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Schools Bill [HL]

Volume 822: debated on Wednesday 15 June 2022

Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)

Clause 33: Nationally determined funding for schools in England

Amendment 87

Moved by

87: Clause 33, page 30, line 3, at end insert—

“(11) Within the period of one year beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of this section, which must include analysis of the distribution of funding by geographical location and comparative deprivation.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would require analysis of the changes made to the National Funding Formula that remove the role of local authorities in allocation.

My Lords, we degrouped the amendment because, although it was related to an earlier group, we wanted a specific ministerial response on this policy choice to remove local authorities from the allocation. To fully evaluate the changes, the public will need—and indeed deserve—a robust analysis of how they affect the funding by region when we know that there are already huge disparities in how different areas have been funded, as was alluded to in the previous debate. Indeed, in some cases, this has worsened over the duration of the pandemic. We cannot have this change just happen without detailed analysis and democratic scrutiny. Recent examples, such as the woeful implementation and less than satisfactory delivery of the National Tutoring Programme, clearly demonstrate that monitoring, evaluation and scrutiny of the implementation of policies are key drivers of success.

The DfE has acknowledged that there is a critical question over whether there would continue to be merit in local control of certain aspects of mainstream school funding, and we would argue that there is such merit. But what does the profession say? I will quote Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. I am sure that my noble friend, although she is not in her place, will agree with me that ASCL is not the most revolutionary of trade representative bodies. Nevertheless, he says:

“While we support the direction of travel, our bigger concern is that there is not enough money being put into the system in the first place. The cake is too small, no matter how it is sliced. We recognise that the government is currently investing more money in schools but we do not think this is enough to repair the damage done by years of underfunding and we are concerned that much of the new money will be simply eaten up by rising costs. This is even more critical because of the havoc wreaked by the pandemic and the pressing need for significant investment in education recovery.”

So if not this amendment—as I predict that the Minister cannot agree to it today—what are the Government’s future plans to assess these impacts? I beg to move.

My Lords, I totally support the amendment moved by the Front Bench. If this change in the system of funding schools goes ahead, it is essential that an assessment along the lines proposed is made.

However, I question the need for—indeed, am deeply opposed to—Clause 33 and Part 2 as a whole. I am against the proposal for a hard national funding formula, fundamentally because I am a believer in local education authorities—LEAs—as a matter of principle. My noble friend Lord Knight is not in his place, but he said that everyone would be raising their hobby-horse, and this could well be mine. I am in favour of a seamless education system that works for local people through their local representatives. I am prepared to accept that there is scope for debate on the structure of LEAs. Personally, I have a predilection for bodies of sufficient scale which have significant financial and organisational autonomy—basically, a service that is run democratically and is responsive to local voices. Unfortunately, the trend over the last 40 years has been the other way: centralisation and financial restrictions.

I have re-read the debates that have brought us here and it is my view that no case has been made for a hard formula. Some figures are quoted showing what might be thought were gross discrepancies in what individual schools were receiving in financial support, but without providing the context within which these figures have been reached, it tells us nothing. We are also told that the new system will provide “a consistent assessment,” as if that in itself was sufficient justification, when in my judgment it will be consistently bad. In truth, a close reading of the White Paper tells us that it

“supports the expansion of … trusts.”

What we have here is little more than a by-product of the move to full academisation.

I am against a hard formula in principle, but I am also against it in practice, because it will not achieve a workable or effective outcome. I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, during the last debate, where the problems were made clear.

My view is that there is simply no formula that the Government can reach that will work without local input. No practical formula will encompass the range of possible circumstances that arise in running schools. We know that every school is different: different intakes, different buildings and different social environments. To account for these differences, a complex formula will be needed, and it will be impossible to comprehend its full consequences. It will be an untameable beast, including—to mix metaphors—feedback loops, so it will be uncontrollable. It is also inevitable that a hard formula will rely too much on hard parameters—those factors that are easy to quantify—and not give sufficient weight to more subtle factors that are less susceptible to easy measurement but still affect the resources required to run an individual school.

I also endorse the remarks made in the previous debate by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who is not in his place, about the increased importance of getting the right data in a hard formula. The difficulty of this should not be underestimated.

It is inevitable that rough justice will be built into the system, and in practice there will remain a need for fine tuning, but unlike the existing system it will be done in a place remote from the local area.

In summary, I am totally against the implementation of a hard, national funding formula that removes any local flexibility from the school funding system. The current soft formula enables head teachers and local authorities, via the schools forums, to address any local issues through a local formula applied on top of the national formula in a fair and transparent way. Local decision-making is tried and tested. It has supported many schools through difficult financial periods, such as a sudden change in leadership or growth. Local decision-making is vital in the school funding system to ensure that any local issues can be addressed immediately and sympathetically. LEAs will lose the ability to take local priorities and the needs of all schools in their area into account, and will have to deal with the additional school costs that are bound to arise and cannot adequately be addressed through a formulaic approach.

