Department for Education

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 3:56 pm on 3rd July 2018.

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Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Labour/Co-operative, Manchester Central 3:56 pm, 3rd July 2018

I thank my hon. Friend. I think the actual figure for the system as a whole is a lot higher than that.

Further education, as the right hon. Member for Harlow said, has also been starved of cash since 2010. However, the spending power of higher education has increased by around 25%—austerity certainly has not hit that sector—but FE has seen cuts of around the same amount at a time when it is being asked to do more. FE colleges must now undertake constant GCSE English and maths resits—we are not quite sure what the outcomes of that are when a norm-referenced statistical framework is being used, which means that so many people have to fail every year—along with delivering apprenticeships and offering new curricula. Post-16 education needs to be looked at urgently.

It is for those two reasons that we need a long-term funding settlement for education, The NHS has one, as we have already heard, but where are the voices in Government pushing the Treasury for a long-term funding settlement for education? We need a 10-year plan for education that takes account of need, of the numbers coming through the system and of the requirements of our economy not just today but tomorrow. I am afraid that is woefully lacking.

We are a bit hand to mouth at the moment. There is constant policy change, with little forecasting of budget requirements. No wonder we see this crisis in education. Ministers need to up the ante when making these arguments.

The remainder of my speech will focus on maintained nursery schools. Yes, overall funding for childcare has gone up under this Government, but who benefits? The analysis I did with the Social Market Foundation, and analyses from the Education Policy Institute, the Resolution Foundation and others, shows that the vast majority of the extra money the Government are putting into early years is going to top earners—in fact, 75% of the extra £6 billion is going to top earners—which is changing the social mobility arguments and tipping them the other way.

We know that the early years matter, because the single biggest indicator of how well a child will do in their GCSEs is still their development level at the age of five. Children from more affluent backgrounds hear over 30 million more words by the age of three than those from less advantaged backgrounds. Children from more disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely not to reach early learning goals at the age of five. The evidence is clear about quality early education.

As we heard on the “Today” programme this morning—the Minister was on the programme, and he made some of these arguments himself—our maintained nursery schools are the jewel in the crown of social mobility, but this is now becoming urgent. We cannot wait for the comprehensive spending review to secure the funding. Maintained nursery schools were offered three years’ transitional funding nearly two years ago, and the CSR will not be for another year, by which time those nurseries will be right at the cliff edge. Maintained nursery schools are disappearing now, so we have to get this sorted, and sorted fast.

I gently say to Ministers, who I know are personally committed to these agendas, that we will support them if they want to get out there and be a bit more bolshie—or should I say macho?—in pressing the Treasury for extra funding. If they are not careful, to use another metaphor, the macho tanks of the Secretary of State for Defence and of other Departments will be parked firmly on the lawn of the Treasury while Education Ministers politely put their hands up at the back of the class.