Education Funding

Part of EU Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice – in the House of Commons at 5:38 pm on 13th November 2018.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 5:38 pm, 13th November 2018

It is a delight to follow Gareth Snell. I hope he will encourage his hon. Friend, Luke Pollard, to put these views on increasing schools funding in his own literature. Perhaps the Government will alter the funding formula to make it fairer for that constituency.

It is a pleasure to be called in this debate and to reflect on the good news and the good work happening in Torbay to improve school standards and invest in our schools. I am particularly proud of the money that Paignton Community and Sports Academy will be getting to sort out some of its school buildings, some of which have been in a poor condition for some time. I want to pay tribute on the Floor of the House to my right hon. Friend Justine Greening who, when she was Education Secretary, met me and my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston to discuss the school’s buildings. The school had been knocked back from a couple of bids, but my right hon. Friend was very good and she listened. She took the school’s points on board and now about £4 million will be spent to sort out its buildings and provide the top quality education its pupils need.

In many cases, such debates about Torbay can focus on our grammar schools. I am always very clear that grammar schools should be a choice for those parents who believe it is right for them and their children, but that no one should feel compelled at 11 to take an 11-plus test to get a good education. That is why the improvement of other schools in Torbay has always been so welcome. I look particularly at Torquay Academy, which is now one of the schools with the highest value-added scores in the south-west. Its academy partner is Torquay Boys’ Grammar School and they work very closely together. The academy is excellent in attainment for those of all abilities and a priority in exactly the same way, despite the fact that there is a grammar school down the round. They do not conflict with each other; they complement each other and work very well together.

In terms of aspiration, we are looking ahead to the new £17 million high-tech skills centre that is under construction in Paignton; it will be part of South Devon College. The Paignton Community and Sports Academy sixth form will be provided by the college, taking advantage of many of the fantastic facilities. For me, it is about driving aspiration and giving people opportunities, not just the idea that if someone goes to university, it will be the greatest part of their life—although it is good to see that more people from deprived backgrounds are going to university. Technical skills are as important for driving aspiration and ambition, which is why that investment is so welcome.

Ellacombe Church of England Academy is in one of the most deprived parts of my constituency. After the previous speech, people might think that Torbay is purely palm trees, beaches and retired people, but we have areas with particular challenges, and that does not change just because they happen to be in Torbay rather than another part of the country. The new nursery provision will support a school that has come on in leaps and bounds over the past eight to nine years, partly through the academy process, partly through working with other schools nearby, and party through the work of the superb team of teachers there.

One concern that some schools would want me to raise while I am on the Floor of the House is Torbay Council’s current consultation on its high-needs formula and how the top-slicing might work. I see that the Minister for School Standards is sitting on the Treasury Bench; he will remember meeting the heads of three of my schools to discuss how they have been at the very lowest points of funding and that the top-slicing proposal could push them below the minimum that they have been guaranteed. It would be interesting to hear some thoughts from him either now or in a later meeting on how some of those challenges can be avoided.

There is a lot to be proud of in our schools, not just across the country, but particularly in my constituency. There will be challenges, but to pretend that the challenges are just recent ignores the past. One of my primary schools is a great place to go, but it was saved only due to the election of a Conservative Mayor, because the then Liberal Democrat council, under a Labour Government, wanted to close it as part of a surplus places scheme. That would have been such a short-sighted decision, given that it is now in an area where there is the most demand on school places. Thankfully, Nick Bye, the then Mayor of Torbay, took the decision to keep the school open and looked ahead to a future when numbers would be increasing, so we have not been left in a situation where our area that has the most pressure has even more. I am also pleased to say that a private, independent school that recently closed—it had falling numbers for some years, partly due to the quality of local state schools—has now been acquired to become a new state primary school slap-bang in the middle of Paignton. That would be a positive investment in one of our most deprived communities in Torbay.

It has been interesting to hear this debate. I must say that when it comes to education, point scoring is better on a school sports day than in a political debate. Certainly some of the stuff we have heard is not what people would particularly want in a classroom, and perhaps one or two Opposition Members could do with doing their homework on one or two issues.