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School Funding

Volume 639: debated on Wednesday 25 April 2018

There have been some late withdrawals, but a not insignificant number of Members wish to speak in this debate. Therefore, although there is no time limit on Front-Bench speeches, I am sure that both the shadow Secretary of State and the Secretary of State will wish to tailor their contributions sensitively to take account of the fact that others wish to contribute.

I beg to move,

That this House notes the Conservative Party manifesto pledge to make sure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new national funding formula, the statement by the Secretary of State for Education that each school will see at least a small cash terms increase and the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s guarantee that every school would receive a cash terms increase; endorses the aim of ensuring that there is a cash increase in every school’s budget; agrees with the UK Statistics Authority that such an increase is not guaranteed by the national funding formula, which allows for reductions of up to 1.5 per cent in per pupil funding for schools; and calls on the Government to meet its guarantee, ensuring that every single school receives a cash increase in per pupil funding in every financial year of the 2017 Parliament.

The last time I moved an Opposition day motion, I know I upset the Government. With the support of every party except theirs, our motion rejecting the regulations that increased tuition fees was passed by the House. After that, the Government announced that they would no longer vote on Opposition days. Today, they should find our motion more helpful.

As I suspect Members on both sides of the House know all too well, the Conservative party lost hundreds of thousands of votes at the general election due to its school cuts. With another polling day coming up, I have decided to extend an olive branch. Today’s motion is extremely modest. It does not even call on the Government to commit to Labour’s spending plans. It simply asks Government Members to implement the commitment in their own manifesto and support the positions of the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Education.

In January, the Secretary of State told us at the Dispatch Box that every school

“will see at least a small cash increase.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 536.]

Then, during the spring statement, the Chancellor told the House that the Government had given a

“guarantee that every school would receive a cash-terms increase.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2018; Vol. 637, c. 742.]

He reiterated: “That guarantee stands today.” There was one problem: that guarantee did not exist.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Brampton Primary School in Chesterfield got in touch with me on Friday to say it has had a £130,000 budget reduction this year. That school has one of the few autism units in the area. Spending on special needs has been halved. The most vulnerable pupils in the schools that most desperately need funding are the victims of that broken Tory promise.

I absolutely agree. That is one of the travesties of this issue. Many parents up and down the country are angry and upset, particularly parents of children with high needs and special educational needs. They feel let down by this Government and their broken promises.

When the Institute for Fiscal Studies heard what the Secretary of State said about a cash-terms increase, it responded: “This is not true.” When I raised the matter with the UK Statistics Authority, it too said that the claim was not, as it stood, accurate. The fact is that the national funding formula does not guarantee every school a cash increase per pupil. In fact, it permits a cut.

Out of 103 schools in Coventry, 102 will face cuts. Put another way, over the next two or three years, education in Coventry will face cuts of just under £14 million. Put yet another way, there will be cuts of £249 per pupil. Is that not disgraceful? Is it not terrible for a party to entice people to vote for it through a manifesto, then cut their throats?

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. I remember visiting his constituency and seeing the fantastic work that teachers and support staff do in his area. I commend their work, but I say again that the Government have to listen to teachers and parents up and down the country who say that enough is enough and that the cuts to their budgets are not acceptable.

Does the hon. Lady acknowledge that the IFS also said that the extra £1.3 billion for schools means that school spending will not fall but stay the same per pupil?

It is interesting that the hon. Lady says that. That may be the case from today onwards, but that £1.3 billion figure takes no account of the £2.7 billion that her Government have already taken from schools, so they still face cash cuts between 2015 and 2020. Our motion offers the Government the support of the House to change that and to put their own words into practice.

Schools increasingly face an environment that is completely unacceptable in a country like ours. Earlier this month, teachers warned of a growing child poverty crisis. Staff said that children were coming into school without clean clothes. We even heard that pupils were showing signs of malnutrition. I doubt that anyone—in this place or outside—thought they would read headlines like that in 2018, but every part of our children’s education system is experiencing a funding squeeze.

The hon. Lady mentioned malnutrition. Does she acknowledge that it took a Conservative-led Government to introduce the free schools programme and invest £26 million in a nutritional breakfasts programme to help young people? Surely she would welcome that.

If the hon. Lady casts her mind back, she will remember that at the general election her Government offered school breakfasts at 6p a breakfast. I do not know how they thought they could feed children for 6p a breakfast. I will take no lectures from Government Members given that, after six months, the Government still do not have a chair for their Social Mobility Commission.

Our motion offers the Government the support of the House to change that and to put their words into practice. Earlier this month, teachers warned of a growing child poverty crisis. The Government should support children and their families from the beginning of their lives, but funding for Sure Start has been slashed by hundreds of millions of pounds and 1,200 Sure Start centres have been lost since the Tories came to power. School funding cuts have left more children crammed into super-size classes, there are fewer subjects on offer and the school day has even been squeezed.

No, I have already given way to the hon. Lady.

The NASUWT warned just weeks ago that one in five new classrooms is a portakabin. Is it not time for the Government to match our commitment to getting the school estate into a safe and acceptable condition?

For kids with special educational needs, the funding crisis creates even greater challenges. Let me declare an interest: only last week, I was one of those parents facing the issue of making transitional arrangements for their child with special educational needs. Frankly, parents up and down the country worry that support will not be in place for their children. When school budgets are cut, the services that support children who are most in need are often lost first. The National Education Union found that almost two thirds of schools have had to cut special needs provision.

The Government’s new funding formula presents local authorities, which are at breaking point due to cuts to their budgets, with the terrible choice between top-slicing additional funding for high needs and giving schools their full allocation. Councils should never have to face that choice. Will the Secretary of State look at giving every local authority the additional funding they need for high needs from his Department’s budget instead of squeezing it from schools, which are already under pressure?

There is a similar picture for other support. We recently debated the new rules on free school-meal eligibility. Despite Ministers and Government Members claiming that no children would lose their existing allowance, the IFS found that one in eight who is child eligible under the legacy benefits system will not be eligible after the changes. Will the Secretary of State finally publish his Department’s methodology?

At 16, children should have new opportunities ahead of them, but too often those are lost. Some £1.2 billion has been slashed from the 16-to-19 education budget, hitting sixth forms and colleges. Apprenticeship starts are in freefall. This Government’s repeated failure to invest in our young people and their futures will rob them of the opportunities that so many of us in the Chamber took for granted.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will remind us all of the £1.3 billion his predecessor eventually came up with last year, so perhaps he will also tell us where that money will come from. We already know that £300 million was raided from the healthy pupils fund despite the Government’s promise that that would not be cut. His predecessor also indicated that she would save money by rowing back on the free schools programme—at last, an admission that conventional schools are actually cheaper.

The Tories have cut £2.7 billion from the schools budget in England since 2015. Does my hon. Friend agree that the extra £1.3 billion of schools funding that the Government announced in July comes nowhere near plugging the funding gap?

My hon. Friend makes a crucial point, which relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield). Taking £1.3 billion from the existing education budget does nothing to mitigate the £2.7 billion of cuts that schools have faced.

Will the Secretary of State tell us how many new schools will now be built by local authorities and how much money will be saved?

The rest of the cuts come from mysterious efficiency savings, which the Secretary of State’s predecessor said would be identified by officials. Have those savings been identified and can he share that information with the House today? Will he admit that the £1.3 billion will not reverse the loss of the £2.7 billion from school budgets, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) reiterated?

Money is not the only factor, but it is hard to escape the reality that the cuts are the fundamental fact of life facing those who run our public services and those who rely on them. Can the Secretary of State tell us exactly how many schools will face a cash-terms cut to their budget in the next year?

Local parents in my constituency have formed a group called Fair Funding Enfield, which recently contacted schools to see what effect the current funding arrangements are having on them. Of the 59 schools that responded, 49% said they had cut teaching staff, 76% that they had cut teaching assistants, 72% that they had cut learning resources, 32% that they had cut school trips, 95% that the cuts would negatively impact the quality of education being delivered and 42% that they had requested or were considering requesting financial contributions from parents. Does my hon. Friend agree that, despite statements to the contrary from the Government, our schools are in financial crisis and in urgent need of proper funding?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I commend the work he is doing across his constituency and the work that Fair Funding Enfield and other parents’ groups are doing on this issue. Alongside the unions, such groups have tried to push the issue up the agenda. I also pay tribute to the work of the Select Committee on Education and hon. Members across the House who have raised this issue continuously. I hope that the Government take heed of that today.

Will the hon. Lady also pay tribute to the Minister for School Standards, who has listened carefully to headteachers in my constituency who came to see him about the new funding formula? They have received an increase from £4,100-odd to £4,800 per pupil per year for their schools. Is it not right to acknowledge that the Schools Minister has listened and acted accordingly?

I did commend the work of hon. Members across the House to push this issue forward with the Government. The Government have to understand that their manifesto made the commitment that there would be no cuts in cash terms, yet the IFS has already said that there will potentially be cuts of 1.5% to schools. Today’s motion is about holding the Government to account for their promises at the last general election.

The hon. Lady mentioned cash terms, but spending per pupil under this Government in 2019-20 will be 50% higher in real terms than under Labour in 2000-01. When she talks about cuts, will she look at the evidence and at the real-terms effect of this policy?

I say to Government Members that the evidence is clear. Under the last Labour Government, there was a 70% per pupil increase in school budgets. Since 2015, schools have faced cuts. We have heard that time and again from media reports, teachers, parents and leaders of councils of all political persuasions. All of them have said that these cuts are having a detrimental effect. If Government Members want to stick their heads in the sand, that is up to them, but we are trying to hold the Government to account for their promise to give a cash increase to all schools.

To give an example of the cuts that education faces, does my hon. Friend agree that the cuts to the music service in Conservative-controlled East Sussex, which covers my constituency, are a real danger? The Conservative council is proposing to cut the music service in Brighton and Hove because it cannot afford it. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) is chuntering away. In Brighton, 40% of the schools have had to cut mental health services because they cannot afford them any more. Those are real cuts that are harming real children.

My hon. Friend makes a crucial point. Arts and culture are suffering under this Government. All children across the country should have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument at school. Under Labour, they would get that opportunity.

I will make a bit more progress.

What requests has the Secretary of State received from local authorities that cash cuts hitting face their schools and what has his response been? How much additional funding would be needed to meet the shortfall? That is all we are asking for in the motion. We are not asking the Secretary of State to match Labour’s commitment to increase per pupil funding each and every year to restore the funding lost since 2015. We are asking only that he is true to what he has promised in this House and ensures that not a single school faces a cash-terms cut next year.

Luckily for the Secretary of State, the Chancellor has given schools across the country the same guarantee. Will he give us the commitment here today that he will go to the Chancellor and ask for the funding to meet that guarantee? Even he has to acknowledge the reality.

Thinking of the future, whichever side we were on in the Brexit debate, this country will face real challenges. We must upskill like we have never done before if we are to compete. If nothing else, that is one dashed good reason for investing in our young people and in education.

The hon. Gentleman touches on an important point. When I was speaking to my constituents in Ashton-under-Lyne, who voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU, one of their frustrations was that they felt their children had not been given opportunities and had been left behind. How will they feel when the schools in my constituency face these cost pressures and cuts? The Government have to listen to people across this country who feel left behind and as if their children are not being treated fairly by this Government.

Only a few months ago, the Secretary of State said at the Association of School and College Leaders conference:

“It has been tough, funding is tight, I don’t deny that at all.”

The fact he recognises the problem is welcome, but action is always better than words.

I am listening with great interest to the hon. Lady’s peroration. She has quoted the IFS, but since 2010 the core schools budget has been protected in real terms and we are protecting per pupil spending until 2020. Surely she should recognise that as well.

