It is a pleasure to follow Chris Green, although I do not share his view that local government should be blamed for school cuts. It is an even greater pleasure to speak in today’s debate, and I want to give a special mention to the group of female students from Leigh who will be visiting Parliament as part of the RECLAIM project in conjunction with Parliament Week. I am sure that the whole House will welcome them tomorrow. I also pay tribute to all the schools in my constituency. I have had the good fortune to work with them for several years—both in my previous role as a councillor and as an MP—but I have seen the real struggle that they have faced under this Government.
This debate comes just a fortnight after the Budget, which made it clear that austerity is not over for our schools, our teachers and our schoolchildren. Local parents and teachers in Leigh have seen reckless cuts coming from Westminster that will see the per pupil budget fall by £180 for every primary schoolchild and £253 for every secondary school pupil. That is hundreds of pounds per pupil taken away each and every year, with cuts of £3.9 million for primary schools and £4.3 million for secondary schools.
As has been pointed out already, the impact of the situation on our teachers and parents has left them at breaking point. It has somehow become routine in 2018 Britain for schools to set up crowdfunding pages to ask parents for donations or regular direct debits just to fund workbooks and pens. Just last week, a local school sent home a letter asking local companies to sponsor its PE department. Despite that, the Chancellor had the audacity to come to this House and reward our incredible teachers—teachers who are leaving the profession in despair—with some “little extras”. It is insulting to our schools, which deserve nothing less than the funding to give our young people the education and resources they deserve.
Cuts have hit our schools hard, but I want to take a moment to consider the impact on children with special educational needs. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for attention deficit hyperactive disorder, I recognise not only the enormous potential of and opportunities for those with SEND, but our duty to help harness the incredible educational gifts that they possess. To allow them to thrive, they need the guidance and assistance to draw out their talent and to fit into the archaic educational structures that we still use. To give just one example of where we are letting pupils down, a recent report from the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy looking at our critical cyber skills gap said:
“We even heard that one of BT Security’s best graduate cryptographers was a music graduate whose ability to recognise patterns in music had proven a useful skill in relation to cryptography. Many of those who provided evidence also pointed to the strengths brought to the cyber security field by ‘neuro-divergent’
individuals, who, we were told, often possess ‘a real talent for logic’.”
There we have a profession with a critical shortage in this country—estimated at around 50,000 specialists—that is crying out for the type of talent and skills that those with conditions such as ADHD possess, and we also know that they are vastly underemployed. However, the processes are simply not there in our education system to bring the most out of these young people. With SEND funding frozen, the future hardly looks bright. Quite simply, society is letting these people down.
Our education system is struggling to cope with the cuts imposed by this Government, but the real travesty is that they come at a time when our education system needs a fundamental, transformative overhaul to raise education standards and become one of the most inclusive education systems in the world. As long as we have a Conservative Government, we will never see the kind of transformation that we need. That is why I support the motion and believe it is now crucial, at this important time for our country, that we end the austerity in our schools and begin investing in our future by creating an education system that truly works for all.