Department for Education

Supplementary Estimate 2018-19 – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 26th February 2019.

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[Relevant Documents: Fourth Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Session 2016-17, Entitlement to free early years education and childcare, HC 224, and the Government response, Cm 9351; Forty-ninth Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Session 2016-17, Financial sustainability of schools, HC 890, and the Government response, Cm 9505; Fifty-Seventh Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Session 2016-17, Capital funding for schools, HC 961, and the Government response, Cm 9505; Thirteenth Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Academy schools’ finances, HC 760, and the Government response, Cm 9596; Seventeenth Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Retaining and developing the teaching workforce, HC 460 and the Government response, Cm 9596; Forty-fifth Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, The higher education market, HC 693, and the Government response, Cm 9702; Fifty-second Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Converting schools to academies, HC 697, and the Government response, Cm 9702; Sixtieth Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Ofsted’s inspection, HC 1029, and the Government response, Cm 9740; Sixty-ninth Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Sale of student loans, HC 1527; Seventy-third Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Academy accounts and performance, HC 1597.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the year ending with 31 March 2019, for expenditure by the Department for Education—

(1) further resources, not exceeding £13,388,055,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1966,

(2) further resources, not exceeding £4,460,127,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a further sum, not exceeding £4,775,855,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Anne Milton.)

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee 2:53 pm, 26th February 2019

Let me put on record my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate. For some newer Members of this House who may not realise this, thanks is also owed to the Procedure Committee. When I first arrived in Parliament, it was impossible to debate proper facts, figures and the Budget in the estimates debate without being ruled out of order. The Chair of the Procedure Committee and I decided that that was not good enough and we worked together to try to make sure that we could get these debates, which are now granted by the Backbench Business Committee. I warn the Minister that we are well prepared to go through the numbers in her budget. I am sure that, as an assiduous Minister, she is well prepared to take on board our concerns and to answer them. We have worked closely with the National Audit Office in preparing for today’s debate so that we can focus on the actual figures. I know the Minister is assiduous and will not try to give us smoke and mirrors in her answers. Hopefully, she will answer not in slogans, but in actual figures.

Today, I plan to discuss the overall schools budget. I know that the Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon, will also pick up on some of these issues. Other colleagues will be highlighting concerns around the spending on academies and multi-academy trusts, which, of course, report directly to the Department, teacher recruitment and retention, potentially the student loan book sales—although I see that the Member concerned is held up in a Statutory Instrument Committee—funding for Ofsted and the inspection regime; further education and higher education; and early years and special educational needs. The Minister will have her work cut out to make sure that she is over the detail, as I am sure that she is.

One reason why we wanted this debate is that the Government often repeat that more money is going into schools than ever before. In March 2017—on one of many occasions—the Public Accounts Committee looked at the sustainability of school funding. This was at the point when schools were already implementing a Government set target of £3 billion of efficiency savings—£1.7 billion of which was through more efficient use of staff, and £1.3 billion through more efficient procurement.

The House would expect the Public Accounts Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing, to be absolutely on board with the idea that schools should be as efficient as they can be, certainly with regard to procurement—where schools buy their paper or their electricity from. It is quite right that schools should be encouraged and supported to find the money that can be put into frontline teaching. We were concerned, however, that the Department did not really have a grip on what the impact of those efficiency savings would be, particularly on staff. It did not know what the impact would be in the classrooms and on the teaching in schools that had already found those efficiency savings, or on the outcomes for children.

I am delighted to see that the Secretary of State is in his place. I know that he feels passionately about the need to make sure that children are getting everything that they can from our schools. It is therefore important and incumbent on him and his Department to make sure that, when they are setting the budget or implementing efficiency savings or cuts, they understand what the impact is on school attainment. While we are discussing the budget, we must understand that, in the end, the education budget is for that range of services provided through his Department to support young people in our country.

We concluded that the Government had not done a proper assessment. It was also concerning to hear from headteachers on the frontline about the challenge of squeezing out that money in certain schools, particularly in small schools where a small percentage saving is a big chunk and could mean losing a whole member of staff even if it is not equivalent to a whole member of staff’s salary.