The right hon. Gentleman and I have worked well together across the Dispatch Box at times, but however we cut the figures from the IFS, our schools still face cuts. That is what the motion is about: it is about the commitment that the Government and the Conservative party made at the last general election. I hope to see many Members from across the House supporting the motion, because all we ask is that the commitment that was made at the general election is fulfilled and the promise kept.

The same is true of pay. The Chancellor promised to lift the pay cap after seven years of real-terms pay cuts left support staff £3,000 a year and teachers £5,000 a year worse off. Only this week, I was at Unison’s conference meeting support staff at the frontline of our public services. Along with teachers, they are essential to our schools and the children they serve, yet nearly one in 10 teaching assistants was lost between 2013 and 2017. Too many are now living on poverty pay. The GMB union found that three quarters of apprentice teaching assistants were on £3.50 an hour, yet the Office for Budget Responsibility has warned that without new funding for pay, there will be cuts in other education spending or to the workforce. The Government’s own pay review body has warned that

“some schools will find it challenging to implement any pay uplift at all.”

Does the Secretary of State agree? Has he assessed the gap in funding, and how will he ensure that we can recruit and retain the teachers and vital support staff that we need without yet more cuts?

As I outlined at the beginning of my speech, Government Members have developed a habit of abstaining on all Opposition day motions, but today, I hope that we have offered them something different: a motion that they can actually vote for, because this motion does not ask them to do anything but follow the lead of their Ministers. They have repeatedly promised that all schools will get a cash-terms funding increase and have then failed to deliver it. The Education Secretary recently told us that

“the mere repetition of a falsehood does not turn it into the truth.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2018; Vol. 637, c. 801.]

I hope that his promises were indeed the truth.

The Government have given a guarantee that not a single school will face a cash-terms cut to its budget. If that guarantee stands, there is no reason Government Members should not join me in the Aye Lobby after this debate. Our children deserve the best education in the world and our teaching staff need the resources to do their job, so I ask all Members across the House to commit to the promises made at the election. I commend the motion to the House.

I start on a note of agreement with the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner): it is a moral imperative to strive for the very best for the next generation in our country and education plays the most central role in that quest. That is what the 450,000 teachers in English schools are dedicated to and what we are dedicated to supporting them in. To achieve that takes many things, but high on the list of course is money. There is more money going into our schools than ever before—rising from almost £41 billion last year to £42.4 billion this year and then rising again to £43.5 billion next year. That includes the additional £1.3 billion, to which she referred, that we are directing to frontline spending by prioritising money from elsewhere in the Department for Education’s budget, as my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), announced in July last year. That means that overall we are protecting schools’ per pupil funding in real terms over the next two years.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Opposition’s motion notes the Conservative party’s pledge that no school would receive cuts to their funding. That is not correct because, in Bolton South East, a number of schools are being affected and the budget is being reduced. If he does not accept that, I invite him to Bolton South East to meet the headteachers of my schools, who have said that there has been a real cut to their budget.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I will of course come to the specifics of the Opposition’s motion and the important points about the funding formula.

We are also giving primary schools £320 million a year for PE and sport—double what was given in 2016—and investing £600 million a year to provide free school meals for all infants. That is on top of our substantial investment in school improvement activities. This year, we will invest over £60 million in maths, science and computing, and over £100 million—to respond partly to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle)—in arts and music.

Spending is high by historical standards. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies—this has come up already—has shown that, in real terms, per pupil funding in 2020 will be at least half as much again as it was in 2000. Looking internationally, we spend more on our schools in total than both the EU and OECD averages and at levels comparable with key competitor countries.

However, although it is true that overall spend is higher—this goes to the point made by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), the sole, or primary Liberal Democrat representative with us here today—on technical and vocational education, our figures compare less favourably. In Germany in particular, the spend is considerably more than ours on secondary-level vocational programmes. That is why I am so pleased that the Chancellor has committed extra money to boost the size and funding for the new T-level programmes. That will total over £500 million a year in additional resources for post-16 education when T-levels are fully rolled out.

As well as ensuring record funding for our schools, the Government have taken on the historical challenge of introducing a fair national funding formula—something, of course, that has not been taken on by any previous Government—to ensure that money is directed where it is most needed, based on the individual characteristics of schools and pupils, not on accidents of history or geography.

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not. We have gone further than our manifesto promise that no school would lose funding as a result of the national funding formula. The formula is in fact giving every local authority more money for every pupil in every school in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Every school is attracting at least a cash increase of 0.5% per pupil through the formula this year, and 1% more next year, compared with their baselines.

Of course, we have always been clear that local authorities continue to have some flexibility on how this funding is distributed across schools in their local area. I think that is right and it is a good thing that the flexibility exists for local authorities as we transition into the national funding formula. As our extensive consultation showed, flexibility is important because it allows local authorities, in consultation with their schools, to reflect local need and to smooth the transition toward the NFF where this represents a significant change.

Does the Secretary of State accept that although in my area we have achieved above average results with some of the lowest amounts of per pupil funding anywhere in the country, we are now at the point where it is simply too little? Will he please have some urgency in getting us a bit closer to the average because we simply do not have enough?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. As well as ensuring that every school attracts more money, the national funding formula also allocates the biggest increases to schools that have historically been the most underfunded. Thousands of schools will attract 3% more per pupil this year and another 3% per pupil next year, and some of the lowest-funded schools will attract even more as a result of our minimum per pupil funding levels, which mean that every primary school will attract £3,500 per pupil and every secondary school £4,800 per pupil by 2019-20. As a result, many areas will see quite big increases across the board. For example, by 2019-20 in Knowsley, there will be an increase of 4.3%, and in Derby there will be an increase of 6.7% in the same timeframe. In York, there will be an increase of 7.9%, and in Bath and North East Somerset, an increase of 7.2%.

As someone who has supported the national funding formula through the f40 group for a long time, I am grateful that this has now been brought to fruition. The problem is that the way in which the formula is being operated in my area, with the conflation of special needs within the base budget, is causing significant problems among some schools. Will the Secretary of State look at how that special needs allocation is operating to ensure that the poorer schools do not get even poorer, relatively?

The hon. Gentleman raises important points about the high needs block. As I was saying, it is right that there is some flexibility at local authority level. Local authorities have the most up-to-date figures and profiling of the children in their areas, in terms of special educational needs and so on. Protections also apply to the high needs block through the minimum guarantees and so on, while overall high needs funding has of course gone up.

The Secretary of State talks about flexibility within local authority budgets. I have to say, as someone who is about to leave the London Borough of Redbridge this May, that he is in cloud cuckoo land. There is no flexibility in children’s services departments; there is just consistent need and insufficient funding. Parents do not need the UK Statistics Authority to show that some schools face budget cuts. They have seen it for themselves in cuts to the curriculum, a lack of adequate support for children with special educational needs and demands for money from parents to fund basics and materials. Does he understand that, when he stands at that Dispatch Box and talks about the figures as if everything is rosy, the parents know it is a load of rubbish because they are seeing it for themselves in their and their children’s lived experience?

The funding formula is what it is and has its guaranteed allocations of money from central funding to local authorities in respect of each school, along the lines I have outlined. I recognise, however, that schools have faced significant cost pressures over recent years—the hon. Gentleman alluded to some of those and their effects—in respect of national insurance and pension contributions, for example. There are new costs as well. For example, spending on technology exceeded £500 million across the system in 2016.

I also realise that there can be particular pressures on high needs budgets, as schools and local authorities work as hard as they can to provide an excellent education for every child, including those facing the greatest challenges. As I was saying, funding for high needs has benefited from the same protections we have been able to provide for mainstream schools, but I recognise that schools now do more to support pupils with a complex range of social, emotional and behavioural needs.

We are redoubling our efforts to help schools to get the best value from their resources, through free procurement advice via our pilot buying hubs in the north-west and south-west, which provide face-to-face and phone advice to schools on complex procurement and on how to get the best value for money; through nationally negotiated purchasing deals; and through school resource management advisers—business management experts from within the sector providing hands-on support to the schools that most need our help.

I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about minimum levels. I have shared the figures from my local authority with the Minister for School Standards. I have primary schools receiving less than £3,500 per pupil and secondary schools receiving less than £4,600 per pupil. When can I tell them they will be brought up?

I will write to my right hon. Friend with the specific figures for his schools. The formula is there both to create a guaranteed minimum level and to make sure that the schools that have historically been most underfunded see the greatest increases.

After decades of underfunding, schools in my constituency are benefiting from a 6% increase per pupil over the next two years. Parents and pupils in my constituency will be glad to hear that, but can the Secretary of State reassure me that this will not just be a two-year process but that we will continue to move towards fairness afterwards and that he will press for a settlement in the next spending review that allows us to make quick progress towards greater fairness?

It is clearly essential, as several colleagues from across the House have said, that our education system be properly funded. In an increasingly competitive world, it is important that we live up to that challenge and make sure that all children can be properly fulfilled and reach their potential. On future funding, there is a comprehensive spending review process, with which my hon. Friend is well familiar from his days at Her Majesty’s Treasury. We have set out in the national funding formula what will happen over the two-year period and established the principle that funding should be fair.

It is right that we have the highest ever total cash funding going into our schools. The kind of practical support I have just outlined is also a key priority for me because it is not just the total funding that matters but how far it can go in achieving the objectives we all share, which is incredibly important. Our reforms in schools are paying dividends thanks to the hard work of teachers, our continued focus on raising standards and the emphasis on phonics. Over 150,000 more six-year-olds are now on track to become fluent readers than in 2012, our top pupils are among the world’s best readers, and GCSEs and A-levels rank among the world’s best qualifications.

There can be no great schools without great teachers—to motivate children, make knowledge meaningful and inspire curiosity. The quality of teaching matters more than anything else, and it matters most of all for the most disadvantaged children. Right now we have many brilliant teachers in our schools—it is the best generation of teachers yet—and my top priority is to make sure that teaching remains an attractive and fulfilling profession. I am clear that we need to get back to the essence of successful teaching, which means stripping away the workload that does not add value and giving teachers the time and space to focus on what actually matters, in the interests of teachers and, of course, children.

Can the Secretary of State tell us where Portsmouth schools should be making savings, given that they are already having to make ongoing cuts? Should they cut teachers, have even bigger class sizes, shorten the school day? Parents and teachers in my constituency deserve better.

What I was outlining, on the issue of trying to give more support to schools on managing resources, is that it is all about ensuring that money can be devoted to the frontline to maximise the amount of great teaching from great teachers. I know that teachers in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency will be as focused on that as teachers in constituencies throughout the country.

I want to help the Secretary of State make good on his promise. He made a commitment that no school will see a cut in funding. What is the strength of that guarantee? If it turns out that a school has had a reduction in funding, will he consider it a resignation matter?

I think the hon. Gentleman has been here from the beginning of the debate, so, unless he was reading something, he will have heard me set out how the national funding formula works. It allocates money—

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot conduct the debate from a sedentary position. Perhaps the Secretary of State will give way again later, but he must let him finish answering the question he has just asked.

The formula allocates money to each school, subject to set minimum cash increases, but there is flexibility for local authorities—which have the most-up-to-date information on the profiles of children in their schools, in terms of special needs, free school meals and so on—to reallocate money up to certain limits. I think that is right. Does the hon. Gentleman think it is wrong that they have that flexibility?

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for asking the question. Is he guaranteeing that no school will lose money? Is that his commitment? If there is no such commitment, he should say so, and if there is, he should not hide behind councils.

The hon. Gentleman is repeating what he just said. The national funding formula allocates money in respect of every school. It then goes to the local authority, which has a certain amount of discretion to reallocate that money between different schools up to a certain limit to ensure that the funding goes to the places where it is most needed.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I did not want to interrupt his conversation with the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins).

