It is a pleasure to follow Julie Cooper. I shall return to her point about growing the economy. It is also a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, the Chairman of the Education Committee, who introduced the debate so elegantly.
We have already heard from Dickens via my hon. Friend Mr Wragg. I sensed a slightly Micawberish tendency on the part of my right hon. Friend, and indeed Gareth Thomas, in regard to the NHS announcement: a feeling that that positive announcement might somehow crowd out expenditure on education and the work of other Departments. In fact, when we look at the history of the NHS, it is extraordinary to see how closely education spending has mirrored its real-terms increases, year in year out. Since the creation of the NHS, education spending has grown nearly tenfold, from less than £10 billion to £87 billion this year. These things are not contradictory.
Of course, the past is no guide to the future. Let me now pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Burnley. We need to grow our economy. We need to increase our GDP, and with it our tax base. That is why my right hon. Friend was so right to flag up the need for investment in this area. Any chart, or any analysis of our projected population growth over the next 30 years, makes the position very clear. We will see a significant rise in our population, but the working population will not grow. We are relying on a smaller number of people to produce the goods to fund both our education and our NHS—indeed, all our public services.
We make our sums add up through productivity, and at the heart of that is education. Its impacts are twofold. First, there is a clear correlation between educational outcomes and productivity, which is why I welcome the emphasis that our country places on education. We are spending more on it, as a proportion of GDP, than any other country in the G7—more than France, Italy, the United States or Japan. Secondly, the creation of a land of opportunity in which anyone can succeed is fostered by a good education system. That is why I welcome the pupil premium, about which we have already heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow, and why I particularly welcome—here I thought that he was a little ungenerous—the narrowing of the attainment gap between the most privileged and the least privileged pupils.
Let me now turn from the general to the specific and the national funding formula. I think that the principles behind it are sound. We all want a transparent funding system that distributes funds to maximise opportunity and reflects the pressures on schools from deprivation, low prior attainment and the number of pupils for whom English is a second language. It is positive that the NFF recognises it, and it does so against a demographic map of the UK that is superior to anything that has gone before it. For understandable reasons, Ministers did not move straight to the ultimate end-goal pointed to by the NFF, but tapered and softened the results. For fairness to be fully established as greater resources are devoted to the sector, the full implications of the NFF will, I hope, work their way through, so that areas such as Horsham, which always have been and remain less well funded on a per pupil basis than elsewhere in the country, see further increases in their funding.
Every one of my secondary schools benefited from the minimum funding guarantee. I campaigned for that and welcomed the guarantee, and this reflects to me the importance of either maintaining a guarantee into the future or ensuring the full implications of the NFF are worked through over time.
I totally agree with my right hon. Friend that we should not be unpicking consultations. They take time, and a lot of work and effort was put into those consultation processes, but there are three areas I would highlight for the future. First, the high-needs block has been discussed; it is less easy to make economies on this scale and to be efficient, and these are kids who really do need our support, whether in special schools or through funding their progress through mainstream education. Resources targeted at them not only help some of our most vulnerable children, but have an impact across schools as a whole.
Secondly, a discussion of the area costs adjustment of the NFF leads to the risk of getting technical, but while I appreciate that its purpose is to reflect local wages rather than the local cost of living, I think the latter would be more appropriate, and when one looks at the London fringe, one sees that that has in reality spread far faster than the Department recognises. Costs have risen significantly. This affects teacher recruitment and retention, and this is a technical area that could be productively re-examined.
Finally, on teachers’ pay, we need to continue to recruit and retain highly motivated subject experts. That is perhaps peculiarly hard on schools in areas such as Horsham on the fringes of London with, I am delighted to say, areas of high employment and high-value employment. For such areas, getting good teachers in to teach STEM subjects is difficult. The Treasury has for other Departments looked creatively at pay, and I hope that it will look at it creatively again here if the evidence shows, as I suspect it will, difficulties in retaining and recruiting.
I will conclude my remarks on a positive note. Nationally, we have more pupils in good and outstanding schools than ever before, and I welcome the fact—I particularly praise the Minister for School Standards for this—that our international results are so much better. Huge amounts of good work are being done in our schools. I praise the heads and teachers in my schools, who, whatever the funding situation, produce outstanding results for their pupils. Unlike the hon. Member for Harrow West, I think we can look with confidence to the Department and what it will be getting for our pupils in the longer term.