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Schools: National Funding Formula

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:29 pm on 14th September 2017.

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Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner Shadow Secretary of State for Education 1:29 pm, 14th September 2017

Once again on the last day before a recess we see the Secretary of State sneak out new policy. [Interruption.] I would hardly call that once in a national debate, but I wonder whether this statement has been put out today to try and hide and to distract from the fact that the Government are ripping up the rulebook on democracy, as they did yesterday in the debate on tuition fees. But of course, if this is a genuine change of heart, it is welcome. After all, the Secretary of State will be taking her policy directly from the pledges in the Labour party manifesto. Ever since she took office, we have been urging her to keep the promise her party made in 2015 to protect funding in real terms for every pupil.

Will the Secretary of State guarantee to the House that no school will be even a penny worse off in real terms—not cash terms—as a result of this funding formula? Will the proposal apply from this year or from 2015? The National Audit Office has found that schools have already lost nearly £2.7 billion since her party made that pledge. Members across the House have heard from schools that are already facing those cuts and that have had to beg parents to help them to find money and resources. Will she admit to the House that her announcement today does nothing to reverse those cuts and keep that promise?

The Secretary of State has said that her funding formula will increase per pupil funding by 0.5% a year until 2020, but the Education Policy Institute has found that in that period, inflationary pressures are over 2%, so will she admit that her funding formula will in fact mean a real-terms cut in school budgets? In today’s statement she says that the formula provides “a per pupil cash increase in respect of every school and every local area”, so will she admit that there will be pupils, schools and local authorities that see a real-terms cut in funding by 2020? She has referred to transitional protections offered to schools. How long will the transition period last? Will it include protections against losses during that transition, and for how long will those protections last?

The Secretary of State said that the basic amount allocated to each secondary school pupil will be “at least £4,800 per pupil”, but the Education and Skills Funding Agency guidance describes this an “optional” part of the funding formula. Will she guarantee that all secondary schools will now receive £4,800 per pupil? Can she tell us how much this increase in the basic per pupil funding rate will cost each year, and how she will fund it? Today’s announcement says that the minimum funding per primary school pupil will be £3,500. In December, the proposed basic per pupil funding in primary schools was £2,712, so again I ask: how much will the increase in basic per pupil funding cost, and how will it be funded?

None of the money announced so far is actually new money for education. Instead, the Secretary of State is simply cutting elsewhere to fill the black hole that the Government have created. Can she confirm that over £300 million of the supposedly new funding for schools has actually come from cutting the healthy pupils fund by over 75%? That money was meant to be ring-fenced for school sports, healthier meals, facilities for disabled pupils and mental health provision, and it is only days since the Prime Minister claimed that this would be her new priority. Only in February this year, the Secretary of State promised in a statement that the fund would not fall below £415 million. Will she now apologise for breaking yet another promise?

This leaves another £100 million that must come from her main capital budget. Where will that come from? She has said that she will “reprioritise” £250 million in 2018-19 and £350 million in 2019-20. Where will those cuts fall? She has also said that she will “redirect” £200 million from “central programmes that support schools on relatively narrow areas of their work”. Will she tell us what those programmes and those narrow areas are? Or is the truth that she simply made up that number, hoping that her civil servants can find more cuts?

The July announcement went no further than 2020. What happens then? I will be glad if the Secretary of State has listened to us, and to parents and teachers across the country, and looked again at the funding formula, but the fact is that this does not meet the promises that she has made. When will she return to this House with the funding that her party promised the electorate?