During the general election of 2017, I was absolutely amazed and heartened by parents in my constituency and up and down the country—not political activists and not driven by political parties—talking about the impact in their child’s classrooms of the squeeze on school funding.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

I did a survey just before and after the 2017 general election. Out of 103 schools in Coventry, 102 were finding increases in class sizes. The cuts measured pupil by pupil amounted to £295. We had a debate yesterday about sex education in schools. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is another burden being loaded on to our schools? We have a situation in Coventry where schools badly need additional funding regardless of what the Government were going to allow because they are starting from a very low basis. In other words, the Government owe education £3.5 billion, despite the fact that they put in £1.5 billion.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

My hon. Friend tees me up for my next point. He also raises an important point. It is a political disease to ask schools to do more all the time and very often assume that it can just be done without the additional funding. It is important that the Secretary of State and his ministerial team watch closely that, while other bits of Government suggest that schools do things, there is the funding in place for that and for the core of what they should be delivering. It was after the general election and as a result of that campaign and that pressure on the Government, who were then elected without a majority, that the Secretary of State announced £1.3 billion of additional funding, which was weighted towards next year. This year, schools are in the throes of receiving the £416 million that was announced for this year and will receive £884 million in aggregate across England for next year. But that—the £3 billion figure—does not even backfill those efficiency demands that were asked for before. It is important that we recognise—in fact, the Government have recognised this—that we need 599,000 school places, which is as a result of the increase between 2010 and 2015. We are very concerned about the pressure on school budgets.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West

I have often heard Ministers say in justification of restrictions on school budgets that there are large balances. In my own constituency of West Bromwich West, the cumulative shortfall in schools came to nearly £5 million between 2017-18 and 2018-19. The cumulative reserves of all the schools in Sandwell is £3 million. There is now hard evidence that the balances left in schools in local authorities are no longer adequate to meet the year-by-year shortfalls that are taking place in them.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I am going to move on, in particular, to the issue of capital funding where sometimes reserves are built up for capital funding purposes.

Looking at what is happening in schools, I really want to give the lie to the argument that more money is going into schools than ever before. The Government say that, and we can look at it in cash terms, but we need to look at it in terms of per-pupil funding. The Department is estimating that over the 2015 spending review period, pupil numbers will rise by 3.9%, or 174,000, for primary school pupils and 10.3%, or 284,000 for secondary school pupils. Therefore, funding per pupil will, on average, rise only from £5,447 in 2015-16 to £5,519 in 2019-20—next year. That is a real-terms reduction once inflation is taken into account.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The hon. Lady is making a very powerful case. Does she agree that these cuts are often hurting the most vulnerable people most? Headteachers in my constituency are really concerned about teaching for special educational needs, with heartbreaking stories about schools having to lose their SEN teachers because they simply cannot afford them any more. These cuts really are having massive effects on individuals as well.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

The hon. Lady raises a significant point. In my own constituency, since 2011, special educational needs provision has been backed up by the local authority through other funds that are now being squeezed because of the other funding caps.

The other point I would make very firmly to the Secretary of State is that so much of what happens in our schools is not just reliant on the Department for Education. If there are cuts in other parts of government or reductions in spending, there is a real squeeze where schools are sometimes expected to fill the gap but without the funding. This needs to be looked at in the round. We on the Committee are repeatedly concerned about what we call cost-shunting, where a saving is made in one area but the costs fall on another. A teacher or a headteacher with children in front of them in a classroom has to deal with the reality of that, and they do so very ably but often with great difficulty.

It is not just the Public Accounts Committee or the National Audit Office that is concerned about per-pupil funding. In 2018, only last year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies concluded:

“Between 2009-10 and 2017-18, total school spending per pupil in England fell by about 8% in real terms”.

In October last year, the UK Statistics Authority wrote to the DFE complaining about its misleading use of statistics on school funding. So I hope that we have nailed the lie about the funding. We need to acknowledge where we are and then we can have a debate about how much we should be funding or schools by.

In the time I have got—I do not want to take up colleagues’ time because I know that they have prepared hard for this debate—I want to touch on capital funding. I congratulate the Department and the permanent secretary on undertaking a stock conditions survey of the school estate. This is the first time that that has properly happened. It is quite shocking, really, that Governments, over time, have not done this. It is quite challenging because schools are under different ownerships. It is a good and welcome step, but of course, as the Secretary of State will know, it will throw up many issues for him. Some 60% of the school estate was built before 1976, which underlines, for those of us thinking of the schools in our constituencies, the amount of work involved. The National Audit Office estimates that £6.7 billion is needed to return all school buildings to satisfactory or better condition. They are not all to be fantastic and “all singing, all dancing” but just to be satisfactory or, in some cases, better. In 2015-16—the beginning of the spending review period—the DFE allocated £4.5 billion to capital funding, about half of which was spent on creating new school places. So there is a significant shortfall in what is needed and the amount of money that is being spent, and that has an ongoing impact.

