Department for Education

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 4:40 pm on 3rd July 2018.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 4:40 pm, 3rd July 2018

I first declare an interest: my wife is the cabinet member for children and young people at Cheshire West and Chester Council and two of my children attend a local school in the constituency.

The recently published University College London Institute of Education report showed a relationship between inspection grades and changes in the socioeconomic composition of pupils. That means, certainly to my mind, that there is an element of good schools becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I do not think we should be surprised by the finding; parents, of course, want their children to have the best education possible, but an inevitable consequence is that the parents with the most resources will use them to maximise their chances of getting their child into what they consider to be the best school in the area. Where does that leave others? Where does it leave the challenge of improving social mobility? Surely, that can only go backwards in this scenario? Is there a risk that schools not performing as well in the area could get into a downward spiral that they will struggle to get out of?

I have seen for myself the risks, with the University of Chester Academies Trust; as a multi-academy trust, it has been underperforming for some time. Ofsted first raised serious questions about the whole chain’s performance some 18 months ago. In May, the trust announced that it was cutting staff and trying to offload four schools due to a £3 million deficit. That left three schools still in the trust, including the Ellesmere Port Academy in my constituency, which has itself been in special measures for a year. It was pretty clear to me that the trust did not have the capacity or the resources to survive, let alone drive through the changes needed to turn the school round.

Now, thankfully, a decision has been reached—that it is unviable to allow the trust to continue—but it has taken a long time to get to this point, and there has been a lot of uncertainty for parents, staff and pupils alike. That uncertainty will continue until there is a new sponsor. I hope that one can be found swiftly and I am pleased that we are finally addressing the issue. I find it incredible that the situation was tolerated for so long. Had the MAT been a local authority or any of the schools been under council control, I have no doubt that there would have been action long ago.

As we have heard today, claims that every school in England would see a cash increase in their funding have been challenged—not only by Labour Members, but by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UK Statistics Authority. Given that all but one of the schools in my constituency face a funding cut, the true situation is clear: local schools will lose about £3 million between 2015 and 2019. Pupils in my constituency will receive £300 per head less over the next three or four years.