While I, and many other Conservative Members, may have individual issues about individual schools or how the funding formula might work out in practice in certain circumstances, I welcome the principle—which was agreed by Labour Members—of a fair funding formula that is allocating more money where it is required. It is going to pupils on the basis of need, and that is something that we should all support.

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. It is a historic challenge to have taken on, and it is not without its difficulties, but it is right to ensure that funding goes where it is most needed, not according to the way in which various funding settlements have accumulated over the years in different areas on the basis of accidents of history and geography.

I had better make some progress towards the conclusion of my speech, Madam Deputy Speaker, because otherwise you will do it for me. We have the best-qualified teachers we have ever had, backed up by the largest amount of money that we have ever had in the schools budget. We are protecting schools’ per pupil funding in real terms over the next two years, at a time when pupil numbers are rising. Working alongside a brilliant set of teachers and other education professionals, we are striving for a world-class education for everyone, whatever their background.

Since 2010, the Government have helped more children to go to good schools. We have helped primary school children to become better readers, we have helped secondary school children to gain higher-quality qualifications, and we have helped more students than ever to go on to university. We have extended early years education so that more children are school-ready, and we have raised the participation age so that everyone can build up the education and skills that they need for life. Through academies and free schools, we have given our frontline professionals, local communities and parents more freedom and choice. We have invested and are investing—with £7 billion committed in a six-year period—to create the quality of extra school places that we need, and let me repeat that more revenue funding is going into our schools than ever before.

The benefits of our reforms can be seen in schools up and down the country, thanks, of course, to the hard work and dedication of our teachers and education professionals. In its most recent annual report, published in December last year, Ofsted stated that

“the quality of education and care provided to young people today is better than ever.”

Since 2010, we have increased the number of children in good and outstanding schools by 1.9 million. The attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has narrowed by 10%, and 95% of three and four-year-olds are benefiting from early years education. We have introduced the pupil premium and have extended free school meals to further education colleges and 50,000 more schoolchildren, as well as introducing universal infant free school meals.

However, the job is far from done. We are ambitious for all our schools, and for all our children. Someone’s background does not dictate their talents, and it should not limit their dreams. The attainment gap between children from different backgrounds has narrowed, but it is still too wide, so we are continuing our commitment to the pupil premium and the opportunity areas programme. Some places have seen dramatic gains, but others still need extra assistance. We must spread opportunity to the parts of the country where children are still let down by the limited depth and breadth of the education that is available. Every child should be able to go to a great school, which is why we are putting more than £300 million into support programmes over the next two years. To ensure that our economy has the skills that it needs to be fit for the future, we will do more to encourage the take-up of science, technology, engineering and maths by, for instance, introducing the maths premium and teacher bursaries for priority subjects.

By improving our nurseries, schools, colleges and universities, we can build a society in which it does not matter who people are, where they live or who they know. Alongside school leaders, governors, teachers, parents and pupils, we are striving for a world-class education for everyone, whatever their background, so that we can make our economy fit for the future in a world of rapid technological change. We want to boost our productivity and our children’s future prosperity, so that they are better equipped for their own futures and more of them can achieve their potential and lead fulfilled lives. That is what a world-class education can bring and that is what we are working for.

I must first declare an interest. My wife is the cabinet member for children and young people in Cheshire West and Chester, my local authority—and what a good job she does!—and two of my children attend a local school that is affected by the funding issues that we are discussing today.

A central promise in the 2017 manifesto on which every Conservative Member stood was

“we will make sure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula.”

As we heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), the Conservatives’ promise has been augmented in recent months by subsequent statements from Cabinet Ministers about cash increases for every school, but that is not what we are told is happening on the ground. All but one of the schools in my constituency face a funding cut; local schools will lose about £3 million between 2015 and 2019.

It is true that we are being told by schools that there is a real-terms cut. Was my hon. Friend as alarmed as I was by the fact that, even in the Chamber, the Secretary of State was unwilling to offer the guarantee that no school would lose money?

Yes, I was alarmed, because I think it is clear from all the information that Members have received—and they are hearing from schools, heads and parents every day—that a real crisis is here now, and will get worse over the next few years. There is a very clear difference of opinion, but I know who I think has the real information: the people who are actually doing the day-to-day job.

The figures that I have seen suggest that pupils in my constituency will receive £300 per head less over the next three or four years. The situation is at breaking point. I know from talking to parents, teachers and heads that schools are already facing very tough choices. One headteacher told me:

“I believe that as a school we will also have to reduce the number of extra activities we offer pupils…fewer clubs, fewer arts days, fewer visits and visitors to school. ‘Balancing the books’ has become one of the worst aspects of my job. Begging letters to parents for equipment, repairs and resources are common in some schools. I feel that class sizes will increase and the curriculum will be pared back to the basics. To put it bluntly—children will be the losers.”

My hon. Friend chairs the all-party parliamentary group on social mobility, so he will know that many of the vital extra-curricular activities that are being reduced are crucial to giving children from less advantaged backgrounds the experiences and opportunities that those from the most advantaged backgrounds receive by virtue of their wealth. Does it not say everything about this Government’s commitment to social mobility and tackling educational inequality that they cannot even appoint an adviser on social mobility, let alone deliver the policies in practice?

I think that my hon. Friend must have read my speech, because I was going to make exactly that point. It is worth reminding Members that the previous chair of the Social Mobility Commission, Alan Milburn, resigned in November. That was a damning indictment of the state of social mobility in this country and the Government’s record on it, yet here we are, nearly six months on, and little if anything seems to have been done to try to redress that.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: many of those extra-curricular activities—the soft skills, information, advice and support that children are given outside the classroom environment—are vital to building up skills that will help them to progress and make the most of their life chances.

I hear school heads saying that they are going to have to send begging letters, and my constituents are not wealthy people. They cannot really afford to pay any extra for their children’s schools. They are anxious to help in any way that they can, but they do not have the spare cash. It makes me ashamed that in this country we are reduced to having to send letters to parents who work hard and already pay their taxes.

We have encountered this very issue in Reading. A particular problem in many areas is the loss of a large number of skilled teachers with years of experience in the profession. I have written to the Secretary of State about that. Does my hon. Friend agree that the loss of highly skilled and highly experienced teachers with many years of service is a specific issue which should be addressed by the Department?

Yes, it is concerning. As we know, in any organisation seeking to balance the books—and schools are no different—the more experienced and more expensive staff are often the ones encouraged to perhaps take early retirement or redundancy. The replacement staff, if there are any, are often at the lower end of the pay spectrum—not that they are any lesser people for that, but they do not have the skills and experience that justify being in a higher pay bracket.

The cuts to school funding extend to council support. Changes to central support grants will lead to about half a million pounds being lost to my local authority in the next decade, which will further emasculate its already strangled ability to support schools. Not that it can help most of them even if it wanted to, thanks to the acceleration of the academies programme.

Under the new system, Warrington will have among the worst funded schools—141st out of 150—and could also lose just under £2,500 per child. Clearly, the system is not fit for purpose or balanced across the country. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should ensure that the fair funding formula is just that: fair?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Hon. Members are making points about the situations in their constituencies, and I want to talk about the ludicrous situation facing one of the academies in my constituency. It was placed in special measures last year, but has had to wait over six months to get any financial support from the Department to help it to improve. In the past, the local authority would have stepped in the next day—it would probably have been helping all along—but now the academy is required to go through a lengthy application process, which delays progress. Six months in a failing school is six months too long, and the lack of progress, which has been visible to the local community, has long-term implications for the school’s viability. Because of its situation, the roll is now falling. In fact, the school faces a double whammy of funding losses, which will only exacerbate an already extremely challenging situation.

The net result is that the other schools in my constituency end up being over-subscribed. The chaos of an academy-led admissions system means that some parents end up feeling that they have nowhere to send their children to. That is quite a dramatic statement, but that is how many parents feel and it represents an absolute failure by the state. The prospects of the situation remedying itself any time soon look bleak. If we were truly following the market-led approach that the Government appear to be advocating, the successful schools in my constituency that can attract more pupils would be allowed to expand, but there is precious little funding available for them to do that.

One example of a school in my constituency that has turned round and been a success story is Ellesmere Port Catholic High School, which has seen huge improvements after it was placed in special measures in November 2013. The headteacher and the school have worked exceptionally hard to turn things round, and in June 2015 it was officially rated by Ofsted as good. So impressive has the school’s improvement been that the chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, referred to it in a speech about schools making remarkable transformations, saying:

“At Ellesmere Port Catholic High School, only a third of pupils achieved 5 good GCSEs. Now almost three-quarters do.”

I am pleased to say that this year the school has had full admissions for its year 7 pupils. These improvements should be applauded, as they have been by Sir Michael Wilshaw, but how is the school rewarded? With a budget scenario that envisages staffing cuts.

The school tells me that it desperately needs to expand as a result of its progress, but where is the capital funding that it needs to help to achieve that aim? How can it build on its success when it is not allowed to build? I am sure that if it reopened as a free school, there would be no problem getting the cash needed, but why does it need to reinvent the wheel? Why are existing schools that have put the effort in and that made great improvements and are already an established part of the community discriminated against because they are not part of the latest Government fad? How about a capital funding policy that rewards improvement and looks at where existing provision can be augmented? Indeed, we can contrast that with a story I read yesterday about a brand new free school in Plymouth that cost £4.2 million to set up, but which has closed after just 16 months. How can money be thrown down the drain on experiments like that when existing good schools cannot expand?

Education is at a tipping point in this country. We know from a National Education Union survey that 55% of schools that responded said that class sizes had risen in the last year and that over three quarters reported cuts in spending on books and equipment.

Class sizes have risen in 80% of the secondary schools in my constituency since 2014. Every secondary school in my constituency has had to cut staff in the same timeframe. Does my hon. Friend agree that cuts to school budgets are responsible for that?

I think there is a clear correlation, and at the next election we may go back to what we said about class sizes on our 1997 pledge cards. It certainly resonated then, and I think it will again.

The National Education Union survey also showed that two thirds of schools had reported cuts in special educational needs provision. I know from my surgery appointments how anxious and distressed parents feel if there is a delay in agreeing an education, health and care plan or if they feel it is not being delivered in full because the school faces funding pressures elsewhere. The situation is distressing, and it is difficult to see it improving any time soon. As we know, nationally there are about 4,500 children and young people still waiting for their statements to be put into practice.

We are at a tipping point. Schools are already reporting extremely difficult situations. They are already having to make choices that under ordinary circumstances we would consider completely unacceptable, but they now face three or four years of even more funding cuts. If we cannot invest in our children’s future, we cannot invest in ourselves.

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, let me say that I hope we can manage without a formal time limit this afternoon, because the debate flows much more easily without one. If hon. Members stick to around nine minutes each—and if you cannot say it in nine minutes, it is probably not worth saying—[Interruption.] Yes, it is a challenge. I challenge hon. Members to say it in nine minutes, and if that does not happen, I will have to impose a time limit.

One thing is certain: thanks to dedicated staff and reforms, educational standards have been rising. I have been visiting schools and colleges in my constituency for almost 18 years, as a candidate and an MP, and I am convinced that the quality of education, particularly in English and maths, has improved greatly. The teaching of phonics in particular has played a role in improving literacy, and I pay tribute to the Minister and others on the Front Bench for ensuring that it is a key part of our curriculum.

However, it is not clear that that improvement can be sustained in the face of rising pressures on schools. Our education system faces a number of major challenges, the first being resources. Despite steady investment in the English education system over the last 20 years and record overall levels of public money going into schools—it is important to get that on the record—there are rising cost pressures, which lead to serious challenges to the delivery of high-quality education for all our children.