Then there is the free schools agenda, where the Secretary of State is wedded to his manifesto commitment of 500 new free schools by 2020 from the 2017 base. I think that that there will be just over 850 if that target is reached. We are concerned that those buildings are often not the best. Asbestos surveys are not often done. Local government treasurers tell me that they know of buildings in their own areas that have been sold at well over the odds. It is as though people see a blank cheque when the Government come along with their cheque book for a free school site: the price goes up. That is not good value for money, and it really does need looking at. I do not think that even those most wedded to the free schools principle would want to see money wasted. In my own constituency, where many secondary schools were rebuilt under the academies programme and we have fantastic buildings, it breaks my heart to see new schools opening in inadequate buildings without sports facilities, without proper access, and often with very little in the way of playground facilities. I do not have to time to go into all that, but I recommend to the Department the reports we have done on this, because it is a very big concern.

The biggest concern for me on capital funding is about asbestos. I have a very strong constituency link here. I have a constituent, Lucie Stephens, whose mother was a primary schoolteacher for 30 years and died from mesothelioma—the cancer that comes from exposure to asbestos. She should have been enjoying her retirement now, but instead she is not because she caught this disease from working in a school that had asbestos in it. We looked at this on the Public Accounts Committee. The Department for Education has reported that over 80% of the schools that have now responded to its survey have asbestos. It has estimated that it would cost at least £100 billion to replace the entire school estate—the only way, really, to eradicate asbestos from our school buildings—but in January this year, we found that nearly a quarter of schools had still not provided the information that the Department needs to understand the extent of asbestos in school buildings and how the risks will be managed. Three times now, the Department has had to go back with a different deadline to get those schools responding. The last deadline was 15 February—just over a week ago. Does the Minister have an update on that? We have suggested that it is perhaps time to name and shame those schools. I do not say that lightly, but it is a very serious issue for those concerned.

My big concern is that there is no real incentive for schools to acknowledge their asbestos and get the expensive surveys done without some understanding of where the money will then come from to resolve it. It is not something that will be urgent in every school, and some schools will last a bit longer without it. Clearly, there needs to be a long-term plan and everyone needs to know what it is. There must be a clear plan from central Government with a pot of funding that schools can bid for. As we have heard, reserves and capital funding are very squeezed—squeezed to nothing in many cases, and certainly not enough to pay for asbestos removal or for a new school building. I urge the Secretary of State to be the one who finally upgrades our school buildings so that they are all as good as those in my constituency and the one who does not allow bad free schools to open.

As I said, there are many other issues that many colleagues in all parts of the House will be raising—everything from early years through to higher education—and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. There is a real issue about how we debate school funding, particularly in how we talk about the numbers. We need to make sure that we are actually talking about the same numbers, and then we can move on to a discussion about policy. Unless we get the maths right, we are talking at cross-purposes.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. As colleagues can see, a number of speakers wish to contribute to this debate and to the debate after it. They are both very well subscribed. I am therefore going to impose a seven-minute time limit. I was able to warn the next speaker that that would happen.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee 3:07 pm, 26th February 2019

I thank the hon. Members for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) for going to the Backbench Committee together to request this debate.

I want to concentrate my remarks on the Department’s expenditure on schools and colleges, into which we are currently conducting an inquiry. The Education Committee wants to support the DFE in making the strongest possible representation to the Treasury as part of the spending review. Last year we launched our inquiry to look at the Department’s plans to introduce a national funding formula for schools and the role of targeted support for disadvantaged pupils alongside the influence of the spending review process. Our initial concern was that the three-to-four-year spending review period had far too little in common with the educational experience of young people who start primary school at around five and now participate in some form of education or training until they are 18. School and college funding is inextricably linked to both social justice and productivity, as I will set out in this short contribution.

