Improving Education Standards

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:50 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 1:50 pm, 29th November 2018

I would always argue for more funding for schools right across the United Kingdom, and the hon. Gentleman would have my support in arguing for that.

Let us look at what some schools that do not have the staffing resources are doing. If there is a problematic pupil in a classroom and a school does not have the resources—the pastoral support, the anger management and all the people I have mentioned—to deal with them, what does the school do? I am sure colleagues across the House know about the increasing use of isolation rooms for extended periods. I believe that this is partly fuelled by the need for a cheap solution to problematic behaviour. Schools do not have the resources to address the causes of the behaviour, so they treat the symptoms.

Even if we think, “Those kids deserve it. Put them in isolation—it’s good for them,” or some other macho comment that comes out from the Government every now and again, we surely cannot believe that these children are getting any kind of quality educational experience. In fact, the evidence shows that they are being given generic online resources instead of equivalent work, so while these children are in isolation, they might as well not be in school at all. They are missing weeks of learning. How will that help them? How will that improve schools standards?

I want to conclude by saying that it does not have to be this way. With adequate funding and local authority resourcing, local experts could come into schools and provide the crucial services that local authorities used to offer. I hope the hon. Member for Harborough agrees with me. All the specialists who are needed—speech therapists, educational psychologists, education welfare officers, school social workers; I could go on—could be provided at local authority level, to come into schools and support every child.

We could also look at reducing the demand for education, health and care plans by providing school-level support. I know from our Education Committee inquiry that one of the reasons parents are so desperate to get EHC plans is that they see it as a passport to accessing the funding and resourcing they need, but if we gave schools the money to start with, parents would not need to drag themselves to a tribunal and spend thousands of pounds trying to fight the system. They would have what their child needs in the school right there and then.

Fundamentally, we need to reform our accountability measures. We need to look at how we as a society can say to schools that include all children in their area, “We reward and recognise that you’re doing that, and we think it’s a good thing” because the current system does not. We should also get rid of the £6,000 notional funding for SEND and enable schools to have the money from the very beginning, rather than make them spend that first £6,000.

When I am told that education standards are improving, as I was when I sat and listened to the Minister for half an hour at the beginning of the debate, my challenge is: include all the children—add them all in. Let us look at every single one of them. How good does our system look if we include all the children who have been excluded, all the children who have been off-rolled, all the children in alternative provision and all the children who have been electively home-educated? Let us put them all in the mix—now tell me the coalition Government have done a good job.

If we want to improve education standards for all pupils, we need to break with the coalition’s ideology of the past and create and reward inclusive schools that are well-funded, well-resourced to provide the necessary support for all pupils and with the curriculum flexibility to adapt to every child’s need. We have the answer to the question I asked in 2011. The children that no school wants are rejected, marginalised, failed and left vulnerable to criminal activity. We reap what we sow, and it is time to change.