Last Thursday, the Education Committee announced a new inquiry into school and college funding ahead of the next spending review—I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker), a member of our Committee, in the Chamber. It is our hope that a forward-looking inquiry will move beyond the exchanges here and elsewhere, which have largely taken place at cross purposes and to little effect, and inevitably take on a party political tinge. The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), whom I admire greatly, said it was clear that this debate was linked to the local elections.

The Government have rightly chosen to protect overall education funding. Let us look, however, at what the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has done. He has made the case for increasing funding for the NHS, supported by the chief executive of NHS England. We need the same level of vocal support for our schools and colleges, and a similar long-term vision. The key figure to bear in mind is real-terms per-pupil expenditure. After all, it is the experience of individual students that matters, and I hope that our inquiry will give them the opportunity to inform and influence the spending review. My right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) should be commended for redirecting money from the Department to the frontline of schools, but the time has come to seriously rethink the way in which we fund schools and colleges and to adopt a much more long-term perspective. I have suggested 10 years as a starting point—as is being talked about for the NHS—because it is clear that making a decision every three to four years is just not strategic enough.

The second challenge that schools are facing is the workforce. Becoming a teacher is a special and remarkable career choice, and more should be done to celebrate the contribution of the teaching profession. Many Members will have seen the Department’s public campaigns designed to attract new entrants to the profession, and will know of the financial support available through bursaries. However, the National Audit Office found last year that whereas £555 million was spent on training and supporting new teachers in 2013-14, the Department for Education spent just £35.7 million in 2016-17 on programmes for teacher development and retention, of which just £91,000 was aimed at improving teacher retention.

It is widely acknowledged that retention is just as important as recruitment, but far too many teachers leave the profession when in other circumstances they could stay. In 2016, Policy Exchange published research showing that a quarter of teachers leaving the classroom were women aged between 30 and 39. This is a challenge for productivity and for social justice, and schools will need to become much more open to part-time and flexible working in order to stop the classroom brain drain.

The third challenge involves improving social justice in our school system; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned that earlier. This goes beyond just increasing public investment and strengthening the teaching workforce, because there are still great social injustices in our education system. Just 1.3% of children taught outside mainstream settings get five good GCSEs. I know that the Schools Minister is passionate about GCSEs, so why is this group of children being neglected in this way? Only a third of children receiving free school meals get five good GCSEs, compared with 61% of their better-off peers.

We must act to remove the built-in injustices and anachronisms, such as the favourable conditions under which the independent school sector operates. I have previously challenged the advantaged and entitled nature of many private schools. I fully acknowledge that I was proud to go to one; my father came here as an immigrant and wanted to send me to such a school. However, I believe that, given the charitable status benefits that they enjoy, there should be a levy on private schools similar to the apprenticeship levy, to ensure that we give the very poorest children in our country the chance to access and climb the private school ladder.

The fourth challenge concerns the curriculum. We face real challenges in terms of our skills deficit, the march of the robots and the arrival of the fourth industrial revolution. We must not allow a gradual and dangerous narrowing of the curriculum, to the exclusion of either creativity or vocational education. The argument is often between traditionalists and non-traditionalists, and the Opposition paint a picture in which the Government are butchering our education system. I do not agree. We need to be not so much a butcher and more of a Baker. What I mean by that is that we should support the work of Lord Baker in encouraging much more vocational education, and I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to read the Edge Foundation’s report on 14 to 19 education in relation to expanding the curriculum and looking into the possibility of replacing A-levels with a wider baccalaureate that would include much more vocational and technical education. We still have a way to go in giving young people the consistent message that technical education is every bit as demanding and worthwhile as a traditionally “academic” course, and we need to make it clear that the link between technical education and apprenticeships and the world of work is often much stronger.

The fifth and final challenge involves improving careers advice. Schools often cite the proportion of students who go on to élite or prestigious universities, but I believe the case can be made for shifting that focus on to the proportion of students in work or undertaking quality apprenticeships. We need to replace the existing duplicated careers services with a national skills service, as well as fulfilling our manifesto commitment of creating a UCAS for further education. We also need to work with Ofsted to ensure that schools are much clearer about how to address the skills needs in schools and provide careers advice. We need to ensure that schools are—to use the Baker terminology—meeting the requirements of the Baker clause, which states that they must invite university technical colleges and other colleges to talk to their children about apprenticeships.

So there you are, Madam Deputy Speaker: five challenges in what I hope was no more than nine minutes. My final challenge as Chair of the Education Committee is to carry the debate beyond the false choice between traditionalists and progressives, to focus on addressing social injustice and our skills deficit and, above all, to set out a strategic plan for the next 10 years for what our education must become.

It is a genuine pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). I so enjoy being on the Education Committee with him, and with all my other Committee colleagues—

I just want to say that I did not see the hon. Lady sitting there—because I was so busy looking at the marvellous hon. Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker)—but I am delighted that she is also here today as another member of our Committee.

Thank you very much. We do genuinely get on very well on the Education Committee, which is a welcome change from what happens in some of the debates that are conducted across the Floor of the House.

I sometimes feel that there is a false dichotomy between the sort of education we are putting forward here and the type of education that the Government are putting forward. There are also many things to do with statistics that are simply not true. It reminds me of when I was studying for my A-levels and I was talking to my lecturer about the use of statistics. They said to me, “Ah, Emma, you see, statistics are what a lamp post is to a drunken man: it is not so much for illumination as for leaning against.” That has often been proven to be true in debates about education.

What I experienced in my 11 years as an infant teacher until 2015 was the cuts to our schools and the impact they were having. The Government can cite figures and dance around the issue, and we can cite figures right back at them, but what are the parents, the teachers and the headteachers saying? That is where the truth of the matter actually lies. In March, 50 primary headteachers from Hull wrote to the Secretary of State about funding. They are desperate for more money for the special educational needs and high needs budget. In Hull, as many as 526 children aged four and under have been identified as displaying challenging behaviour or SEN.

Does my hon. Friend agree with me that schools are having to bid for extra funding, and that that is a really dangerous direction for us to head in?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are so many people across this Chamber who have a shared sense of purpose and a belief that every child matters. I still believe that every child matters, but that seems to be getting twisted and distorted along the way. We simply do not have the money that SEN children in Hull desperately need. Headteachers wrote to the Secretary of State back in March and said:

“Mainstream schools are increasingly having to resort to fixed-term and permanent exclusions to deal with challenging pupils. This is despite the best efforts of dedicated staff in schools. There is a feeling that something has to change or schools will implode.”

Now, we know from the Education Committee’s recent inquiry into alternative provision that an increasing number of children are being expelled from the system or off-rolled. Why is that? It is not because teachers have suddenly become heartless or have suddenly stopped caring about the children in their classes, but simply because they do not have the necessary resources to deal with the different challenges that pupils come to school with due to the impacts of austerity and poverty.

What is happening outside schools is reflected in what is happening inside our schools. Children who come to school hungry or are coming to school after awful childhood experiences will display challenging behaviour, and schools do not have the necessary resources to deal with that behaviour. I say to the Secretary of State and the Schools Minister that alternative provision is a false economy that will cost the Government more money in the long run. Alternative provision is more expensive. Dealing with interventions for all these pupils as they go through their school career will be more expensive than helping and supporting schools at the beginning, when they need it. I never thought that I would be citing Estonia as a country with an education system that we should look at, but Estonia evaluates every single child at three years old for learning difficulties or any signs of special educational needs, so that interventions can be put in place to deal with the situation before those children start school. Our Government should be doing that if they actually want to save money.

Turning to saving money—another one of my bugbears—there seems to be a lot of talk from the Government about vice-chancellor pay at the moment. They seem to be getting hot under the collar and worked up about the issue, but there has not been a word about the pay of chief executive officers of multi-academy trusts. Is it right for some CEOs to be receiving over £450,000 a year? You are right to look shocked, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it right for CEOs to be getting paid that much money when our schools do not have enough money for their SEN pupils? Also on academies, is it right that millions of pounds have gone on related transactions within multi-academy trusts? Money could be saved by delving more deeply into the accounts of some trusts to examine what money is being wasted on. As a new Member of Parliament, I am subject to certain rules, which I absolutely support, and one such rule is that I cannot employ any direct relation, and nor should I. However, the CEO of a multi-academy trust can employ every single member of their family in a number of different roles on whatever salary they see fit. We could examine that to find a way of redirecting funds towards the SEN pupils in Hull who so desperately need them.

Headteachers in Hull have asked for an additional £5 million, which is all that they need to help give every single child in the city a quality education. But this is not just about the children with SEN; there is an impact on every child. I know that because I was a teacher for 11 years, and if a child in a class has challenging behavioural difficulties, the teacher needs additional resources to help that child, which will help every other child in the class. A teacher who is dealing on their own with a pupil’s challenging behaviour or learning difficulty will end up spending a disproportionate amount of time with that one pupil to the detriment of the others. The resources need to be in place to help SEN children and every other child in the class.

I get a bit—

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the recent Children’s Commissioner for England report that talks about the deep north-south divide in education? The situation in my constituency is a stark demonstration of that. All 25 primary schools and five secondary schools are facing cuts so, considering that over half of all secondary school pupils are on free schools meals, that means less support for some of our worst-off children, which cannot be good for society.

Absolutely. Interestingly, I was reading George Osborne’s report about education in the north, and he has come up with the radical solution of having local bodies responsible for all the schools in a particular local area. Who could have thought of that? Who could have imagined that that could be a solution to some of our schools’ problems? I do not agree with the Government’s rhetoric about what our schools are facing and what the education system is like, because the Government would have us believe that it was a land of milk and honey where children were skipping around, sounding out words at the age of three and going on to become incredibly successful individuals. The reality is that there is a huge skills shortage that will become even greater post-Brexit. The other reality is that one child in 10 has a mental health problem, and I believe part of that mental health problem is a result of the curriculum and the school system that our young people are put through.

What else is there? We have a crisis in recruitment and retention, and many teachers are giving up. I left in 2015 to find a career doing something else, and many of my colleagues are doing the same. There is an idea that the Government are going to provide more money for teachers to teach maths. It is a great idea—well done—but find the maths teachers first before promising more money for pupils to study the subject. We have more looked-after children than ever before, because there is not enough money for children’s services. Debt is increasing for those leaving university. More children are being off-rolled or “home educated”. Alternative provision is full. Pupil referral units are full to capacity, and there is not enough space to meet the demand from children who need to attend them. That is this Government’s true record on education. That is the reality that children are facing. The Government are letting down so many children and parents, and it is unacceptable for the Government to offer rhetoric about the number of “good” and “outstanding” schools when they are failing our children on the ground.

I ask everyone in the Chamber to think about why we are here. What do we stand for? What do we value? I am clear about my purpose, which is the same as when I was a teacher for all those years: I stand for every single child in the country. I will keep opposing this Government and the changes that they are introducing, which are damaging education and our children’s futures. I will end by quoting my nanny, who says, “If you pay cheap, you pay twice,” and that is exactly what is happening with this Government. The lack of money for education will lead to a higher bill in the future for all our young people.

I am pleased to be able to participate in this debate on schools, although I am rather disappointed by the Opposition’s motion. I have a lot of time for the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who made an interesting speech and is a passionate believer in education, but any debate on schools must be wide-ranging and not just about money. Resources are of course vital, but this is also about the curriculum, the quality of staff, good leadership, the ethos of the school, the behaviour of schools and so much more.