It is not at all clear that the Department or the Treasury takes a sufficiently strategic approach. The last spending review settlement failed to foresee the cumulative impact of rising pupil numbers and several smaller factors—some of them explicit policy initiatives—that led to the 8% of unmet cost pressures on school budgets over the following year or so. It is also deeply regrettable that the debate around school and college funding has become so polarised. Schools are under pressure, but, as we heard this morning from Andreas Schleicher from the OECD, simply asking for more money will not necessarily lead to better educational outcomes. The debate on education funding needs to move away from one about an abstract concept of equity—the principle underpinning fair funding—towards one of sufficiency, where schools and colleges have the money they need to do the job asked of them.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford

I am listening with great interest to my right hon. Friend’s analysis. Does he agree that this Government have a proud record on education spending and achievement and should be congratulated? However, there are particular areas where we would like to raise issues, as he is doing. In addition to what he is saying about utilising resources, I advise him that in the Borough of Bexley, we saw an increase in the number of education, health and care plans of 14% between 2017 and 2018, and yet there has been only a 1.9% increase in the high needs block allocation this year.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

My right hon. Friend is right. As he will hear in my remarks, I agree with much of what he says. We have to praise the Government for the good things that have happened but identify the funding problems.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I commend his Committee’s decision to launch the inquiry that he just referenced. Can he ensure that the inquiry takes a brief but particular look at the plight facing Catholic sixth-form colleges? Many do not see themselves as having sufficient funding in the long run, as is the case for many other further education colleges, but they do not have the option of converting to an academy—a route that there are incentives to take—because of their religious character. There is not yet a solution other than to increase funding for all. Will he particularly reference the plight of those 17 English Catholic sixth-form colleges?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

The inquiry covers schools and colleges, so that issue will form part of it. I note the hon. Gentleman’s point and will ensure that we address it in some way or another in our Committee.

We should welcome the introduction of a national formula as the latest step in almost 20 years of reform in education funding. There are serious problems with the way that schools are expected to budget, not least being asked to do so over three years without the information to make reliable forecasts more than a year ahead. I hope the House will forgive me if I take the opportunity to give my strongest support to the plight of further education. I know that the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills is passionate in her support and is lobbying the Treasury for more FE funding.

FE has for too long been the poor relation between secondary and higher education. By 2020, we will be spending the same amount in real terms to educate and train 16 to 18-year-olds as we were in 1990. I was shocked to discover that that is not an accident of history, but the result of a conscious policy choice of almost a decade ago. FE is a great example of why a national funding formula in and of itself is not a panacea. Without enough money to go around, it does not matter.

The time has come for a completely different approach to how we think of schools and colleges in this country. Rather than the Department for Education being one of many Departments scrapping it out every few years for the meagre rewards of the political cycle, Ministers need to take a leaf from the book of the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England and make a bold bid for a 10-year long-term plan that starts to close the gap between inputs—broadly, in this context, the money—and outcomes at both an individual level, in the form of emerging from school a well-rounded person with prospects, and the wider economic level of having young people ready and able to fulfil the productivity part of the picture. We do not fully recognise the potential value of getting our education system right, and the DFE should make as much as it can of that in its negotiations with the Treasury. As a country, we have recognised the long-term necessity of funding the national health service, but without, it seems, the prior necessity of getting school and college funding right as a vital public service.

What would that mean in practice? For a start, we have to move beyond the rhetoric of school cuts versus more money than ever going into schools. That was the starting point of our inquiry and will be an important starting point for our report this year. The truth is that both characterisations are only very partial accounts and keep us talking about inputs rather than outcomes. The relationship between those inputs and outcomes is not simple and causal, as Mr Schleicher told the Committee this morning, but that is emphatically not the same as saying that schools can magically deliver world-beating results at the same time as moving from savings in their non-staff budgets to savings in their staff budgets. When we learn that students in Poland perform at the same level at age 15 as those in the United States, but with per student expenditure that is around 40% lower than in the United States, we need to consider whether simply asking for more money without a plan will get us where we want to be.

We need to take a long, hard look at some flagship policies and be open to questioning whether they are delivering against our stated policy objectives, especially when they engage social justice. Disadvantaged pupils perform a lot worse at school. Just 33% of pupils on free school meals get five good GCSEs, including English and maths, compared with 61% of their better-off peers. The Committee has already expressed its concern that the Government’s policy of funded childcare for three and four-year-olds is entrenching disadvantage and preventing the closure of the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers from better-off backgrounds. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, is passionately supportive of our maintained nurseries and is working incredibly hard to persuade the Treasury to guarantee the transition funding that maintained nurseries desperately need.

The consequences of not making the most of the time for which a child is at school last a lifetime, and the pieces are picked up by many other Departments across Government. If schools are increasingly being looked at to prevent some of these problems from occurring, it seems only right that schools receive the resources necessary to do so. I hope that Ministers will use the support in this House for a 10-year, truly long-term plan to secure the best possible deal from the spending review. The logic is inescapable—if the NHS can have a 10-year plan, why cannot education too?