Just as an example, forecasting accurate roll numbers while the long-term impact of both Brexit and Covid-19 is still uncertain is very difficult. There is no way of knowing what the school roll will be in advance. There have been significant changes in demand for places over the past decade which the local formulae have been able to respond to swiftly to ensure budgets could cope with a sudden sharp increase or decrease in places. Local formulae are, as discussed and agreed at the schools forums, published and transparent, and I simply do not recognise the need to move to a hard formula.

A further reason to oppose a hard formula is that I simply do not trust this Government. This is a general problem with central government decisions on local spending: there is inevitably an element of political bias. The auguries are bad, given, for example, the impact on London’s schools of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Such discrimination between areas is bad enough; just imagine if it were to occur on a school-by-school basis.

Finally, the Government need to give more thought to the political consequences of having a hard formula—be careful what you wish for. Every MP in England will have cases brought to them about the funding of individual schools in their constituency, and they will expect an answer from the Minister. It is inevitable that the funding of almost every school will become a political problem for the Government. That will not be good for politics and it certainly will not be good for education.

My Lords, I will intervene briefly. I apologise that I have been away and therefore unable to participate in debates on the Bill as much as I would have wanted to. I start by declaring my interest as still being a member of Cumbria County Council.

I agree with quite a bit, but not all, of what my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton has just said. I am personally not against academies and academy chains; I think they have brought fresh thinking into the education system. The problem is how to regulate them. My impression is that the Bill is adopting far too centralised an approach.

The essence of the point I want to make is that it is my impression that, in my own authority, the schools forum approach, allowing the per capita payment to be flexed, has worked well. It has worked well in two respects, and I hope the noble Baroness might address this. I have great respect for her and her concern for education, and I hope she might reflect on these points.

First, in an area that is a mixture of big towns and lots of rural village schools, the formula can be flexed to help keep open village schools that serve important local needs. This is particularly true in areas where there are big distances, such as Cumbria.

Secondly, there is a problem when a school gets into difficulty. Schools can get into difficulty quite quickly, particularly if there is a change of head or something like that, and it does not work out well. In an area where there is no shortage of school places and parents have a lot of choice—this applies particularly at secondary level—you then get into the situation where parents can choose to take their children out and put them into other schools in the area if they think a particular school is not doing well.

You cannot turn that situation around—perhaps the noble Baroness agrees with me—by having to cut teachers as a result of school income declining. Somehow, we have to get better leadership into the school, and I am sure that this is what an academy chain would want to do. The formula has to reflect that possibility. How is that going to happen? I fully support the amendment from my noble friends on the Opposition Front Bench.

My Lords, I was not going to speak on this issue; I will do so very briefly. It is really important, and it is a shame that it is so late in the evening. I am in two minds about it: I can see where the Minister is coming from but my views, on the whole, accord with those of my noble friend Lord Liddle, who has just spoken.

The point I want to make, and I would ask for the Minister’s observations on it, is this. When I was doing her job, I remember when I learned that my decision on how the money should be allocated was not replicated in the local authority. I was a bit cross about it: here we are taking decisions about this, we send the money out to the local authorities and, blow me down, they change it around. I then realised that we just had to live with it—that was democracy, and that was making sure there was some local flexibility. However, I can remember feeling irritated by it. We lived with it because we were not as centralised as this Government intend to be.

My worry about this is not that it is trying to remedy the wrong that was referred to earlier on this evening—that 20 local authorities do not pass on the funding to small schools in rural areas when it leaves the department. It does not look like that to me, although I do not doubt that she is concerned. The way it looks to me is that this Bill is about giving power to the Secretary of State over every school and over everything. The minute the Government do that they have to control all the money. It seems to me that is the order: if the Government were not taking all the powers to control every school and everything they do, they would be able to be more flexible with the money, because that flexibility with the money would go with the flexibility given to the school. Because the Government are taking all the power to control all schools over all things, it looks as though they have thought, “The only way we can do that is to control every penny as well. We have to have that lever.” That is what worries me. If you put it together with what is happening in initial teacher training, it is the last brick in the wall of an absolute top-down, very heavily controlled nationalised school system. I would really like the Minister’s observations on that.

My Lords, I will start by setting out the principles of Clause 33, in response to the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, to oppose the question that the clause stand part of the Bill. I am thankful for the opportunity to debate the role of Clause 33 and this part of the Bill more broadly. This measure implements the direct national funding formula and, as I said in response to the third group, delivers on our long-standing commitment to achieve fair funding for schools. We received wide-ranging support from the sector for this vision of how we fund schools in our consultation last year, and we heard your Lordships’ views on the importance of not only holding consultations but listening to them.