Access to good schools is essential for children, as a good education is the foundation of success throughout life, both professionally, personally and for our economy. I congratulate the Secretary of State for Education on his speech and his approach, which is reasonable and realistic. I was fortunate to be the first in my family to go to university, which can be attributed to the fantastic state schools I attended and the brilliant teachers I was fortunate to have. Family background obviously helped, too—my mother made sure I did my homework—but, having said that, it was inspirational teachers who helped me.

I am a former teacher and lecturer, and we should applaud the significant progress that this Government have made on education standards and opportunities in particular, as well as on resources. There are 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010, which is a real achievement. We all need to be much more positive about our education system and the improvements we are seeing. So many more young people are going to our world-class universities than ever before, and we have the highest proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds participating in education since records began. Those are real achievements. Of course there are issues—there are always issues in education—but we have to build slowly and satisfactorily to achieve what we want to achieve.

School funding is increasing, but we also appreciate and understand that there are increasing pressures on school resources. The Secretary of State is right to say there are no great schools without great teachers. Frontline teachers have to be the best if we want to get the best out of our young people.

It is a fact that 50 out of 55 schools in Halton, which is part of the constituency I represent, have had a real-terms funding cut totalling more than £4 million. I listen to the teachers and parents I represent—maybe I am living on a slightly different planet from Conservative Members—and that is the reality on the ground.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, and I am in the real world, too, as we all are on this side of the House. Every Conservative Member goes around schools in their constituency and listens to what teachers, school governors and parents are saying, but the fact remains that this Government are spending more and putting more into our education system than any previous Government.

I will take no lectures from Labour Members. When they were in government, we had falling standards and high inflation, which undermined the resources that were being put into schools. Let us be reasonable and realistic.

The hon. Lady will have to listen for a little bit, otherwise I will go over the informal time limit.

The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne talked about healthy breakfasts, and we all know that a healthy breakfast helps children to make the most of their school day. We should also recognise that £26 million is being invested in breakfast clubs to help the most disadvantaged in our society. I think we all believe in a truly meritocratic society, and to get that we have to make sure there is fairness in schools.

Regrettably, many schools across the country have historically been underfunded. The Minister for School Standards has been receptive to meeting people to discuss the funding issues, and the Government have attempted to make sure there is fairer funding across the country. We cannot achieve everything immediately, but we can achieve it in the long term. The Department is determined to make sure that schools across the country are getting a fair deal on funding, and we welcome that.

It is a pity the Opposition do not acknowledge that the Government are putting more money into our schools and that school funding will rise from £41 billion this year to £43.5 billion in 2019-20. The new funding formula provides a cash increase to local authorities, with schools that have historically been underfunded attracting significantly more resources.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the London challenge, a project to produce improvements in schools, was completely transformative and set London on the path to having the best, rather than the worst, schools in the country? Does he agree that Lord Adonis and those involved in the scheme should be congratulated?

Some very positive things came out of the London challenge. I would not want to denigrate it but, on the other hand, there are areas where the London challenge was not quite so successful.

We also need to look at how much we are investing in new good school places, and at the proportion of pupils meeting the expected standard in phonics, which has risen from 58% in 2012 to 81% in 2017. That good news means 154,000 more six-year-olds are on track to become fluent readers compared with 2012. Those are real achievements. It is not just about resources; it is about the money that goes in and what comes out—the consequences of the money and the consequences of the teaching.

I was honoured to work with my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), as his Parliamentary Private Secretary when he was Secretary of State for Education, to help implement the academies programme in 2012. The programme has transformed schools, releasing those schools from local authorities, particularly in areas that were doing badly.

The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) mentioned that education was pretty poor under certain London local authorities, and now it has been transformed. In my Borough of Bexley, as a result of the coalition Government and then the Conservative Government, there are now 25 more good and outstanding schools than there were in 2010. Schools in Bexley have seen a funding boost of £3.8 million for 2018-19, which brings the funding for schools in Bexley to just over £211 million a year. That is a real achievement. The Government have to be praised for doing this, and so do the teachers, parents and pupils who have rowed in behind those extra resources to make sure they achieve for themselves in society.

We have many brilliant secondary and primary schools in Bexley, with diverse education provision—church schools, academies, grammar schools and technical schools—and that is the way forward. Diversity allows children’s talents to be maximised.

I highlight Slade Green, which is the most disadvantaged part of my constituency. It now has St Paul’s (Slade Green) Primary School, Haberdashers’ Aske’s Crayford Temple Grove north campus, and Peareswood Primary School, which I am afraid were neglected by the funding system under the last Labour Government but are now achieving and succeeding. They are giving children in a more deprived part of my constituency a real opportunity to achieve.

It therefore comes as no surprise that Bexley was listed as one of the social mobility hotspots by the Social Mobility Commission’s state of the nation report in November 2017, but there is still much more to be done. We need to achieve social mobility, and I am proud to join the social mobility pledge that my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), the former Education Secretary, recently launched. The pledge makes three commitments: partnering directly with schools and colleges to provide coaching through quality careers advice, which is so important; providing structured work experience and/or apprenticeship opportunities to people from disadvantaged backgrounds or circumstances; and adopting open recruitment practices that promote a level playing field, such as blind recruitment. Conservative Members, just as much as the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, want to see disadvantaged children have the maximum opportunity to achieve what they need to achieve.

Madam Deputy Speaker, in line with your determination that we should not speak for too long, I have had my time, but I would say to the House and to both Front Bench teams that education is a vital service for our future, for our country and for individuals. It is our duty to work to our best ability to make sure that the most disadvantaged get the opportunities and encouragement to narrow the attainment gap. Making sure that more and more children attend good or outstanding schools is the only way forward, as everyone will then be given opportunities.

I regret that we have not heard much from the Opposition about their policies for doing that, apart from more money. We are not just talking about money, although, yes, we are giving more money. Education would not be safe in their hands if they were in government because they just want to throw money at it. Money and resources are important, but it is about much more than that.

I congratulate Ministers and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on their work to provide more power to achieve these things for the benefit of all our children.

At the start of 2017, before becoming a Member of Parliament, I attended a meeting at a local high school, which was being held to raise awareness of the national funding formula and how it would impact on that school, and indeed others in the area. The headteacher was very honest about the challenges the school would face with the additional real-terms cuts to budgets; historically, ours was one of the worst areas in the country on this already. Parents listened to the facts and rightly raised their concerns about the impact this would have on their children: teaching assistants and teachers faced uncertainty as to whether they would still have jobs; the curriculum would be squeezed of subjects not seen as essential; opportunities for extra-curricular experiences would be jeopardised; and buildings and IT would not be updated unless critical. The mood was one of absolute disbelief. People were encouraged to engage in the consultation, but it was so unbelievably complicated that it had school governors and headteachers scratching their heads.

As a teacher myself, I left that meeting knowing that I had to do something; local parents needed to be informed and my colleagues deserved to be heard. I took to social media to explain what this funding formula would mean for our schools, and it is amazing what happens when people are informed about facts. I organised a campaign consisting of a packed public meeting, a 1,000-strong march and lots of people engaging with the consultation. It raised the profile of the issue locally, we had national coverage and it gave concerned parents and teachers a voice.

What we are actually facing long term in education is a complete crisis. Research shows that 94% of teachers are buying equipment and resources for basic teaching. My experience of teaching is that staff have always been willing to spend some of their own money for the odd item, such as prizes for children, but the funding cuts are digging deep. That is making it hard for schools to manage without being subsidised by staff and parents; the National Education Union reports that one in five said their schools were asking parents for financial contributions as a result of budget pressures, while two thirds said funding for special needs provision had been cut. It is wrong to rely on the good will of teachers and parents to meet the shortfall when pay has fallen over the past 10 years. The Government need to fund schools adequately, so that children can enjoy a full curriculum, in properly resourced institutions.

Many of my friends are still teachers, and staff morale is the lowest I have ever known it. Teachers are being stretched in so many different directions. Any time teachers might have once had for prep at school and to complete the ever-increasing amount of admin is being taken away to cover for staff who are not being replaced. Funding cuts are resulting in bigger class sizes, and cuts to support staff mean we are seeing more and more children with complex needs not getting the necessary support. The cuts to frontline teaching posts are happening at a time when pupil to classroom teacher ratios are rising, which means bigger classes and less individual attention for children. The funding situation also continues to have a growing impact on teachers’ pay and working conditions. The NEU believes that the damaging cuts to teachers’ pay must be reversed. Pay should be restored at least to the levels in place before the Government misguidedly imposed their pay freezes and pay limits. With schools already struggling with the funding crisis, it is vital that the Government allocate additional funding to support the pay levels needed to address the recruitment and retention crisis.

Another impact of the real-terms funding cuts is on the opportunities for children to participate in extra-curricular activities and school trips. Today, my son is going on his first residential trip, at six years old—one night, sleeping over, at the cost of £60. Like his school friends, he is bursting with excitement. I know that he is about to do something that he will always remember. How awful then to hear from other schools in my constituency that they will be unable to do school trips. Why? It is because they cannot afford to subsidise the trips for the poorer students. So, once again, the poorest are starved of opportunities that children from wealthier families can access. How desperately unfair our education system has become.

My constituency is part of the f40. Forty-one of the group’s 42 member authorities responded to its survey and unanimously agreed that the formula being introduced in April 2018 did not yet fully meet f40’s aspirations. f40, like myself, welcomed the Government’s commitment to an additional £1.3billion for school funding, but the survey demonstrates that concerns remain and there is still more work to do to tackle the remaining locked-in inequalities. Although the Government have added more cash to the system, a gap between the better funded and worst funded remains. Specifically, maintaining protections to the best-funded areas has meant that the historical inequalities will take longer to iron out. Like the f40, I believe that a needs-led funding formula that reflects the true cost of running a school and an adjustment to the balance between funding blocks, with an enhancement of core funding and reduction to additional needs, are required changes.

I have been listening carefully to what the hon. Lady is saying. Like hers, my constituency was part of the f40 campaign. Will she therefore recognise the steps this Government took, which the last Labour Government failed to take, to address those inequalities? While I am standing, let me say that it is welcome at least to hear her acknowledgement of additional money going in.

I believe I acknowledged that extra money going into the system and mentioned it in my speech.

The right to a decent, diverse and inspirational education is something every child deserves, no matter their background, no matter their ability. School is about so much more than just results and attainment. It should be a place of safety, support and development, and children deserve access to teachers who feel valued and inspired themselves. I became a teacher because I love to see the spark in a child’s eyes when they find that thing that makes them tick. Every child I ever worked with had something to offer, and as a teacher it was my job to tune into it and give them the confidence and self-belief to learn. Teachers are working harder than ever, with fewer resources and more challenges, and their wellbeing is being affected massively. Who, ultimately, misses out as a result of the crisis that schools face? It is every person in our society, as the kids of today are the future of tomorrow. They did not cause the global economic crisis and they should not be punished for others’ failings.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, because Conservative Members have a duty to put the record right on some of the statements that Opposition Members are making. They continue to peddle myths day after day in the Chamber. Today, I feel as if I am in a parallel universe to the one those Opposition Members are in. I ask myself: why would the Opposition promote these many myths in the way they do? What is their reason for doing this? I do hope they are not doing it knowingly, misleading the public to spread fear and distract from the reality of the situation. Unlike in the glory days of “Education, education, education”, the Labour party now has no plan. It is unable to present an alternative vision for education in this country and unable effectively to cost the pledges it does make without burdening our children and our children’s children with huge amounts of debt.

Let us examine the facts. The proposed new funding formula, which will right the historical wrong of the schools funding postcode lottery, will mean that schools in Erewash will receive an increase of 5%—that means £2.6 million more to spend on education in my constituency. That is not a cut. As we speak, the new multimillion-pound Wilsthorpe Community School is nearing the end of its construction phase, in preparation for opening its doors to students from Long Eaton and the surrounding area in September. This is a great example of real investment by this Government, through the Education and Skills Funding Agency, to update a school that had previously been neglected by Labour.