I hope that this will be the start of a different sort of planning for schools and colleges. If education really is to be a ladder of opportunity for everyone, so that people can get the education, skills and training to climb to the top and get the jobs, skills and prosperity that they and our country need, surely there should be proper strategic overview and a long-term plan to ensure that everyone has the tools and support necessary to climb that ladder.

Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Labour, Wolverhampton North East 3:16 pm, 26th February 2019

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. One of the reasons I decided to go into politics was that I saw in our country that inequalities later in life stem from the fact that a child from a poor background is less likely to go on and do well in school than one from a richer background. I will reiterate some of the figures that Robert Halfon used about that. Some families in our country are able to spend more on school fees for their children per year than many people earn in salaries. I know that many Members speaking in this debate are motivated by the same thing—they want to improve education across the board, but particularly for children from deprived backgrounds. That is why I want to start with the point made powerfully by the Chairman of the Education Committee—we are lucky to have him—about FE funding, because it is often overlooked in these debates.

We talk about schools and we talk about early years, and I want to talk about those two things as well, but I want to start with FE funding. The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently produced a report saying that further education was the “biggest loser” in the cuts to education. I know that the Secretary of State is very passionate about learning from other countries, such as Germany, but if we are serious about putting our mainstream education and our vocational education on the same footing and valuing both equally, we really need to look again at further education funding.

The principal of the City of Wolverhampton College tells me about the funding pressures he is under, as are the other Black Country Colleges in Dudley and Walsall. We have some really fantastic colleges in our region, but we know that their funding has been frozen for far too long. National funding rates for 16 and 17-year-olds have stayed at £4,000 per pupil since 2014; they have not increased in line with inflation. For 18-year-olds, the rate has been frozen at £3,300 per pupil.

I say this because I think the Ministers sitting on the Treasury Bench know about the cost pressures. I served in a Committee on a statutory instrument with the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, where we talked about how we could make provision for colleges that find themselves in a position of insolvency. Well, that tells us everything, doesn’t it? We have not had that until now, but the Government have felt they had to make provision for it. I really think we need to think again about the funding for these colleges.

I know that many of my constituents feel they do not want to stay at school, but want to go to college and perhaps study a more vocational course, and Wolverhampton college has some fantastic vocational courses. However, even though there are cost pressures on schools—the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, my hon. Friend Meg Hillier, set those out very eloquently—they are nothing compared with the cost pressures on further education colleges. I am trying to strengthen the arm of Ministers, and I implore them to put more pressure on the Treasury and to make some different decisions about the amount of money going to these colleges.

My second point—I have in a way done this the wrong way around by starting off with the older category—is just to urge the Government for some clarity on the funding for maintained nursery schools. I have three maintained nursery schools in my constituency, and I am lucky that I have so many. They provide outstanding and good education, and they are a trailblazer for the rest of early years provision in my area. They can help children with special needs in a way that other early years provision is not able to do. I have seen at first hand some of the work they do with some of the most deprived children, and also with some of the children who have the most acute needs in my constituency.

It pains me to hear from those maintained nurseries that, because their teachers do not know what is going to happen beyond 2020, there is a real concern that some of the staff may well leave, as they have mortgages and things in their own lives they have to plan for. I really implore Ministers to hurry up with the assessment that I understand the Government are doing on the value for money of maintained nurseries. I can tell them that, in my own constituency, they are great value for money, and they will hear that from other Members across the House. Maintained nurseries need clarity, and they need it sooner rather than later. I hope that, at some point in the next few weeks or months, we will get that clarity.

My final point is about school funding. I am concerned about the real-terms cuts in school funding. I understand the Chair of the Education Committee when he says that we just argue to and fro, which I do not want to do, about figures and whether schools are really that badly off or not. I was very interested to hear his comparison with the NHS plan. I would certainly welcome a more long-term plan for schools in our country. Some primary schools in my constituency are telling me they are having to lay off teaching assistants and, in some cases, teachers because of pressures on their budgets.

I urge Ministers to look at this again, because unless we can provide a world-class education for our young children, we will not only fail to close the inequalities in our society; we will not thrive as a country because, as has already been said in this debate, this issue relates to productivity, to how we attract investment and to our overall prosperity.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds 3:23 pm, 26th February 2019

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this very important estimates debate.

I would like to start where the Chair of the Education Committee, my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, who made an excellent speech, finished. Every child in this country deserves a fair chance to get on the ladder of opportunity to the best of his or her abilities. While I warmly welcome the record funding that is going into education in this country at the moment, the problem is that, in some areas on the ground in our constituencies, it does not feel like that. I want to concentrate on those areas, particularly the funding of schools and further education colleges.