A single national funding formula, replacing the current 150 local arrangements, will make funding for schools simpler, fairer and more transparent. It will allow the sector, and your Lordships in this place, to hold the department to account for school funding. This measure outlines the framework of roles and responsibilities for the new funding system. The reforms set out in this part of the Bill have been developed carefully, in extensive consultation with stakeholders, to ensure we reflect the needs of pupils and schools in the fairest and most consistent way.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, talked about how well the system had worked previously, but when I look at the data for funding per pupil from 2017—I think this was something the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, also touched on earlier—for Brent and Lincolnshire, both of which had 12% of children on free school meals, the funding per pupil was £5,523 in Brent and £4,305 in Lincolnshire. Similarly, there were big differences in a number of other areas, not only London boroughs. For example, Blackpool and Manchester, at that time, had 25% of children on free school meals and there was about £800 higher funding per pupil in Manchester than there was in Blackpool. I hope the noble Lord will acknowledge that is hard to see as either transparent or apparently fair.

The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, might have enjoyed the earlier group where we talked extensively about smaller rural schools. It may interest him to look at Hansard and see that significant increases in investment have been made in small rural schools and changes have been made to funding to make sure they get what they need. Changes to the way rurality is measured, one of which will be very relevant in Cumbria, has meant that the number of schools qualifying has increased from about 1,600 to about 2,500. There has been a big focus on that area.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is extremely generous to describe us as being in the same job; if I remember rightly her job was a lot more senior, but that is very kind of her. I understand why she challenges in the way she does. She talks about centralisation of power; another way of saying it, as she will recognise, is that one of our privileges as Ministers in government is that we can try to make sure there is justice for children wherever they are in the country. One thing uniquely within central government’s power is the ability to think through making sure that every child in every area gets fair and equitable funding for their school. She presented it this evening through the lens of centralisation of power, but she will also acknowledge that there are fundamental freedoms in the academies system around finances, curriculum and a number of other areas which, as I have already said at the Dispatch Box, we intend to protect. I encourage her to see that there are different ways of looking at this, and our way is in terms of justice for children.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, asked how an MP would respond to his challenge on this. I encourage him to look at the fact sheet we put out with the Bill on the national funding formula. If I were the MP responding, I would certainly pick out that it is fair, efficient, transparent, simple and predictable.

Okay. Does this imply that the introduction of the new funding formula will see a significant reduction in the payments received by the school that had the higher figure? The Minister told us there was a difference but we do not know the reason for it. If she is saying that the reason is unjustified, it must lead to a reduction in funding for the school that had the higher amount previously.

I see the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, is tempted to answer the question. The figures I referred to were from 2017. I am happy to set out in a letter to the noble Lord more of the reasons for the differences, but I suspect, being familiar with the subject, he knows what some of them are. To date, no area has seen a reduction in nominal terms in its funding. One reason why we intend to implement this over a longer period is to avoid any disruption to local funding. As I am sure the Front Bench opposite would say on my behalf, it will depend on the total quantum of funding committed to our schools.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, for Amendment 87 and for their unerring focus on ensuring that all children have a fair chance to realise their potential. The introduction of the national funding formula in 2018 was a historic reform to school funding, replacing what we believe to have been an unfair and out of date system.

The national funding formula already calculates funding allocations for each school, which, as I mentioned in the earlier group, are publicly available and, with these, the calculations used to determine funding allocations for local authorities. In the current system, individual schools’ final allocations are then determined through 150 different local formulae. The direct national funding formula will mean that every school is funded through the same national formula, with only specific, local adjustments. That will achieve this Government’s long-standing ambition that funding is distributed fairly, and means that parents, school leaders and governors will have assurance that their school is funded on the basis of the needs and characteristics of their pupils, rather than where the school happens to be located. The intentions of the reforms are not to lead to changes in the distribution between geographical areas, but within them.

Similarly, this change should not impact how much funding the formula directs overall towards socioeconomic disadvantage. Instead, it should ensure that each school, in each local authority, receives a consistent amount of deprivation funding based on their pupil cohorts.

I want to reassure noble Lords that we are committed to levelling up opportunity to make sure that all children have a fair chance in life, wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. We are specifically targeting funding towards disadvantage. Through the national funding formula, we are allocating £6.7 billion towards additional needs, including deprivation, which is a sixth of available funding. In addition, we are directing other funding sources towards disadvantaged pupils, including the pupil premium which is rising to over £2.6 billion this year, and the school supplementary grant which includes a further £200 million targeted towards deprivation. We are also allocating over £200 million to support disadvantaged pupils as part of the holiday activities and food programme. This means that, altogether this year, we are allocating £9.7 billion towards pupils with additional needs, including deprivation.

For the 2022-23 academic year, the Government have committed around £500 million through the recovery premium and £350 million through the national tutoring programme, through which 1.5 million courses have been started so far to support the children whose education has been most impacted by the pandemic, with a particular focus on disadvantaged pupils.