I am still getting used to this place, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise. The hon. Lady made the point that there is more funding going into the system, and I recognise that—it is true—but does she also accept that there are more children in schools, so that money is being spread more thinly?

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, but once again, I think that the myths have been spread and spread. If we look at it historically, in Erewash during all the 13 years of Labour government, schools were underfunded completely. Thankfully, this Government are correcting the wrong that was in place for so many years.

Like many other public services, schools are much more than the building or the money we spend on them. As others have mentioned, those who go into education often talk about a vocation—a calling in life—and in Erewash we have some extraordinary examples of teachers and teaching assistants who go above and beyond to give our children the very best start in life.

One example is Chaucer Junior School, whose pupils can often be found gardening or litter picking. I joined them to pick litter, and it taught them a lesson about how important it is not to drop litter, so it is an educational activity as well. They also visit places such as Parliament, which adds real value to their education. That is down not to the funding the school receives but the hard work and dedication of the staff who are willing to organise and facilitate those activities. I can cite example after example from my constituency, including English Martyrs in Long Eaton, which was visited a couple of years ago by the Minister for School Standards, who is on the Front Bench and who tested their maths when he visited. That school regularly gets to the final of the green school awards, which means they can come down to London, go to London Zoo and be part of the bigger picture that schools and education provide.

Sadly, the story in Erewash is not all a bed of roses and students are suffering, not because of funding cuts but because of teaching time lost by politically motivated strike action. Like its colleagues in Labour and Momentum, the NASUWT has been prepared to weaponise teachers in opposition to academisation, despite it being in the best interests of students and, I remind the House, a policy that began under Labour.

Last month, the Opposition were forced to retreat over the issue of free school meals, not just by the Government but by the team at Channel 4. Indeed, even the Labour candidate in Erewash embarrassed herself in our local press by jumping the gun, blindly following the party line rather than checking local facts, and was rightly exposed for it. In a similar vein, the Opposition are pursuing today’s debate with the same misguided intent, rather than using it as a constructive way of proposing policy.

Having spoken before this debate to those in my office about their own time in school, with their experience spanning time from Wilson to Cameron, I found that they can all recall the charitable element historically embraced by our education system to support the formal budget set by Government. The parent teacher association raffle, the summer fair, the Christmas pantomime and the sponsored walk while dressed as a hippo—I have yet to find out who wore the hippo outfit—helped to pay for things as wide-ranging as a minibus and basic extra equipment. There is nothing new about people contributing to school budgets rather than relying on what the Government provide.

We must ask ourselves what makes a school. I would argue this is about more than just the funding that the Government provide. I agree with the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) on one point: she said that it is not just about money. Yes, we would all like more money, but it is clear that in Erewash there are no cuts, despite what the Opposition would like the public to believe. Instead, we have both an increase in funding and significant investment in new school buildings.

I am just finishing.

In Erewash, at the core, we have an inspirational team of teaching professionals who manage their schools creatively within budget and, more importantly, look beyond the balance sheet, choosing instead to focus on the vital job of educating our next generation.

I would like to begin by putting on record my admiration and appreciation for the remarkable efforts of schools in my constituency and the Borough of Merton. I am proud to say that under the most testing of circumstances, every single secondary school in Merton is now rated good or outstanding and has a GCSE progress 8 score that the Department for Education ranks as No. 1 in England, with Liberty Primary School in Mitcham in the top 1% of all schools for pupil progress in reading, writing and maths.

I am sure that Members across the Chamber will join me in congratulating Harris Primary Academy, which last year became the second outstanding primary school in Mitcham and Morden after Singlegate. They join Merton’s growing list of outstanding secondary schools, which includes Harris Academy Merton, Harris Academy Morden, the Ursuline, and Ricards Lodge. What makes that success even more remarkable is the circumstances in which it has been achieved—circumstances that are worsening term by term.

Schools in Merton are set to lose a staggering £1,820,818 between 2015 and 2020, despite their pupil numbers rising. It is no wonder that 40% of primary schools and 60% of secondary schools in Merton have had to cut staff since 2014. By 2020, Aragon Primary School will lose £100,118, William Morris Primary School will lose £72,582 and the outstanding Singlegate Primary School will lose £102,086—the extraordinary equivalent of £204 per pupil.

Across the country, staff numbers in England’s secondary schools have fallen by 15,000 since 2014, despite there being 4,500 more pupils to teach. That is 5.5 staff members lost in each school. Meanwhile, 62% of those schools have increased the size of their classes, despite the shortage of staff.

Behind the facts and figures are the governors, pupils and teachers struggling to cope. Yesterday, a group of teachers wrote to me from their staff room and said:

“We are stretched beyond belief. Corners are being cut, stopping the breadth of the curriculum and yet, despite the setbacks, we are expected to produce better outcomes than ever before! We’ve even run out of pens, glue sticks and basic stationery!”

Schools have been admirably shielding their pupils from the damage these cuts are causing, but they can go on for only so long. These schools are facing hardship like never before.

I would like to read some brief extracts from letters I have recently received from three different headteachers in my constituency. First:

“We see children who eat their lunch very quickly, whilst ‘protecting’ their plate with an arm as they eat”

so that nobody can steal their food. Secondly:

“If he won the lottery, one child said he would go food shopping to buy lots of cereal and porridge to fill him up and keep him warm.”

Another said:

“We believe that a significant number of our children are so used to feeling hungry and cold that they do not recognise these feelings”,


“We have children in temporary accommodation changing schools several times, impacting them socially, educationally and financially.”

When I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), who is responsible for children and families, about the impact of temporary accommodation on education he acknowledged that it can mean changing schools and that it is strongly associated with poorer attainment, but he then claimed that these schools are provided with extra resources to combat that. The reality is that the pupil in question, moving from school to school, has now become a persistent absentee. Experience suggests that he might never overcome that avoidable dismantling of his education.

The Government argue that they are trying to distribute funds more fairly, but they fail to address the uneven battle that those in the most disadvantaged areas face even to attend a good school in the first place. A child living in one of England’s most disadvantaged is 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than a child living in one of the least disadvantaged areas. Spreading the funding evenly, therefore, does not fairly share the opportunity. How do I explain to the furious teachers, governors and parents across Mitcham and Morden why their class sizes are bigger, why their teaching assistants have gone, and what has happened to the subjects that their school now simply cannot afford? There will be almost no real-term winners under the Government’s proposals. The cake needs to be bigger for anyone to get a bigger, fairer slice.

It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate and to have the opportunity yet again to speak on the important subject of our schools.

On Monday evening, I asked the shadow Secretary of State whether her debate about students was playing politics with students. She did not directly answer me then, but she answered me today and made it absolutely and explicitly clear that her reason for calling this debate was directly linked to the upcoming elections, so she is playing politics not only with our students, but with our school children. It was very disappointing to hear that. There were one or two parts of her speech with which I agreed and I will come to them in a few moments, but there was much with which I disagreed.

The old system over which Labour presided had areas with similar characteristics receiving vastly different sums of money. That was not because of deprivation. Had it been because of areas of deprivation, I could have looked my constituents in the eye and said, “The reason you are receiving £2,000 per pupil less than students in another part of the country is that the area in which you live is not as deprived.” That was not the reason. It was because of historical anomalies and because successive Governments had failed to tackle the problem. This Government have tackled it. Dorset was in the bottom 11 for funding of local authorities and Poole was in the bottom two—the two local authorities that cover my constituency.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith), who is no longer in her place, mentioned the f40 campaign. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who most recently led that campaign and made determined arguments to Government as to the historic unfairness of the old system. I know that he is itching to speak in this debate but, given his elevation and his new role in the Education Department, he is forbidden from doing so. None the less, I pay tribute to him for his role as chairman of the f40 campaign.

As a direct result of that campaign, the national funding formula has been introduced by this Government. As I have said, the issue was sadly ducked in the past. The Labour party had the opportunity to grasp it but it ducked it. As a direct result of the change, schools in Dorset will receive a 4.2% increase and, in Poole, a 3.8% increase in 2019-20 compared with 2015-16.

We should look at funding not just in this country, but internationally. I was delighted that the Secretary of State mentioned the international comparisons. For example, spending per pupil in England is higher than in Germany and Japan. I would like the Schools Minister to consider whether it is higher than in France. The international tables suggest that our spending per pupil is higher than in France as well as than in Germany and Japan. Can he confirm that in closing the debate?

Real-terms spending has also gone up. The motion mentions a “cash terms increase”, but this Government have gone further than that because there are real-terms school spending increases. Per pupil spending in 2019-20 will be more than 50% higher than it was under Labour in 2000-01. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich did accept, perhaps slightly grudgingly, that more money is going in. Perhaps we need to have more clarity and more acceptance of that fact from the Labour party—[Interruption.] I have mentioned per pupil funding. I will repeat what I said, because I do not think that the shadow Secretary of State was listening. Per pupil funding in 2019-20 will be 50% higher than under Labour in 2000-01.

This is not just about spending; it is also about what is actually done with that money. Whether we make international comparisons, or compare our record with Labour’s record, we are spending more. However, that should not be the test. The test should be what is actually done with the money. That is where the shadow Secretary of State did say one thing that was right. She did say that it is not just about the money and she is absolutely right. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (David Evennett) also dwelt on that point.

The question is, what to do with that money? What do we as parents want? What does any of us want? We want our children to be happy, to go to a good school, to achieve their potential and to get the best results that they possibly can. Now that we have shown, and now that some on the Labour Benches have accepted, that we are spending more money than ever before, we need to turn the conversation to look not just at money, but at standards—what we are actually doing with that money—and to congratulate our teachers who are doing such a good job.

An independent study by the Education Policy Institute said that Labour-run Harrow was the most improved education authority in the country and that the progress that pupils make in Harrow is greater than anywhere else in the UK when they start at secondary school. Therefore, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would follow the example of other Conservatives who have blessed us with their presence for campaigning purposes in Harrow and perhaps bring with him the Schools Minister to see what works so well in Harrow. If he does, I warn him that he will hear stories from headteachers, parents and governors starved of resources at Harrow schools and worried about whether they will be able to maintain the high standards that they have achieved because of real-terms cuts in funding.

I would be delighted to accept the hon. Gentleman’s invitation. In fact, I am campaigning elsewhere tomorrow. Had I not been, I would certainly have taken him up on his offer and come to Harrow. When I do so, I will ensure that I let him know. He is right is this respect: he is right to look at standards. He is right to look at the output and to congratulate our teachers when they do that excellent work, as I do now. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to all those teachers in Mid Dorset and North Poole. I have said in this place before that I am somebody who has run away from teaching. I come from a family of teachers and I admire them. Some of the best things that I do in this Chamber and in this House involve my work with schools—both welcoming schools and pupils here and also when I visit schools back home in Dorset.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the measurement of “outputs”; I think that is what he said. I would suggest “outcomes”. I agree that looking at what money goes in and what the outcomes are is crucial. When I was a member of the Public Accounts Committee last year, I asked the Department for Education how it was measuring the changes in funding over the next few years with regard to the outcomes that we are currently using and what we will have by, for example, 2020. There is no measurement of the current money going in, the outcomes that we have and the future outcomes under reduced budgets over time. You cannot track it in that way. I am interested to hear his views.

My view is that we should look at the definitive evidence, which is the international standard, the progress in international reading literacy study, because that is an international comparative study directed by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. A report released in December 2017 confirmed that England’s score is significantly above the international median score. England had the highest average performance in all four PIRLS cycles. It was a pleasure to read reports that reading standards in England are the best in a generation. That did not happen by accident. That was as a direct result of policies enacted by this Government and by this Schools Minister. It is a record of which we should be proud.

