It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate and to follow my hon. Friend Emma Hardy.
The funding of our schools is a key issue in my constituency. Reading and Woodley are growing towns with many young families, and many other residents are concerned about the state of schools and education in general. I endorse the points that hon. Members have made about the importance of funding our schools properly, and I want to go further. I want to describe the scale of the problems in my constituency, which are both serious and substantial. There is no doubt that our schools face a deepening funding crisis. I also want to show that the scale of the crisis demands a fundamental rethink of the scale of the funding envelope available to education in this country. I am calling for an end to austerity and for a fair funding settlement for our schools, the NHS and other services.
First, I will describe the crisis in my constituency. Nurseries, primary schools and secondary education have all been hit hard by eight years of austerity. As a new MP, I have been meeting with teachers, parents and pupils, and I have asked schools that I visited to tell me what they would like to report to Ministers to explain the scale of the crisis. One nursery head described it particularly well. She explained that she has always had to face an uneven playing field—for example, nurseries pay business rates, unlike schools. She now has to manage, however, with a totally different situation—one that my hon. Friends have already alluded to—having to deal with a greatly increased number of children with special educational needs and a wide range of other financial pressures. Primary schools in my constituency have had to deal with heavy cuts at the same time as pupil numbers have risen steeply. Schools have also reported serious additional problems with unfunded pay rises and unfunded national insurance increases.
These pressures have fed through into secondary schools, which have also had to respond to significant changes to the curriculum and the introduction of new GCSEs and A-levels, all taking place at the same time. The number of teaching posts has been cut and subjects axed, including German and music—I imagine that many Members would consider both of those subjects to be a fundamental part of secondary education. The average local authority secondary school deficit in Reading has risen from £300,000 in 2010 to £374,000 in 2018. Taken together, this is close to a perfect storm. The cuts, the relentless changes to the curriculum and examinations and the significant rise in pupil numbers have all put tremendous pressure on our schools. Is it any wonder, then, that teachers are leaving the profession and recruitment is becoming so much harder?
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to set out the substantial challenges faced by schools in my constituency and across our country. There is a severe funding crisis—one that is creating close to a perfect storm, when taken together with the other major changes being forced through schools—and yet the Government have an opportunity to rethink. I urge Ministers to listen to teachers, parents and students and seriously reflect on this mistaken approach. Surely, it is worth rethinking austerity after eight failed years.