By introducing the national funding formula and replacing the previous postcode lottery, we have a funding system that is much more responsive to changes on the ground. School funding is allocated based on current patterns of deprivation and additional needs across the country. It means that pupil intakes that have similar levels of deprivation, such as Liverpool and Wolverhampton, or Calderdale and Coventry, are now receiving similar levels of funding per pupil. The redistribution of funding seen since the introduction of the national funding formula reflects that the funding system has been catching up with changes in patterns of relative deprivation.

As we have discussed at length, the principle of transparency has underpinned our reforms to the school funding system. As I have said, we publish information annually on the national funding formula. We are committed to publishing the impact of transition on individual schools and on different types of school every year. I would also like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who is not in his place, that this does include the factor weightings which he questioned in the last group. Based on this, it is already possible to see the geographical distribution of funding and how that changes year on year, and what support the national funding formula offers for deprivation. We will continue to review the impact of the national funding formula in terms of meeting policy objectives, such as supporting schools to close attainment gaps. In addition, we want to ensure the information we publish is as helpful as possible and we are currently consulting with schools and the wider sector on what published information would be most useful for them.

I hope this has persuaded your Lordships that the national funding formula will continue to distribute funding ever more fairly, based on the needs of schools and their pupil cohorts. I therefore ask the noble Baroness opposite to withdraw her Amendment 87.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Nevertheless, our concerns remain, and much of what my noble friend Lord Davies has discussed is worthy of support. But in terms of our specific amendment, our call for a robust analysis still stands, together with detailed democratic scrutiny of the funding formula, and concerns around the removal of local authorities in allocations of funding still apply. However, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 87 withdrawn.

Clause 33 agreed.

Clauses 34 to 38 agreed.

I should tell noble Lords that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will be taking part remotely on the next group. I hereby ask the noble Baroness to introduce Amendment 88.

Amendment 88

Moved by

88: After Clause 38, insert the following new Clause—

“Duty of Secretary of State to give financial assistance for purposes related to mental health provision in schools(1) The Secretary of State must give, or must make arrangements for the giving of, financial assistance to any person for or in connection with the purpose mentioned in subsection (2).(2) The purpose is the provision of—(a) an education mental health practitioner, or(b) a school counsellor,in every state-funded school.(3) In this section— “education mental health practitioner” means a person who possesses a graduate-level or postgraduate-level qualification of that name accredited by Health Education England;“state funded school” means a school in England funded wholly or mainly from public funds, including, but not limited to—(a) an Academy school, an alternative provision Academy or a 16 to 19 Academy established under the Academies Act 2010;(b) community, foundation and voluntary schools (within the meaning of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998).”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment requires the Secretary of State to give financial assistance in respect of mental health provision in schools.

My Lords, Amendment 88 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Storey, who cannot be in his place tonight, picks up the debate on mental health support that we started last week with Amendment 8, which would ensure that the mental health of pupils is considered in any standards set relating to health. I said in the debate last Wednesday that the reason that mental health had to be specified in standards—rather than just subsumed into a general reference to health—is because, if it is not so specified, it just does not become a priority. This is even more true if it is not specified in funding arrangements.

The House of Commons Library briefing, Support for Children and Young People’s Mental Health, published on 1 June, says in Chapter 4, on mental health in schools:

“The Government has reiterated that although schools play an important part in promoting mental wellbeing, teachers are not mental health professionals, and need backing from a range of specialised services. There has been work to strengthen partnerships between education providers and mental health services through a pilot linking schools with single points of contact in child and adolescent mental health services … The Government has said the pilot has led to improvements in higher quality and more timely referrals to specialist services for pupils. The pilot initially reached 255 schools and will be extended to 1,200 schools.”

That still leaves over 21,000 schools to go. The briefing went on to say that there were concerns about the provision of mental health support in schools because it is very patchy, and that it

“was noted by the Care Quality Commission … in a 2017 review of CAMHS services … that when pupils can access high-quality counselling through their schools, it can be an effective form of early intervention. However, the CQC said it is not always available, and in some cases, there are concerns about the quality of support on offer.”

In December 2017—four and a half years ago—the Government’s Green Paper, Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision, made some proposals that would have set a framework, which included incentivising every school and college to identify and train a designated senior lead for mental health, with relevant training rolled out to all areas by 2025; creating new mental health support teams to work with groups of schools and colleges and the designated senior leads in addressing the problems of children with mild to moderate mental health problems, and providing a link and signpost for children with severe problems; building on existing mental health awareness training so that a member of staff in every primary and secondary school in England receives mental health awareness training; and adding a mental health specific strand within the teaching and leadership innovation fund.

This is admirable and it was really good that in 2017 Ministers undertook to take forward every one of the proposals in the Green Paper. But it is not clear how much of this has been mainstreamed throughout all 22,000 schools and I hope that the Minister can update the House, even if it is not at the Dispatch Box this evening.