Once again, we are here at an Opposition-day debate where the Opposition play political football with the issue of schools. The shadow Secretary of State actually admitted to that during her opening remarks. The Opposition are playing on the fears of parents one week before the local elections. Again, that is something to which she openly admitted. That is really what this debate is all about. This is not a serious debate about school funding because, if it were, it would be about why constituencies such as mine have, for decades, been funded significantly less than urban authorities: 49% per head of population have been funded less than in urban areas. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) said, this was based not on need, but on geography and history. That is a wrong that this Conservative Government are putting right.

When the fairer funding formula was announced, I was the first to visit headteachers in my constituency, who spoke about the increased pressures and rising costs of running schools. I took those headteachers to meet the Minister so that they could discuss their concerns, and the Government listened. The figures that came out at the end of last year showed a significant increase in funding—between 4% and 8%, on average—for schools in my constituency. That is a welcome boost. It does not account for some of the pressures that schools are still facing and that I am meeting headteachers to discuss. But that is a serious debate. It is not about making the issue a political football and once again scaremongering teachers, parents and pupils.

My hon. Friend, like me, represents a rural constituency. The lack of funding that we get in comparison with urban areas is putting real pressure on schools, especially in dealing with children with special needs. Does she agree that the time has come to ensure that the differences between rural and urban areas are rectified?

Absolutely. Ministers are listening to this, and it is an ongoing debate and process. The figures published late last year are an indication of the progress that we are making. The facts have been checked by independent sources such as Full Fact, which has said that it is “correct” to say that school spending is at record levels. The shadow Secretary of State quoted the IFS. I will repeat what the IFS said, which is that the extra £1.3 billion for schools means that school spending will not fall but will stay the same per pupil. And that is the key point. There are not actually school cuts; there are pressures and costs, but the funding is increasing.

I have some questions for the Minister from primary schools in Lewes. First, will the Minister confirm that the pupil premium will be ongoing for the long term? Schools have found that extremely helpful. The second question is a request for a long-term funding settlement, not a year-on-year one, as it would make long-term planning easier for schools. Thirdly, schools would like us to use the census data starting from January, not October, because they are sometimes carrying pupils for the length of the school year, but are not actually being paid for them. Those are three requests from primary schools in Lewes, in a serious debate about school funding.

I will not for the moment.

How have the unions reacted to this debate? Do they welcome this school funding? Do they welcome the Government redressing the balance between urban and rural areas? No. The National Union of Teachers has been quite open about making this a political campaign. In fact, it spent £326,000 campaigning on this issue during the general election last year—more than the Green party and UKIP. The union uses this issue as a political football for election purposes. That is a shocking state of affairs.

The NUT sent letters to parents, frightening them about school funding cuts that were not actually coming, and put banners in schools telling parents how much their children would be losing, when that was not true at all. It spread lies and fear. It is under investigation by the Electoral Commission for submitting incomplete spending returns. Given the funding announcements after the election, hon. Members might think that there would be a consensus to support the Government and welcome the funding increase. But no—the joint general secretary urged members at a recent conference in Brighton to ramp up their efforts ahead of the local elections as school funding is a top concern for voters. This is the true reason that we are having this debate. The NUT said about the issue of school funding that

“if voters changed their mind because of that—then we are pleased…We make no apology. We will do it again.”

That is the whole purpose of today’s debate. It is about next Thursday; it is not about schools funding or the future of our children.

Just look at the example of Labour authorities up and down the country, including Brighton and Hove, right next door to me, where some of my constituents send their children to school. The council there has been having issues taking in more children. Brighton’s The Argus newspaper investigated this case in an exposé by their lead reporter, Joel Adams. The council told parents that it had no money and could not accommodate children, and that this was all down to Government cuts. The Argus found, however, that the Government had actually given Brighton and Hove City Council £15 million to deal with the problem and build new classrooms, and that the Labour council had refused to spend it. It preferred to send out letters scaremongering parents and to put up banners on railings than to spend the £15 million that it was given by this Conservative Government. That is the truth.

Some of the schools in my constituency that sent letters to parents have now had an 8% increase in funding. When I challenged them on this, they said that there is pressure from the unions to get the message out. It is absolutely disgraceful. Opposition Members should be ashamed of themselves for raising this fear and scaremongering. But the truth is out today, because we heard it from the shadow Secretary of State; we all know that this is about the elections next Thursday.

I will close my speech with another irony. The whole point of this debate was to challenge parties about what they put in their manifesto and how they will find the money. Well, what did the Labour party put in its manifesto? Abolishing tuition fees. But once the election was over, that was suddenly just an aspiration and the abacus was put into storage for the next general election.

Will the hon. Lady take the opportunity to correct the record? We said in our manifesto that we would abolish tuition fees, and we continue to say that we would abolish tuition fees.

I welcome that announcement, as it takes me to the second point I mentioned: where is this money coming from? As the abacus is in storage, we will have to wait until the next election to find out.

The Labour party’s aspiration is to spend, spend, spend—with no idea where the money is coming from. But we know from the Labour leader that Venezuela is the role model that his party is following—an aspiration to all of us fighting against austerity and neoliberal economics. At schools in Venezuela, children are missing 40% of their classes while teachers queue up in food lines, and the rate of children dropping out of school there has doubled. That is Labour’s vision for this country. It is not one that I want for the children here.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief speech in this debate. I had attempted to intervene on the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who it is a pleasure to follow.

I will take this opportunity to praise the work of all the teachers across the country, particularly—if the House will forgive me—those at Harrow schools. I commend the governors of Harrow schools for their leadership, but some credit is also due to local authorities, particularly to a local authority that has been recognised by the independent analysis of the Education Policy Institute as offering the best education in the country. It is a Labour council facing huge cutbacks as a result of the Government’s austerity policies. More than £100 million has been lost, yet it still provides as good a service as it is able to for our schools.

I gently say to Conservative Members that there is certainly a case for schools in rural areas to receive more funding. I do not dispute that. But there is also a strong argument that schools in urban areas, such as my own, should also be receiving additional funding. I gently chide the Conservative Members who I have had the chance to listen to this afternoon for not acknowledging the challenges that headteachers and teachers in urban areas such as mine face in managing budgets that are shrinking in real terms. For example, most primary schools in my constituency have lost teaching assistants in the last 12 months.

I gently suggest to any Conservative MPs wanting to campaign in local elections in Harrow that they are extremely welcome; I would happily facilitate meetings with headteachers in my constituency, so that they can hear from the horse’s mouth—from those at the coalface of education in Harrow—about the challenges that they face in managing shrinking budgets. There is second issue around capital, which I will come to in a minute.

The hon. Gentleman asks us to sympathise with his schools, but how can we do that when our schools receive a fraction of the funding per head that his schools get?

I will take back to my constituents the fact that a Conservative MP is saying that schools in Harrow should be cut to fund schools in his area. Had he asked whether I would join him in calling for more funding to be invested in education, I would have been happy to consider that. I repeat to him the offer that I made to his Conservative colleagues: if he wants to come and campaign in my constituency and help to achieve an even bigger Labour majority on Harrow Council, he would be very welcome to do so. I would happily facilitate for him a meeting with the headteachers of a couple of the primary schools who had to axe teaching assistant positions just in the past 12 months alone.

I am not going to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene again, if he will forgive me, because I want to—

Order. I do not think that either hon. Member was here at the very beginning of this debate, and the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) had not indicated that he wished to speak. Of course he has every right to speak, but I hope that he will pay respect to the amount of time that he is taking out of other people’s speeches.

It is for exactly that reason that I was resisting the very agreeable temptation, in other circumstances, to allow the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) to intervene a second time.

My last point is about capital funding. It would be good to hear from the Schools Minister that he might be sympathetic to further requests from Harrow schools for the additional capital they need to tackle asbestos hazards and which are not fit for purpose as a result, or from schools that need further investment as a result of an increase in population in Harrow. We have been starved, as other areas have, of the capital that is needed to invest in our schools. I hope that that issue will be addressed, if not now, then at a future Budget.

It is obvious that the Schools Minister is becoming increasingly isolated in this Chamber because he will be the only Member to stand at the Dispatch Box in this debate who is not a Mancunian. The Secretary of State said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), regarding the devastating impact of school cuts that are going on up and down the country and in his constituency, that the funding is what it is. I think that teachers up and down the land, particularly headteachers, will be very worried about that. I remind the Secretary of State that between 2015-16 and 2019-20, Hampshire, his local authority, will be facing a £14 million cut.

The Secretary of State actually went to school very near me, at St Ambrose College in Hale Barns in Trafford borough, which I had the pleasure to visit again only last week. Interestingly, Trafford borough, which I represent—its education authority is a member of the f40 group, as is the case with many Members here—faces a real-terms cut of £3.3 million. That is certainly a big issue on the doorstep as we pound the streets night after night. Meanwhile, the Schools Minister in West Sussex faces his headteachers threatening a four-day week because of school funding cuts.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) said, this motion, is about what the Conservative party promised at the last election. It promised:

“Under a future Conservative Government the amount of money following your child into the school will be protected. There will be a real-terms increase in the schools budget in the next Parliament.”

That pledge was also made also by the previous Prime Minister, who was very clear about what he meant. He said:

“I can tell you, with a Conservative government, the amount of money following your child into the school will not be cut.”

But the Government are not keeping their promise to the British people. Under this Government, schools are facing the first real-terms cuts to their budgets in nearly 20 years, despite the Secretary of State having inadvertently claimed the opposite in the House earlier this year. The National Audit Office has said that with the current spending settlement there will be an 8% cut in the pupil funding between 2015 and 2020. The same conclusion was reached by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. This means that every school in every region and every town will lose money because of the failure of this Government to protect funding for our schools.

The so-called fair funding formula will simply redistribute the same inadequate sum of money that is already failing to support our schools and provide our children with the excellent education they are entitled to. The National Audit Office, again, has said that the Department for Education is expecting schools to find £3 billion in savings over this Parliament, yet it has failed to communicate to schools how they can achieve this. While we do of course support the principle that schools should receive fair funding, the answer is not to take money away from existing schools and redistribute it when budgets across the country are being cut. The solution is to invest in education to help every child to receive an excellent education.

The Government’s stated aim in revising the school funding formula is fairness. There should be fairness in the funding formula, and there are good things about it, such as an emphasis on high needs and a deprivation index, albeit a crude measure, and a focus on prior attainment. Why would we not welcome those things? However, there is nothing fair about a proposal under which funding will be cut from high performing schools in deprived areas. A fair approach would be to take the best performing areas in the country and apply the lessons from those schools everywhere. It would look objectively at the funding required to deliver in the best performing schools, particularly in areas of high deprivation, and use that as the basis of a formula to be applied across the country.

Unfortunately, though, this Government are not listening to the chorus of voices of schools, teachers and parents across this country. We only have to look at the impact already being played out in our schools. Let us start with class sizes. Over half a million infant school children are now in super-sized classes. New research by the leading education unions shows that class sizes are rising in the majority of secondary schools in England as a result of Government underfunding of education. There is a particular problem in secondary schools because of the shortfall of £500 million a year in funding for 11 to 16-year-olds between 2015 and 2020. This disaster does not end there. When our children get to sixth form, they face even more deep cuts—over 17% per pupil since 2010. Sixty-two per cent. of secondary schools in England have increased the size of their classes in the past two years alone.

