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 thank my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. I know from talking to parents, teachers and heads in my constituency that schools are already facing very tough choices. The National Education Union survey told us that 55% of schools that responded said that class sizes had risen in the past year and that more than three quarters had reported cuts in spending on books and equipment. The headteacher survey on the state of our schools post the national funding formula found that 90% of schools are now using pupil premium funds to prop up their basic core budgets. That money is meant to be spent on the most vulnerable pupils rather than as part of the sticking-plaster approach that we are seeing at the moment.

The cuts to school funding also extend to council support. Changes to central support grants will lead to about half a million pounds being lost to my local authority in the next decade, which will further emasculate its already diminished ability to support schools—not that it could help most of them even if it wanted to, thanks to the acceleration of the academies programme. What is that programme actually achieving now? Well, the words of David Laws the other day were quite interesting. He said:

“What we know is that the most successful part of the academisation programme was the early part of it…
Those early academies had absolutely everything thrown at them. They were academised school by school, with huge ministerial intervention. The new governors were almost hand-picked. They often brought in the best headteachers to replace failing management teams. They had new buildings. Sponsors had to put in extra cash. Our research shows that much of the programme since then has had little impact on standards.”

In other words, early improvements under a Labour Government have been lost to an ideological drive to create a market and to denude local authorities of a role.

The logical conclusion of the mass academisation of recent years is that the local authority is still the admissions authority, but in name only. Because of the difficulties we have had in one of the schools I referred to, as well as one or two other factors, we have ended up with a totally lopsided admissions process this year, which has led to record appeals, many parents sending their children to schools miles away that were not one of their original three preferences and some parents sadly feeling that they will have to home educate.

Nationally, the number of children being home-schooled has risen by more than 40% in the past three years, according to figures obtained by the BBC. That increase is not just about a broken admissions system, but schools perhaps suggesting that a particular child should be home-schooled to avoid an exclusion or that the school environment might not be the best place for a child if they have special educational needs. Yes, of course some parents are simply exercising parental choice, but for me the rise in the numbers of academies and the rise in numbers of those being home-schooled is surely no coincidence.

Who is monitoring and evaluating this explosion in home-schooling? Has there been a 40% increase in resources to do that? Are we confident that the legislation and guidance in this area is as up to date as it needs to be? Are we comfortable that so many children are being educated in this way? Is this a great example of how parental choice operates, or are parents being forced down this route because they have no real choice? What efforts are being made to ensure that children are able to return to school if they can? What scrutiny is taking place of schools or areas that have higher than average levels of home-schooling? Has any analysis been done on why this is the case?

Those are not easy questions to answer, but they should be asked. I fear that the fragmented system we currently have means that once a child becomes home educated, they become somebody else’s responsibility. That is the wrong approach. We owe it to all children to ensure that they get the very best education, no matter where they take it.