Education Funding

Part of EU Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 13th November 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 6:22 pm, 13th November 2018

One thing that I suspect everybody who is contributing to this debate has in common is that we are immersed in the lives of our local schools and of our constituency. If Members from all parties are honest, I suspect that like me, when they have visited schools over the past two years, or perhaps slightly longer, whether for the Christmas fair, Parliament Week or the school play, they will have found that the subject of school funding comes up in a way that it did not used to come up on such occasions. Often, it will come up not in terms of cash sums, but in terms of staffing cuts; whether the school can support teaching assistants at all; a lack of teaching material; and in particular additional needs funding. Increasingly, it comes up in respect of anything that is outside the main curriculum and the main school day, whether that is breakfast clubs, homework clubs or after-school activities, which are particularly relevant for schools in deprived areas, like much of my constituency. They are really essentials but often are simply not there.

Despite all that, it was something of a surprise that school funding was such a big issue at last year’s general election. I say that because in a general election it tends to be the universal issues that come up. For example, my borough has one of the largest proportions of EU citizens, we have some of the worst housing inequality because of the cost of housing, and the main hospital is under threat of demolition. Nevertheless, not only at the school gates but when I was knocking on doors, the anger over school funding was something that I have not experienced in 35 years of being active in local politics.

Only today, I replied to a headteacher to address some of these points. Let me identify two or three issues from that letter. One, obviously, is the issue of cuts per se. Each one of the 30 schools in my constituency will be losing money over the period 2015 to 2020 because of the disparity that we have heard about this evening between funding and costs. What that will mean is that schools such as Burlington Danes, which has 56% on free school meals, will face a loss of £614 per pupil over that time; Hammersmith Academy, with 60% on free school meals, will face a loss of £644 per pupil; and Phoenix High School, which, with 67% on free school meals, has the most deprived intake of any school in London—probably in the country—will face a loss of £834 per pupil over that five-year period. Those are really unsustainable figures.

In addition to the pure numbers, there are particular losses in particular areas, as we have heard today in relation to early years provision. In nursery schools—yes, we still have some nursery schools in Hammersmith—budgets are under threat. Post-16 education is another area under threat—I have been a governor of the excellent William Morris Sixth Form for the past 25 years, in fact since it was set up. It has had to cut back on staffing in a way that it has never had to do before. These are incredibly difficult decisions to make.

In addition, we have a lack of planning for places. We still have the temporary classrooms that were put up a few years ago for bulge classes. At the same time, because we became the free school capital of the country, we have primary schools that are half empty. This may make me slightly unpopular with my own party, but I have never minded the investment in capital that we have seen—but at what cost? The cancellation of Building Schools for the Future means that redundant old buildings that are not fit for teaching in are still just about standing up, while brand-new schools, which have been built alongside them, are half empty. How is that sensible planning in the education system?

We have talked about fair funding a lot. I am not here to try to take money from other parts of the country, but inner London increasingly gets the worst deal. The Minister will say, “Yes, but historically there has been a higher level of funding in that area.” There are reasons for that—it is because of mobility, because of English being spoken as a second language and because of the real need that does not occur elsewhere except perhaps in other inner-city areas. All those points are made again and again with increasing frustration by teachers, parents, governors and headteachers. This is also happening against the backdrop of an underfunded salaries budget.

In conclusion, I simply say to the Minister that of course there are good things going on in education, and I am sure that he and his colleagues are committed to education, but unless they actually identify the real and genuine lack of resources in our schools, they will never improve standards and they will never turn the corner in a way that I hope all of us here would like.