It is a pleasure to respond to the Secretary of State, and it is quite right that we have a day in this year’s Budget debate dedicated to education and skills. This Budget comes at a time when Britain has a deep social mobility problem that is getting worse, not better. That problem is the result of an unfair education system, a two-tier labour market, an unbalanced economy and an unaffordable housing market. That is not my accusation, but the conclusion of the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission.
The commission made a number of policy recommendations, most of which seem to have been ignored. It also made a recommendation against a policy: the Government’s proposals for new grammar schools. Sadly, that recommendation has also been ignored. Instead, the Chancellor used the Budget to announce plans to spend another £320 million on the next tranche of new free schools. The Prime Minister wrote in The Daily Telegraph that that money would provide 70,000 new places, as the Secretary of State reiterated today. That would be the equivalent of £4,571 per pupil, but the Secretary of State will know that her Department’s most recent figures showed that the cash cost of a primary free school place was £21,100 and the cash cost of creating a secondary free school place was £24,600.
That huge underfunding is coupled with a slightly curious detail hidden in the back of the Red Book: a further £715 million of capital funding for free schools in the next Parliament. Perhaps the Secretary of State can answer this maths question. If Philip gives Justine £320 million for new free school places, and each school place costs at least £21,000, how many school places will Theresa end up with? I look forward to marking the Government’s homework later.