I am also very mindful of the intervention from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, last week—and I am pleased to see her in her place—that school staff are not mental health experts. She is right and it seems to me that these proposals would go some way to delivering that key partnership between schools and the professionals in CAMHS.

However, it is vital that there is ring-fenced funding to deliver the training that teachers and other staff will need and that schools are not expected to use their mainstream education budget to provide it. This amendment sets out how to achieve this and I hope the Minister will be prepared to accept it, given the Government’s commitment to the mental health and well-being of children in all our schools. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will take a few moments to support my noble friend. The major point she has made is that if you do not measure something, it does not happen. It is also the case—as we know through the special educational needs model—that the minute you start to compete between mainstream expenditure in a school and something specialist such as this, you already have a conflict. It often results to the detriment of the minority activity—the one that if you do not look for, you will not find very often. My noble friend mentioned the low to moderate levels of need that could grow and probably impair; there needs to be a reason to look at them and make sure things happen. These problems are also probably going to be tied in with just about every other problem you can imagine in a school—special educational needs, parental problems and so on. Every time you have something that causes stress, you generally find increases in mental health problems.

I hope that the Minister will give us at least some idea of what the Government are doing to make sure that there is some capacity for the staff to have some idea of how to spot this and move it on to the relevant professional. That is the key thing. My noble friend mentioned it, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. If you are not a professional, you will have to be told where to look and then when to pass it on. If you do not have this, you are going to make mistakes. If you just say, “Try harder, concentrate, get on with it, what is the problem with you?”, which is a perfectly normal reaction when you are confronted by somebody who is not conforming to the norm, who is annoying you and disrupting a class, this will exacerbate those problems within the classroom.

Dealing with this properly, or having a better chance of dealing with it, gives a better chance for teachers to get on and do their job and teach and teach the rest successfully. You have to deal with the whole picture to make sure you get good results.

It is pleasure to speak to Amendment 88 in particular. We are very pleased to see it. This is an important group of amendments. We believe that there is a need to do more in this area.

I am very proud that my party—a couple of years ago now or maybe it was last September in Brighton—set out a new NHS target ensuring that patients start receiving appropriate treatment, not simply an initial assessment of need, within a month of referral. We have committed to recruiting 8,000 new staff so that 1 million additional people can access treatment every year and we also think there should be open-access mental health hubs for children and young people in every community, providing early intervention and drop-in services to support pupils and solve problems before they escalate.

We would like to see a full-time mental health professional in every secondary school and a part-time professional in every primary school. The evidence base for this is good and there are some excellent projects and work happening in schools that I have visited. I will recommend one, Place2Be—the Minister is nodding and it is good that she is aware of this and she supports it too. It looks at the general well-being in the school and also supports staff in the school. We think that that is important too.

We are concerned about the patchy nature of the support that is available. In too many cases there is a lack of early intervention and prevention. The waits for children’s mental health services have been described as “agonising” by the chief executive of the YoungMinds charity, and a BBC freedom of information request revealed that 20% of children are waiting more than 12 weeks to be seen. By the time they get to that point of referral, the problems are usually already pretty severe and causing huge anxiety and stress to the child, as well as to the wider family. The Government could fund this in part by removing the VAT exemption from private schools—but I know we will come back to this at later stages; we will probably discuss it in more depth next time.

One of the most urgent needs of our time is mental health, and we must make sure that children and young people get early help, with specialist support in every school. It is urgent, and it is quite remarkable that the Bill does not mention mental health.

The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, is not here, and he will not be speaking to Amendment 171E. However, while I am on my feet, I point out that he is talking about extending the remit of Ofsted to consider the work being done. We are interested in this, but, if this idea was to be pursued at some stage, we would also be interested to make sure that Ofsted has the expertise and resources to do this work in the way that I am sure he would want to see happen.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for Amendment 88 and for allowing the Committee to return to the question of mental health support in schools.

The Government believe that school leaders should have the freedom to make their own decisions and prioritise their spending to best support their staff and pupils, especially as they address the recovery needs of their children and young people from the pandemic. This support can include school-based counselling services, and we have provided guidance on how to do that safely and effectively. To provide this support, schools can use the additional £1 billion of new recovery premium announced in the autumn, on top of the pupil premium, as well as their overall core school budget—which has significantly increased—to support their pupils’ mental health and well-being. As I said, this can include counselling or other therapeutic services.

However, as the noble Baroness acknowledged, schools should not be the providers of specialist mental health support, and links to the NHS are vital. That is why we worked with the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England to create mental health support teams—which the noble Baroness referred to—funded by NHS England, which are being established across the country. As the noble Baroness said, the teams, made up of education mental health practitioners and overseen by NHS clinicians, provide early clinical support and improve collaboration between schools and specialist services.

The Government believe that, rather than funding for specific types of support, we should continue to give schools the freedom to decide what pastoral support to offer their pupils. However, to support schools in directing that funding we have put funding in place, as the noble Baroness acknowledged, so that they can train a senior mental health lead in every school, who can then look at what approach is best for pupils in each school.

