calling those “increases”, I do not think that he is fit to be in the job that he is in.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered education funding in Wirral.

Sitting adjourned.