Let me start by saying that Scottish schools broke up for the holidays last week. I wish all teachers and pupils a sunny, safe and enjoyable holiday. I also congratulate Robert Halfon on showing a deep understanding of the issues that school staff are facing.
I want to say something about early-years education. Mr McFadden made some important points about increased childcare provision, which he said was reaching only a certain sector of society. If we only offer that increased provision to households in which both parents are working, we miss out some of the most vulnerable of those we want to target. According to statistics from the WAVE Trust, maltreatment affects 20% of children, and the most damaging period is when they are between zero and two years old, when the brain is still developing. Such experiences affect their long-term prospects, both educationally and economically: it is estimated that adverse childhood experiences cost the UK economy £15 billion per annum. Not to provide dedicated early-years funding, especially for those in the zero-to-two age group, is particularly short-sighted.
On school funding, many Members, including Gill Furniss, painted a grim picture of the reality at the chalk face. Since 2015, when the impact of inflation is taken into account, schools have faced real-terms cuts. The oft-repeated statement from the Government that there are now 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010 was highlighted by Emma Hardy. That has less impact when we know that half a million pupils in England attend schools that have not been inspected since 2010, and many have not been inspected for more than 10 years. Steve McCabe told us that even the excellent schools in his constituency were struggling under the funding, so this is a warning that the very best are giving us as well.
The forthcoming UCL report on education reforms was referred to by a number of Members. The analysis on high-performing schools accepting fewer children from poor backgrounds is turning out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. A few are actually selecting pupils at that stage. We are effectively getting a grammar system whether we like it or not. A comprehensive system works far better at reducing inequalities for those from deprived backgrounds.
The report also mentioned that the original pledge to set schools free and give them more power has led to a system causing high levels of stress among teachers. We can expect nothing else when schools are competing with one another rather than collaborating.
The maths premium has not been mentioned so far. The hope is that this will incentivise the take-up of maths. I have no doubt that this premium has been introduced with the best of intentions, but there is a difficulty: if underfunded schools identify this as a way of raising capital, students could be forced into studying maths when a more suitable pathway might be available to them. This Government have done a lot of work on T-levels, but what if these pupils are directed away from T-levels into maths simply because it will generate more income for the school? If the Government want to tackle productivity and growth, why not offer premiums to schools who achieve positive destinations for their students, with particular focus on careers and areas where there is a skills shortage?
The success or failure of any school always rests with the teachers. With the advent of academies, we are seeing a situation where teachers can be paid at a rate below nationally agreed pay scales. This means that pay scales can be bypassed to allow schools to stretch a budget further. So when we hear politicians praising our dedicated teachers, perhaps we should be asking them if they would be willing to teach a group of 30 or more teenagers with multiple support needs with no support for £24,000 per annum. As one teacher told me:
“I would be better off working in a supermarket...at least I would earn overtime.”
I was recently at an event where a fellow MP talked about their disappointment at the lack of uptake of continuing professional development opportunities by teachers during summer holidays. That shows the complete disconnect between the job teachers are doing and the understanding that politicians have. Let us be clear: when teachers have battled their way through the term and have made it to the summer holidays, probably all they are able to do is sleep—as I used to do—for the first fortnight and recharge their batteries. Perhaps a better idea would be to have some politicians teaching in a school for a couple of weeks and really experiencing the issues in an underfunded secondary school. Thankfully, in Scotland we are looking at the issue of pay and conditions seriously and have lifted the pay cap for teachers, and I encourage this Government to do the same.
On further education, a long-term approach to post-16 education funding is needed, with courses linked specifically to needs in the labour market. I do not understand why in England FE colleges are still training young people for jobs that do not exist. Increasing the budget here is not sufficient; we need courses that are tailored to the needs in our jobs market. Brexit will make this issue even more acute, so we really must consider that.
England has the highest university tuition fees in the industrialised world and debt on graduation at £50,000. This is not saving money in the long run. Shortages in key areas, such as nursing, will become far more acute if we do not address this marketisation of higher education. As in early years provision, the lack of funding now will have serious long-term implications.
In Scotland, we value education and the benefit it brings not only to the individual but to society as a whole, and school leaver destination statistics show that we are making great progress in widening access to higher education. The most recent UCAS figures, published in January, show a 13% increase in the number of Scots from the most deprived communities getting places to study at a Scottish university. More importantly, young people must have the destination that is right for them, and Scotland now has the highest positive destination for young school leavers of any nation in the UK. The funding of education is ultimately about choices. The Chair of the Select Committee, Robert Halfon, said earlier that we should fund “textbooks, not tanks”. I would go further, and say that I would fund textbooks, not Trident.