Department for Education

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 3:22 pm on 3rd July 2018.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party 3:22 pm, 3rd July 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Craig Tracey. I join him in his praise for teachers not only in his constituency and mine, but across the country. I also join him in his praise for headteachers and the enormous contribution they make to the future of our country. Given that so many areas of our country are finding it difficult to recruit and retain teachers, and many schools are finding it difficult to get a headteacher on the first recruitment exercise, he may well want to reflect on whether his party’s policies are having quite the positive impact he claims.

If I may, I would like to go back to the opening remarks by the Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon. I praise his request for the message from this debate to be that we want investment in textbooks not tanks and a 10-year plan for education. It does feel that education is the public service that is not receiving sufficient attention around the Cabinet table in the negotiations with the Treasury. He was too polite to say so, but perhaps I can say that it is a pity the Secretary of State for Education is not here in person to hear the call for a 10-year plan for education. What I am sure he would not want to say at this stage is what my hon. Friend Gill Furniss rightly said, which is that there needs to be more support, investment and pride in the contribution that comprehensive schools make, and more praise for the efforts of local councils to support high attainment and good standards in our schools. The idea that councils and local education authorities were ever a dead hand hindering high standards was always a nonsense and it is particularly a nonsense at the moment, given the huge cuts in funding to local authorities that LEAs have to deal with.

I want to make the rest of my remarks unashamedly parochial. I am fortunate to represent an area, the London Borough of Harrow, that has been deemed by the Education Policy Institute as offering the best education in terms of the increase in standards from when a child enters school to when they leave. While all the teachers and headteachers in Harrow are delighted with that accolade from the EPI, none would say they have sufficient resources.

My local schools work extremely closely together. The headteachers pride themselves on their co-operation and collaborative spirit. It is led in particular by the high schools. In my constituency, Whitmore High School, Nower Hill High, Harrow High and Rooks Heath work particularly closely together. All have very strong academic reputations. In particular, I want to single out the heads of Rooks Heath and Whitmore High School. The head of Rooks Heath was named not so long ago as the London headteacher of the year and the headteacher at Whitmore has a particularly good reputation, having led the school through a period of refurbishment and redevelopment.

Bentley Wood, Park, Canons Salvatorian and Sacred Heart are schools just outside my constituency—not quite as well politically represented as the four I have already named. All have strong reputations, all have effective leadership and all show good academic performance. However, all are crying out for more investment in funding. They have noted, as the heads of primary schools in my constituency have, that they are having to cope with an increase in employers’ contributions, an increase non-teaching pensions, teachers’ pay awards not being fully funded, non-teaching pay awards not being fully funded and the apprenticeship levy. Those pressures amount on average to an extra £54,000 in costs per primary school in Harrow and an extra £159,000 per secondary school. Similarly, schools in Harrow are having to cope with reductions in income from the way in which the minimum funding guarantee works and from reductions in their pupil premium grant. On average, primary schools are losing income. In 2017-18, £37,000 was lost per primary school and every secondary school lost £79,000. In terms of the additional school funding pressures facing every headteacher and governing body, the average overall in Harrow last year was almost £100,000 per primary school and £238,000 per secondary school, and that urgently needs to be addressed.