I welcome this debate and the increase in the departmental expenditure limit, up from £66.4 billion to £77.9 billion, although most of the increase is to cover the write-off of student loans. I also welcome the introduction of the new funding formula’s money for schools in April 2018, which should provide £4,800 per secondary pupil and £3,500 per primary pupil. The problem, as my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench know, is that the local authority distributes this money, which means that quite a number of schools in my constituency do not even receive that amount.

I am grateful to follow my friend Meg Hillier, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, on which I serve as deputy Chair. Secondary schools in her constituency—I do not mean this in any personal or political way; her constituency just happens to be at the top of the league—receive on average £7,840 per pupil, which is a 64% increase on schools in my constituency. I ask my colleagues on the Front Bench whether that is really fair. In addition to that 64% increase, quite a lot of the schools in her constituency get the pupil premium money. One wonders, given the funding streams in this country, whether there is an element of double counting.

Of course school costs will be higher in a central London constituency, but even in Gloucestershire, costs such as the national teachers’ pay award increase in 2018, the apprenticeship levy imposition, additional HR costs, increased pension costs, higher levels of special needs and higher rural bus costs, all of which are imposed by Government, amount to about 6%. Therefore, if the Government increase their cash amount this year by 1%, it is effectively a 5% budget cut, which has to be met by efficiencies. Things have been pared down over a number of years.

Mr Will Morgan, the excellent head teacher of the excellent Cotswold School in Bourton-on-the-Water, recently wrote to me to say:

“Over recent years we have made many savings—class sizes, teacher contact time, TA support, service costs, reducing leadership, etc. Despite this, if finances continue as they are and we do nothing, we will be in deficit as a school at some point in the 2021-22 academic year.

One of our strategies to try to alleviate this ‘cliff edge’ is to ask parents to donate—for many, including myself, this goes against what we should be doing”.

That is what is happening on the ground. We need to fund our schools at a level at which they can operate properly.

When I have discussed this with various Schools Ministers in recent years, they have always told me that their Department was going to do some work on what it really costs to run a secondary school and a primary school. There are certainly inescapable costs: the teachers have to be paid, the buildings have to be maintained and kept warm, and there has to be an administration function. Let us find out what it really costs and ensure that no school anywhere in the country goes below that level. As others have said before, if we go below that level, schools have to make cuts, either in teachers or in curriculum subjects.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his significant speech, and I concur with the point he has just made. In the London Borough of Lewisham, 71 of 73 schools are facing cuts, and are losing £8.8 million between 2015 and 2020.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. Nobody wants to see any schools having to make cuts; they want to see every school trying to attain outstanding Ofsted reports, to be able to educate all their children and pupils to the best possible standard according to their abilities.

I say to my colleagues on the Front Bench that I believe the maxim should be that similar schools with similar demographics, wherever they are in the UK, should receive similar funding. Unfortunately, I was unable to find an example in the time available. I ask my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench how they intend to address that problem, and bring to their attention two other problems in the primary and secondary sector. Gloucestershire is a well-run local authority. At the moment, it does not run a deficit in its education funding, but a number of local education authorities do. However, we have two serious emerging problems in Gloucestershire, which I hope my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will listen to seriously.

The first relates to the higher needs block. In Gloucestershire, the higher needs block has increased by 40% over three years. We were incredibly grateful when the Minister announced an extra £1.3 million over two years. That will be helpful over the next two or three years, but we have to address the structural problem. We have to work out why it is that in Gloucestershire schools—I believe Gloucestershire is not alone—there is a very large increase in special needs. I am sure it is all to do with the education and healthcare plans. How they are granted and funded, in particular for out-of-county placements, place a very high burden on the budget.

The second point I would like to bring to the attention of my hon. Friends is the significant increase in the number of exclusions in some schools, so that they do not have to bear the costs and difficulty of dealing with difficult pupils. It does seem—I ask my hon. Friends to do some work on this—that certain schools have consistently higher exclusions than others. That must be to do with a school’s policy, rather than a policy that suits the individual pupil. That cannot be right. I would like to know what happens to those excluded pupils. Some return to school and that is good. Some are withdrawn from the register entirely and may be home educated, where they receive pretty scant attention from the state. Some will be educated excellently at home, but I suspect some will receive little education at home. Some will be looked after by social services. Sadly, some will end up in the criminal justice system. That cannot be right.

