Department for Education

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 4:56 pm on 3rd July 2018.

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Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions) 4:56 pm, 3rd July 2018

I start by paying tribute to our teachers, our teaching assistants and the school staff for the remarkable work they do. I think of Osborne Nursery School, where a grandfather said to me, “Our little boy came here six months ago. He couldn’t string two words together. He was withdrawn and we were worried about him. Now, six months later, we can’t shut him up. He loves the nursery school. He bounces in every morning. He’s going from strength to strength.” I think of the mother at Lakeside children’s centre who told me, “Jack, I was suicidal. I couldn’t cope with two kids, one of whom has severe difficulties, but the children’s centre helped me through. It helped me to become a good mum”.

I think of Twickenham Primary School, where I was told of a young boy, aged seven now, who came from a home with no curtains, carpets, cupboards or wardrobes, where everything was stored in bin bags on the floor. The school had to bring him to school every morning and feed him every day, including at night and the weekend, but it did it, and as a consequence this little boy, who was struggling in a problem home, is now top of his class. I think of secondary schools such as North Birmingham Academy. I remember when it opened its sixth form two wonderful young people from the first intake telling me that they came from families and communities where no one had ever been to university, but how, thanks to a good school, they had that ladder of opportunity.

We see so much that is admirable—but, but, but. What said it all for me was Michelle Gay, the headteacher of Osborne Primary School, who on ITV in March wept in frustration at the difficulties confronting headteachers having to make difficult choices about laying off teaching assistants, no longer replacing teachers, cutting back on maintenance and cutting back on the curriculum, including for the next generation of world-class musicians who are not getting the opportunities they would otherwise have had.

Giving kids the best possible start in life starts with early-years education. In this respect, Birmingham has a proud tradition, with all our children’s centres and the 27 dedicated nursery schools, but cuts to council budgets have meant that, although 18 children centres remain open, 11 have closed. Nationwide, 1,000 Sure Start centres have closed as a consequence of austerity and cuts since 2010. On nursery schools, however, we fought and won the battle two years ago. I am proud to say that that started in Birmingham and then went nationwide. We won a commitment from the Government to provide supplementary funding, which has avoided the complete disaster that would otherwise have befallen those 400 nursery schools. But, but, but. We are coming to the end of the guarantees that were given then. Nursery schools are now being told, “You have to plan for the future.” However, they have no idea whether the Government will continue that supplementary funding, and will the means for them to continue to deliver a world-class education.

That is why tomorrow, along with Robert Halfon—I pay tribute to him for his speech—and my hon. Friend Lucy Powell, I will be launching, in the all-party parliamentary group on nursery schools, nursery and reception classes, a drive to ensure that the voice of parents of children at those nursery schools is heard by the Government, and that the necessary resources are made available on a continuing basis.

It is not only in early-years education that the problems are mounting; they are mounting also in primary and secondary schools. In Birmingham, 361 out of 364 schools face cuts, and we expect a total loss of £51.4 million by 2020. That means a loss of £293 for every one of Birmingham’s 184,000 children. North Birmingham Academy will lose £552 per pupil, Stockland Green School will lose £503 per pupil, Erdington Academy will lose £360 per pupil, and St Edmund Campion Catholic School will lose £222 per pupil.

The education unions were absolutely right to say that the Government needed to face the facts. Our kids get one chance of a bright future when they go to school, but let us look at what is happening now. There are 137,000 more pupils in schools in England than there were last year, but—and I should tell the Minister that these figures are undeniable, because they come from his Department—there are 5,400 fewer teachers, 2,800 fewer teaching assistants, 1,400 fewer support staff, and 1,200 fewer auxiliary staff. Those facts speak for themselves.

Like other Members who have spoken, I am passionate about the cause of education, because when I was a kid I was fortunate enough to get a good start in life, although my dad was a navvy and my mother was a nurse. I never forget the schools that helped me to get on. I want to ensure that all kids, in Birmingham and in Britain, have the same chances that all of us here have had, but right now the opportunity is being denied to millions, and that is fundamentally wrong.