On that senior lead, if you have one person who knows something about this, they cannot get round the whole school, and there is a process by which you have to get the child in question to their attention. Are the Government giving any general guidance to staff to consult that person?

I will check and follow up with the noble Lord in writing, but I know that having the lead in place means that they can then be the person to whom other staff in the school can go and with whom they can interact, to get guidance and help shape the school’s approach. It is not for the lead to be singly responsible, but they can get training that can then inform other staff as well.

I was just coming on to say that we have put funding in place. Our aim is that all schools will have a lead in place. More than 8,000 schools and colleges in England, including half of all state-funded secondary schools, have taken up this training offer so far. We recently confirmed further grants to offer training to two-thirds of schools and colleges by March 2023, with the ambition that, by 2025, all state-funded primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges, will have had the funding made available to train a senior mental health lead.

In addition to training for senior mental health leads, there are also the mental health teams to which I referred. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, asked for an update on our progress in delivering these. They currently cover 26% of pupils in schools and further education. Our ambition was to cover 25% by next year so we have already met that ambition; indeed, we have raised it to cover 35% of pupils in England by next year.

More broadly, when those specialist teams are in place, they need to be able to refer students to more specialist support where needed. That involves more money going into children’s mental health. I can confirm to noble Lords that there is record NHS funding for children’s mental health services. It will grow faster than the overall NHS budget and faster than adult mental health spending in the coming years. There is more to do, but increased funding and priority are being given to this issue by the Government, not just in schools but in the NHS where those specialist services need to be delivered.

I am grateful for the opportunity to set out again the priority the Government are giving to this issue, the progress we are seeking to make and the approach we think is right to support schools in supporting the mental health of their pupils. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this short debate. Before I respond on Amendment 88, I want to offer my support to the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, for his Amendment 171E, which would require Ofsted to ensure that schools take account of the public sector equality duty to tackle discrimination, promote equality and assess extracurricular activities at the school. It may seem obvious but, at the moment, there seems to be some confusion about that duty and various parts of our public sector; it is good to see the amendment there.

I am grateful for my noble friend Lord Addington’s helpful comments, further to mine, on Amendment 88 and how essential it is to ring-fence mental health funding to ensure that education staff are effectively trained, as well as being supported by CAMHS.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, talked about some excellent initiatives, such as Place2Be. She echoed my concerns about the patchy nature of CAMHS provision and how long severely affected children can wait. Just last week, I heard of a family friend with a daughter who shows clear signs of serious clinical mental health problems. However, the queues at their local CAMHS are such that they have been told that she will be seen only if she is suicidal. She is eight. That is just too late. It also places unacceptable pressure on a little girl, her family and her school. I recognise that this is an NHS problem—I applaud the Government for trying to join some of this up—but it is why we must have some ring-fenced funds: to make sure that the school side of this, the mental health partnership, will actually work.

I thank the Minister for her response but I confess that I am a little disappointed by it. She talked about the designated lead targets. It is good to hear that there is progress on that, and I really hope that it will be achieved by 2025. However, the other key elements that I quoted from the Green Paper absolutely must be there too; without them, the designated lead will not manage. We must ensure that staff across the board in schools are changed at the same time and that the training is refreshed.

The Minister said that we have record mental health funding for children’s health. There is only one reason for that: it is a record because it has been for far too long a Cinderella service, and we are desperately playing catch-up with our children’s mental health.

I am grateful for the Minister’s response and the contributions of all other noble Lords. I beg leave to withdraw this amendment tonight, although I may bring it back on Report.

Amendment 88 withdrawn.

Amendment 89

Moved by

89: After Clause 38, insert the following new Clause—

“Universal infant free school meals grant: annual up-rating(1) The Secretary of State must, for the financial year beginning 1 April 2023, provide that at least £520.60 is payable from the universal infant free school meals grant to schools and local authorities for each registered pupil who is entitled to it under the terms and conditions of the grant.(2) The Secretary of State must, for the financial year beginning 1 April 2024 and for each financial year thereafter, provide that the amount payable under subsection (1) is increased in line with inflation as measured by the consumer price index.(3) In this section “universal infant free school meals grant” means the grant of that name paid to a school or a local authority by the Secretary of State under section 14 of the Education Act 2002 (power of Secretary of State and National Assembly for Wales to give financial assistance for purposes related to education or children etc).”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment increases the free school meals grant in 2023-24 to reflect the increase in inflation since September 2014, before pegging it to inflation thereafter.

My Lords, I am moving Amendment 89, tabled by my noble friend Lord Storey, who regrets that he cannot be here today. This amendment seeks to increase the free school meals grant in 2023-24 to reflect the increase in inflation since September 2014, before pegging it to inflation thereafter.