Finally, in the last minute available to me, I would like to talk about further education. The principal of Cirencester College, the only college to trial T-levels in Gloucestershire at the moment, contacted me the other day to say that rather than the £4,800 per pupil it would get in the national funding formula, he is receiving between £3,600 and £4,000 per pupil. That amount has been constant for five years, despite increased costs. He says he has had to reduce subjects, teachers and mental health services, and that the funding is half of what a university student receives. He says his funding for doing the same job should, in all fairness, be the same as if his pupils were receiving A-level education in sixth form. He has higher costs in a rural area and says rurality should be one of the factors in the formula. That would help schools in rural areas like his.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education) 3:32 pm, 26th February 2019

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I would like to put on the record my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee, Meg Hillier, who leads the Public Accounts Committee so well, and the National Audit Office. It is fair to say that I rely heavily on the reports the NAO produces and I think it does a wonderful job. I would also like to give a shout out to Botley Primary School—I am a governor—because it got the call from Ofsted yesterday and is in the thick of it. Given that the first thing I am going to talk about is Ofsted, it would be fair to wish the school good luck today. I know they will do us all very proud.

As governors, we focus heavily on school funding. In my local area, a school recently wrote to parents to ask for pencils and pens because it cannot afford them. Another school—I will not mention which one—is consulting, quietly and behind the scenes, on going down to a four-day week, because it cannot afford to keep its teachers at full-time level; if it did, it would have to start going into severe deficits. In the context of the estimates, what we want to know is this: if there are funding pressures, are they affecting outcomes? In the end, that is what it is about. Are they affecting outcomes? Are they driving value for money or not? What are the outcomes of the policy decisions themselves? Today is not about party political speeches, but looking at the evidence in front of us.

The Public Accounts Committee has been looking at a whole host of issues, including school accountability and governance. When, with the Department for Education, governors and parents, we have explored where the buck stops on school accountability, the picture is, unfortunately, quite muddled. No one can tell us empirically where the buck is meant to stop. The Department for Education says that it is up to the multi-academy trusts or local authorities, who say that it is down to the governors, who rely very heavily on Ofsted to be able to say whether or not these funding pressures are leading to lower or higher outcomes. In fact, I think Amanda Spielman slightly overstepped her initial remit—but quite rightly—in saying that there are definitely outcome failures in the FE sector as a result of the financial pressures that many Members have mentioned today. She said that we do not empirically know whether that is happening in schools or not, but our argument is that if we had the proper data, we could probably get a better idea of what is going on.

This is at a time when Ofsted’s own budget is under pressure. Its remit has expanded significantly since 2000, with successive Governments of all colours having asked it to do more and more. As well as schools, its remit now covers other sectors including children’s social care, early years and childcare, further education and skills providers. Meanwhile, its budget has had a decrease—a cut—of 40%. I will go on to talk about more things that I wish Ofsted would do, but the better question may be: what is our mechanism for school improvement and accountability? Is Ofsted the right provider to be able to do this? I know that the Department is consulting on the new Ofsted inspection framework, which we absolutely welcome, but as part of that, we need to carefully consider whether introducing even more into Ofsted’s budget is the right thing to do or whether it is time to have another body altogether.

Passing the buck is more than just a financial matter and more than just about data and numbers; it is also a matter for the community and its parents. One of the more striking sessions in the Public Accounts Committee was when we had campaigners from Whitehaven Academy, whose community shouted from the rooftops about the financial mismanagement and irregularities that were happening in that school. One of the questions that we asked was, “What does it take to get these things looked at?” It took two MPs of different parties, one of whom was forcibly removed from the premises when they visited the school. There was a “Panorama” investigation and we still do not fully know the outcome of what has happened in Whitehaven. This continues to drag on and my Twitter feed is full of parents who are shouting yet again from the rooftops, “Where does the buck stop?”

Meanwhile, we have the Durand Academy, whose school was transferred to the Dunraven Educational Trust. The first canaries in this case were back in 2014. The Public Accounts Committee had a hearing on this issue in January 2015 and in it identified a

“lack of clarity about who ultimately owned assets”,

governance arrangements that were “overly complex and opaque”, a

“lack of effective timely intervention by the”

Department for Education and the FSA, and that the

“lack of an appropriate fit and proper persons test”,

had allowed directors to run the trust who developed “inappropriate business interests”. How on earth did it take until August 2018 for the funding to finally be cut? It is extraordinary.