The second huge impact is on teacher numbers, as we have heard. Staff numbers in secondary schools have fallen by 15,000 between 2014-15 and 2016-17, despite 4,500 more pupils to teach. This equates to an average loss of over five staff members in each school since 2015. In practical terms, this means nearly 2.5 fewer classroom teachers, 1.6 fewer classroom assistants, and 1.5 fewer extra support staff in every school. Cuts to frontline teaching posts are happening now—at a time when pupil to classroom teacher ratios are rising, meaning bigger classes and less individual attention for children. New research published only last month by the Education Policy Institute shows that many schools that have been struggling financially are now in deficit. The number of local authority-maintained schools in deficit has nearly trebled, meaning that over a quarter of all local authority-maintained schools are now in deficit. In 2016-17, the proportion of primary schools in deficit also increased significantly, to 7%. The average primary school deficit noticeably increased from £72,000 in 2010-11 to £107,000 in 2016-17.

Similar figures are found for local authority-maintained primary schools. In 2016-17, over 60% were spending more than their income. A quarter of local authority-maintained primaries have had a falling balance for two years or more. The Education Policy Institute report points to the inevitable outcome of those growing budget pressures. It states that staff account for the majority of spending by schools—around two thirds—and it is likely that schools will

“find it difficult to achieve the scale of savings necessary”

to shoulder the Government’s real-terms cuts without also cutting back on staff.

We have had a good debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) talked about the £3 million of cuts in real terms to his area. In his excellent speech, the Chair of the Education Committee, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), said that we must never forget to celebrate the contribution of teachers in our classrooms. The lamp post reference from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) will probably go down in history.

The right hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (David Evennett) made a passionate and interesting speech, but he did not say why his borough will be losing £7.2 million in real terms between 2015-16 and 2020. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith) made a very passionate speech indeed, and we wish her son all the best on his field trip. The hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) said there were no cuts, yet Derbyshire is losing £11.5 million from 2015-16 to 2019-20. We have seen the excellent campaign being run by Catherine Atkinson‏ in that constituency, where Wilsthorpe school alone is going to lose £200,000.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) made another passionate speech about the impact on the poor in her constituency, in addition to her speech on housing last month. The hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) made a very good speech, and I am also an f40 representative, but he failed to point out that Dorset is losing £3.1 million from 2015-16 to 2019-20. The hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) also forgot to point out that her constituency is losing £1.5 million in the same period, but she is right about one thing: this is political. Research shows that 750,000 people changed their vote at the last general election because of school cuts, and the Government are not reversing this, so let us see what happens a week on Thursday and subsequently at the next general election.

Labour is committed to investment in our schools and investment in our pupils, while the Conservative Government offer disinvestment from our schools and our pupils. I call on all Members of the House to be a voice for pupils, a voice for parents and a voice for teachers in their constituencies and to support the motion.

This has been a good-natured but energetic debate—I wrote that before the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) finished his peroration. I was surprised that he did not acknowledge the 2.3% increase in funding for schools in his constituency once the national funding formula is fully implemented. Nor did the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) acknowledge the 3.5% increase in funding for schools in her constituency. No local authority is facing cuts in funding under this Government.

Since 2010, this Government have been committed to raising academic standards in our schools, improving behaviour in our schools, taking action to ensure that every local school is a good school and challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations, so that every child, regardless of their background or where they live, has the best education possible, to help them fulfil their potential.

Since 2010, despite the overarching imperative of tackling the crisis in our public finances that overshadowed our economy when we came into office, we have been able to increase school spending to record levels. This year we will be spending £42.4 billion on school and special needs funding, up from just under £41 billion last year. The new fairer national funding formula will ensure that funding is distributed more fairly and more transparently than previous Governments have dared. Every local education authority’s funding is now calculated on the basis of the actual levels of pupil need in each of the schools and academies in their area—on pupil numbers, on pupils’ age, on their level of disadvantage, on their prior educational attainment and on whether they speak English as an additional language. It is fair and transparent, and the principles it is based on have widespread support, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (David Evennett) pointed out.

I should say to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) that Warrington is seeing a 3.4% increase in funding under the national funding formula. He raised the issue of class sizes, but I point out that they have remained broadly constant, at 21 on average for secondary schools and at 27 for primary schools, despite the huge increase in the number of primary school places that we have created. I should have thought that he would congratulate us on that achievement. Pupil-teacher ratios have remained below 18.1 since 2011.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), in a typically thoughtful and well-informed speech, pointed out that teacher retention is as important as recruitment. He is right, of course, which is why we are tackling the workload issues facing the teaching profession. He is also right to defend a strong academic curriculum for children from all backgrounds, as well as emphasising the importance of creative and practical subjects. After PE and sport, music is where most Department for Education subject-specific funding is allocated.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford, in an excellent speech, pointed out that there are now 25 more “good” or “outstanding” schools in his constituency than there were in 2010. We should congratulate all the teachers in his constituency on that achievement. He was also right to highlight the total absence of any specific education policies from the Labour party in this debate.

I listened carefully to the passionate speech by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy). I gently point out that schools in her constituency will receive a 4.2% funding increase under the national funding formula, and that the attainment gap between those from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more advantaged peers has closed by 10% since 2011. That is what this Government have been driving.

Will the Minister acknowledge that there is now greater demand for SEN funding, because of the increasing number of children requiring it? As I mentioned in my speech, 526 children under the age of four with SEN will be starting school in Hull. He says that he has given more money, but the demand has increased to such an extent that the money per child has actually decreased.

We take the education of children with special educational needs very seriously. My hon. Friend the former Schools Minister, Ed Timpson, reformed the system and introduced education, health and care plans, which is a much more streamlined and effective way of ensuring that those children get the right care and education. The hon. Lady is right to acknowledge that that has led to increased pressure on the high needs budget, which is why we have increased it, from £5 billion in 2013 to £6 billion this year. Those are very significant sums of money.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) for bringing a dose of reality to the debate and correcting some of the points made by Opposition Members. She was right to welcome the 5% increase in schools funding for schools in her constituency under the national funding formula.

I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) for pointing out that every school in her constituency is now rated “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted, including the recently inspected Harris Primary School—it was rated “outstanding”. I congratulate all the teachers in her constituency on that achievement. The Government’s overriding objective has been to ensure that every local school is a good school, so that parents can be confident when they send their children there.

The Minister is aware that I am a supporter of Labour’s academisation scheme, whereby failing schools that cannot be fixed by the council became academies. The problem for my constituency and many others is that the number of good or adequate sponsors is now running out and schools are being forced to become academies, which is not always in the best interests of pupils.

I share the hon. Lady’s support for Labour’s academisation programme, which is why we expanded it from 200 academies to over 6,000. She is fortunate to have in her constituency the Harris Federation, which is one of the most successful multi-academy trusts and school sponsors in the country. She should also want to acknowledge that funding for schools in Mitcham and Morden will rise by 7.3% under the national funding formula, and that Merton will receive an extra £6.3 million by 2019-20—a 5.4% increase in funding.[Official Report, 22 May 2018, Vol. 641, c. 5MC.]

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), in yet another highly effective speech on education, rightly pointed out that Dorset will receive a 4.2% increase and Poole a 3.8% increase under the full national funding formula. He also highlighted that England is rising up the PIRLS league table for the reading ability of our nine-year-olds. Reading is the basic fundamental building block, as the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), who is sitting on the Opposition Back Bench, would acknowledge. This country’s adoption of phonics and the hard work of primary school teachers up and down the country mean that we have risen from joint 10th to joint eighth in the PIRLS world league table.

In her strong contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole, effectively revealed Labour’s and the unions’ political motives for raising school funding. Lewes’s schools will see a 4.3% increase in funding under the national funding formula, but I will certainly come back to her on the three requests from the primary schools in her constituency.

Although I think there is some consensus in the House about the principles underlying the national funding formula, we disagree with the Opposition on the overall amount. Is the £42.4 billion we are spending this year enough, and can our public finances afford more? Last July, we announced an additional £1.3 billion increase in overall school and high needs funding, over and above the increases agreed in the 2015 spending review—£416 million more for 2018-19 and £884 million more for 2019-20. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that school funding will be 50% higher in real terms per pupil by 2019-20 than in 2000.

However, we know that in the past two years schools have incurred increased costs, such as higher employer’s national insurance contributions and higher pensions contributions. Of course, both have applied to other public services, and higher national insurance has also applied to private sector employers. Those costs are all part of tax and revenue-raising measures that were introduced to help reduce the public sector budget deficit, which stood at £150 billion per year—10% of our GDP—when we came into office in 2010. That was unsustainable and would have been bankrupting if we had not addressed it. Thanks to the hard work of the British people and a series of difficult decisions, that deficit has reduced to £42.6 billion—2.1% of GDP—and is set to fall further.

Without that balanced approach to public spending and the public finances, we would not now have a strong economy providing young people with the job opportunities that a record number of jobs in the economy brings. Without that careful and balanced approach, we would not have been able to spend £42.4 billion on schools this year and allocate more than £23 billion to capital spending from 2016 to 2021, and we would not have created more than 800,000 new school places, with more in the pipeline; seen a rise in reading standards in our schools; helped schools raise the standard of maths teaching; allocated significant funds to music and the arts; ensured that 91% of 16-year-olds studied at least two science GCSEs, up from 62% in 2011; or seen 1.9 million more pupils in schools rated “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted than in 2010.

None of that would have been achieved if we had taken the hard left-wing approach to the public finances set out by Labour during and since the general election. Labour’s spend, spend, spend plans would mean £106 billion more public spending, wiping out in one blow eight years of hard work on deficit reduction. Its plans to nationalise a raft of industries would add £176 billion to the national debt. Its other plans would bring the increase in debt to £350 billion, costing us another £8 billion a year in higher interest charges—an amount equal to nearly a fifth of the schools budget blown on increased debt interest charges to fund Labour’s spending plans.

What do we know about Labour’s statements and promises on spending? We know that they cannot be delivered without bankrupting the country. It would lead to a run on the pound, a flight of investment and a rise in unemployment—the hallmark of every period of Labour in office. That is why, no doubt, the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, in a moment of candour, described Labour’s economic policy as “a bit of a” something “or bust” policy.

By contrast, because of our balanced approach to public spending, funding for schools under the national formula will ensure that every school attracts at least 0.5% more per pupil funding this year and 1% next year than in 2017, with thousands of schools receiving significantly more. It means that for schools that have historically had the very lowest funding, we can introduce a minimum of £3,500 per pupil for primary schools and £4,800 per pupil for secondary schools. It means that we can increase funding for special educational needs from £5 billion in 2013 to £6 billion this year.

Delivery, not promises, is what matters and this Government are delivering—delivering on the economy, delivering on jobs, delivering on school funding and delivering on academic standards.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House notes the Conservative Party manifesto pledge to make sure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new national funding formula, the statement by the Secretary of State for Education that each school will see at least a small cash terms increase and the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s guarantee that every school would receive a cash terms increase; endorses the aim of ensuring that there is a cash increase in every school’s budget; agrees with the UK Statistics Authority that such an increase is not guaranteed by the national funding formula, which allows for reductions of up to 1.5 per cent in per pupil funding for schools; and calls on the Government to meet its guarantee, ensuring that every single school receives a cash increase in per pupil funding in every financial year of the 2017 Parliament.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder if you can help me with something. Earlier today, the Prime Minister said that the Leader of the Opposition had said that he would ameliorate student debt and suggested that he was no longer looking at that. That is not something that the Leader of the Opposition is not doing. Is there anything you can do, Madam Deputy Speaker, to help me correct the record to ensure that the Leader of the Opposition is represented fairly?

That is not technically a point of order, as the hon. Lady may know. It is up to any Member of the House to correct the record if they feel that they may inadvertently have misled the House.