I must admit that the Government’s announcements yesterday on free school meals came as a bit of a surprise and made me wonder whether this was an attempt to gazump our amendment, and even whether our amendment had pricked their collective conscience. I am sure that there were more external influences at play here.

Lib Dems feel very strongly about universal free school meals. They were introduced by us under the coalition Government, with the aim to provide free school meals to all pupils in reception, year 1 and year 2. However, since these meals were introduced seven years ago, the Government have increased the amount paid to schools by just 4p per meal. This is an increase of just 1.3%, from £2.30 per pupil in 2014 to £2.34 today, despite the latest ONS figures showing that food prices have soared by 7% since the introduction of the policy. Had the funding increased accordingly, it would currently stand at least at £2.46 per pupil.

Free school meals were introduced as a way of giving children a healthy lunch every day and saving parents hundreds of pounds a year. However, funding has been slashed in real terms, despite food prices going through the roof. While we welcome yesterday’s announcement of an uplift in infant free school meals funding, this does not go far enough. The effect of the Government’s announcement will be to raise the rate per meal to £2.41. This is still short of the £2.46 per meal that would be needed to increase funding in line with increased food prices.

Our amendment reflects the increase in inflation overall since September 2014 and calls for a 19% increase to reflect this, meaning that the rate per meal would increase to £2.74. Can the Minister clarify whether the Government’s new proposals also include a commitment to an annual increase in line with inflation and food costs?

The coronavirus crisis has shone a new spotlight on the issue of child hunger, with demand for food banks soaring and almost a fifth of households with children unable to access enough food in the first weeks of lockdown. Yesterday’s announcement is a sign that this Government know just how terrible their record is on free school meals. Too many children are going hungry under their watch, yet the Government still show complete unwillingness to expand this offer to some of the most disadvantaged children in the country on universal credit. It feels like a one step forward, two steps back approach from Ministers.

The Government cannot continue to ignore their own advisers, such as Henry Dimbleby, who recently published the National Food Strategy. In an Oral Question on 6 June, I asked if the Government would commit to extending free school meals to all children whose parents or guardians are on universal credit. These are the children who will be most impacted by the cost of living crisis. I believe the Government’s stance is that families on universal credit would still have to meet eligibility criteria or be in receipt of legacy benefits. Could the noble Baroness confirm this is still the case? We believe that every pupil whose parents or guardians are in receipt of universal credit should automatically qualify for free school meals. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am inclined to support this on the grounds of the report in the Times on Monday on what schools are facing in early years. Children are coming to school who have not been potty-trained; they cannot even use a knife and fork and are still feeding out of a bottle. Those children have suffered during the pandemic. The one thing that gave them some influence and that made a difference, given that many come from a background where English is a second language and there are perhaps other serious challenges at home, was being at school. While I do not necessarily go along with every aspect of this amendment, the noble Baroness raises a valid point at its core.

I have said this before: where should we put our money in education? We should be putting it in the early years because we know that, if we do not get it right there, the cost—not only to individual children but to the state in remedying it in the future—will be much more significant.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, for the amendment on the free school meals grant. My Amendment 90, also in the name of my noble friend Lord Storey, addresses the similar issue of inflation for the pupil premium.

I listened carefully to what the Minister said earlier about the extra financial support the Government were giving to the disadvantaged. I will read Hansard carefully tomorrow to recall the exact numbers, but the principle is that this amendment would increase the pupil premium in 2023-24 from the 2022-23 level by £160 per primary pupil and £127 per secondary pupil, before pegging it to the consumer prices index and the inflation rate thereafter. It would also increase the pupil premium plus sum made available to children in care by a similar amount. This is a probing amendment to ascertain the Government’s intentions in respect of the pupil premium, and of the free school meals grant and the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Humphreys.

My Lords, the 7p increase to infant school meals announced yesterday by the Government has generally been received as inadequate. Labour’s amendment compels the Secretary of State to review food standards every three years and to consider quality, nutritional value and value for money. As noted, the Government rejected Henry Dimbleby’s advice to extend free school meals to 1 million more children in need and to raise the grant schools get in line with rocketing inflation. Schools are already reducing meal sizes to afford their obligations. Will the Minister say what the Government’s plans are to help avoid children going hungry? Have they done any analysis of what inflation is doing to the amount of food schools are able to provide and the adverse effects when this gets smaller and smaller?

I shall give the UK Government some good ideas and positive direction on what the Welsh Government are doing on these matters. From September, some of the youngest children in primary schools in Wales will begin receiving free school meals. Our First Minister said:

“no child in Wales should go hungry and … every child in our primary schools will be able to have a free school meal.

We are facing an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis. We know younger children are more likely to be living in relative income poverty, which is why the youngest of our learners will be the first to benefit.

This cost-of-living crisis is being felt by families all over Wales, extending free school meals is one of a number of measures we are taking to support families through this difficult time.”

