School Funding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:16 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner Shadow Secretary of State for Education 4:16 pm, 25th January 2017

I have given way once, so I am going to make some progress.

It was no surprise when the National Audit Office found that the number of maintained secondary schools in deficit rose from 33% to nearly 60% between 2010 and 2015. Its report refers to a sample of schools that said that typical savings came through increased class sizes, reduced teacher contact time, replacing experienced teachers with new recruits, recruiting staff on temporary contracts, encouraging staff to teach outside their specialism, and relying more on unqualified staff, none of which are measures that parents would want to see at their school. The NAO tells us that the Department’s savings estimates do not even take account of the real impact on schools. For example, the Government seem to remain committed to cutting the national education services grant, which amounts to £600 million, but they have not yet completed any assessment of how that will impact on schools across England. When will that assessment be put to the House?

Just this Monday, the Public Accounts Committee heard from headteachers who are desperately trying to keep providing an excellent education in the face of funding cuts. I hope that the Secretary of State heard the contribution of Kate Davies, headteacher of Darton College in Barnsley, for example. She said that as a result of funding cuts she had had to

“reduce the curriculum offer and cut out the whole of the community team. We have reduced staffing and reduced the leadership team.”

I am sure the Secretary of State heard Tim Gartside, headteacher of Altrincham Grammar School for Boys, say only this morning that the funding cuts that his school faces are so severe that he only has three options left: reduce the curriculum, increase class sizes, or ask parents to make a cash contribution to keep the school running. What is the Secretary of State’s plan? Does she want schools to cut subjects, increase class sizes, or make parents foot the bill? Is she not worried that routinely requesting termly cash donations from parents risks discriminating against low-income families and schools in lower-income areas? We have heard similar from not only the representatives of teachers, but unions that represent teaching assistants, such as Unison and the GMB. If she thinks assistants are a soft target for cuts, she is much mistaken.

Evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation shows that teaching assistants have a particularly important impact on the literacy and numeracy of pupils on free school meals and on those who were previously struggling—the very pupils that the Government said only earlier this week needed extra support if we are to increase skills and productivity. Teaching assistant pay has declined so far since the Government abolished the school staff negotiating body that many are now on the minimum wage. There are literally no more cuts to make to pay. Any further cuts will hit teaching staff directly.