Department for Education

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 3:36 pm on 3rd July 2018.

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Photo of Julie Cooper Julie Cooper Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) (Community Health) 3:36 pm, 3rd July 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Wragg. His conversion to socialism is very welcome on the Opposition Benches.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the children and teachers in my constituency. We spend a lot of time in this place talking about how to achieve national prosperity and how to plan for the future and our economy. Surely, there can be no better way to invest in the future than by investing in the children in our schools and nursery schools. One reason I came into Parliament was to champion fairness, so I welcome, in principle, the idea of fair funding for education, but what we have is far from fair. Rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul, we ought to acknowledge that the number of children has grown and that therefore the funding pot for education must grow also. That would serve us all better than to keep arguing about which child should have funding taken away from them and which child should benefit.

At every level in my constituency—I am led to believe that it is the same nationwide—children are being starved of funding in the provision of their education. In the state-maintained nursery schools, which I have had much contact with, the staff are doing a sterling job dealing with some very difficult times. The number of children with special needs in those nursery schools has grown by as much as a quarter. There is a justification for extra funding. These organisations, of course, are funded not as schools, which they are, but as child-minding facilities, which is clearly insufficient. If we do not take action, we will lose this very excellent resource.

In my constituency, a third of all children are growing up in poverty, and that figure rises to 50% in some wards. These children need to be supported and given the foundations to progress through their education. Without that, they will never progress in school. There has been talk about who to believe. Understandably, the public are confused. The Government say there is more funding in education, while we say it is not enough. It is true that it is not enough. More funds may well be going in, but there are far more children, and their needs have grown. There are schools in my constituency in which head teachers report that up to 10 children in an academic year are attempting suicide, but the resources that they need to support those children are falling. Schools in my constituency are to lose £500 per child, at a time when they are dealing with additional pressures as well as additional children.

This is not helping to grow our economy, and it is not helping our national prosperity. It is about time we had an honest conversation about it. If we as a country are serious about our future prosperity and if we are serious about investing in our children, we must prioritise their education. We must support the state-maintained nursery schools, and treat them as the schools that they are. They are inspected as schools but they are not funded as schools, and it is about time they were. We must support our primary school teachers, so that class sizes do not keep rising as staff are made redundant in response to funding crises. We must support our secondary schools and help them to deal with those troubled young people. Cutting education budgets—we are seeing that at the moment: it is a reality—is short-sighted in the extreme. It is starving our nation of its future. This is not the way to grow our economy, and I implore the Minister and the Secretary of State to bear that in mind.

Grammar schools have been mentioned. I have no principled objection to them, but I fail to see how opening a grammar school in my constituency would help teachers to support children who are trying to commit suicide or help nurseries that are threatened with closure when they are supporting some of the most deprived children in the country.

I urge the Minister to listen and to fund our schools properly, not taking from one child to give to another, but ensuring that all teachers—all the professionals—have the funds that they tell us they need to do their job.