I sincerely urge the Minister to reflect on these proposals and see whether there is the political will to do something similar for English children.

In terms of what we can practically do in the meantime, our amendment would ensure that food standards are reviewed regularly and would weigh up value for money with quality and nutritional value. All the evidence suggests that children cannot learn when there are hungry. Acting on this fundamental principle is surely an all-round win for the Government.

We know that governmental focus has drifted from children in care too. In March, it was revealed that the National Tutoring Programme, referred to earlier, no longer had to ensure it was reaching two-thirds of the most deprived pupils. The requirement that two-thirds of pupils in the programme must be from disadvantaged backgrounds was in place for a reason: there is strong research evidence that poorer pupils have been the biggest losers from the pandemic, seeing greater attainment losses than their peers.

For the purposes of political balance, as I have quoted my First Minister, I shall now quote what the Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Education Committee, said about the National Tutoring Programme:

“The Government must ensure Randstad shapes up, or boot them out. The catch-up programme must be shown to be reaching disadvantaged pupils and this data must be published.”

So there is cross-party agreement that we must ensure that disadvantaged pupils are at the front and centre of our thinking in all aspects of educational provision, especially in the critical area of school admissions. As was debated on Monday, we cannot exclude pupils and operate a soft selection policy as it is unfair and frankly immoral.

My Lords, I turn first to Amendment 89 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys. As the noble Baroness said very eloquently, providing free school meals to eligible children is very important to this Government. We spend around £600 million per year making sure that 1.25 million infants enjoy a free meal under the universal policy. The per-meal rate was increased last year and the Secretary of State recently announced a further £18 million, increasing the rate to £2.41 per meal, which has been backdated to April this year. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, stressed the importance of supporting children in the early years, particularly post the pandemic. He is absolutely right.

Under the benefits-related criteria, the Government provide a free meal to around 1.9 million more children. For 2022-23, funding through the free school meal factor in the national funding formula is increasing to £470 per eligible pupil. In recognition of cost pressures, after the national funding formula rates were set the department provided extra for core schools funding for 2022-23. Core schools funding for mainstream schools, which includes benefits-related free school meals, is therefore increasing by £2.5 billion, compared with last year.

The noble Baroness asked about the Government’s commitment to free school meals and linking the payments to inflation. More broadly, and in response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, the Government are committed to ensuring that schools have sufficient funding to fulfil their functions effectively, and clearly there are different ways in which that support can be provided.

I turn to Amendment 90 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Shipley. The Government are committed to ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to realise their potential. Pupil premium funding rates are increasing by 2.7% in 2022-23, and in absolute terms total pupil premium funding is increasing to over £2.6 billion this year, compared with £2.5 billion last year, but, of course, as I said in response to the earlier group, that is not the only additional support for children. In all, in 2022-23 we are allocating approximately £2,000 per pupil for all pupils who have been eligible for free school meals at any point in the last six years, through a combination of the national funding formula, the pupil premium and the 2022-23 school supplementary grant.

Future decisions on free school meals and pupil premium funding must be considered in the light of all calls on schools funding. It is right that the Government should be able to take these decisions in the round, in light of the most recent information, to ensure that funding is being directed where it can do most good. The amendments would pre-empt such considerations. The Government will continue to place a high priority on providing free meals to children who need them and supporting disadvantaged pupils. I hope I have been able to reassure your Lordships on this point.

I turn to Amendment 161 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox. The Requirements for School Food Regulations 2014—the school food standards—require food and drink for pupils in all maintained schools, including academies, in England to comply with certain nutritional standards. They are critical to ensuring that schools provide children with healthy options.

We believe that the current standards provide a robust and appropriately flexible framework. The department’s current focus is on an expansive programme to promote compliance with the standards. We are working with the Food Standards Agency on local authority assurance and support on compliance. We are also promoting accountability and transparency by encouraging school food statements on school websites, and looking to pilot training for governors and for academy trusts.

Focusing on compliance and support is the right step now. Changing the standards in parallel risks confusion, and we must avoid any excessive burden associated with frequent reviews and expanded scope. Including value for money within the standards would be genuinely challenging as there are many variables that determine that; for example, local catering arrangements. I assure the Committee that we will take account of evolving evidence, but without such prescribed frequency.

I therefore ask the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, to withdraw Amendment 89.

I thank those who have taken part in this short debate. I am grateful for the support from the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, and very much appreciate his emphasis on supporting early years pupils. Obviously, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has said on the pupil premium. It is another matter that is very close to Liberal Democrat hearts. I enjoyed very much the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. As a fellow Cymraes—a Welshwoman—I share her pride in what the Welsh Government are achieving.

I thank the Minister for her very thorough response. I will read Hansard carefully, but I reserve the right to return to these issues, if necessary, on Report. But I will withdraw this amendment.

Amendment 89 withdrawn.

Amendment 90 not moved.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 9.50 pm.