Our argument is that this is partly because we now have a muddled twin-track system of schooling, where there are local authority-maintained schools of the older style with this new academies system. It has really been only this year—the first time was last year, and now this year—that we have seen the accounts, so that we can properly assess how this system is working alongside the other. We know, for example, that it takes a certain amount of money to convert schools into academies. In fact, in 2017-18 the Department for Education spent £59 million on conversion and re-brokering, but what about the extra costs to local authorities in doing that? What about the hollowing out of local authorities’ ability to support maintained schools? That was an area that the Public Accounts Committee was concerned about. It is an example of cost-shunting by removing an aspect of the system in one part of schools. As far as kids are concerned, they do not care whether they are in academies, free schools or maintained schools.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

In my constituency, schools are now almost completely responsible for funding support services. Currently, local schools are covering a shortfall of £2.3 million for higher needs schools. Does my hon. Friend agree that this represents a total failure of the Government to invest in the future of our children?

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Indeed, we have heard about the higher needs block; that is yet another area where there is cost-shunting.

On the twin-track system, what we need to do is look beyond: is one system better than the other? Actually, we have a lot to learn from the sorts of innovations that we are seeing in schools, but I am not convinced from the evidence we have seen in the Public Accounts Committee that we have a handle on the data. In our recommendations to the Department we have asked it to look at, for example, different types of multi-academy trusts—is there a difference between those that are locally based and those that are spread out or between the rural and the urban? Is there a north-south divide when it comes to academy trusts? What can we learn from the data? At the moment, when the accounts are produced, we do not have that data.

I very much echo what Robert Halfon was saying earlier. I firmly believe that this is not just a question of more money for schools. More money is welcome to get them working as they hope to now, but the issue is also about driving efficiency and spreading best practice. Without the data, how will we know what is working best?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I gently remind colleagues that if they are going to intervene, it is important that they should have been in the Chamber for the whole speech and a little bit of the debate as well.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire 3:41 pm, 26th February 2019

Some years before I came to this place, I chaired something called the Grant Maintained Schools Advisory Committee. For many years, we fought for a national funding formula. We failed because the civil servants kept saying that there would always be winners and losers—well, there are winners and losers now.

When the Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend Nick Gibb, came up with a proposed national funding formula a few years ago, I was really excited because I thought that we were going to crack the nut. When he came up with the proposal, most of my schools were going to be winners; now, they are all—or nearly all—losers. We are not doing well in my area. I am really disappointed that the national funding formula really has not benefited my area at all. There are two local authorities: a unitary one in Derby city, and Derbyshire County Council. There is very little difference between the two.

Schools are already benefiting from more money: many schools that have been historically underfunded will attract up to 6% more per pupil compared with 2017-18. The Minister for School Standards said on 24 July last year:

“The formula allocates every local authority more money for every pupil, in every school, in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, compared to their 2017-18 baselines.”—[Official Report, 24 July 2018; Vol. 645, c. 67WS.]

As my right hon. Friend stated, more money than ever before is going to our schools. School funding is at a record high. The core schools budget has increased to £42.4 billion this academic year and is set to rise to £43.5 billion in 2019-20, and that follows the additional £1.3 billion of funding over and above what was promised in the last spending review.

That all sounds really good, and it is good news for Mid Derbyshire in terms of the school block allocation, which has seen a 2.9% increase since 2013. But that is against a backdrop of an average 4.6% increase in the east midlands region; across the UK, there has been a 4.8% increase. Although, the increase is positive, it is disappointing that the increase in Mid Derbyshire is not as significant as in the region as a whole and in England. The lowest allocation for a primary school in my area is £3,300 per pupil; the highest is £5,351. The schools are not markedly different. They do not have a particularly different intake, do not attract a huge pupil premium or need huge special needs provision. I cannot understand why there is such a disparity. The disparity in secondary education is not so marked: the lowest allocation is £4,629 and the highest £4,801.

Since 2013, 22 out of 29 of my primary schools have seen a decrease in funding. Little Eaton Primary School, which is near where I live, has lost £37 per pupil. Morley Primary School has lost £324. Ashbrook Infant and Nursery School has lost £162. Ashbrook Junior School has lost £14. Duffield Meadows Primary School has lost £25. Belper Long Row Primary School has lost £149. Pottery Primary School has lost £7, which is not so bad. Milford Community Primary School has lost £925. Herbert Strutt Primary School has lost £180. Breadsall Church of England VC Primary School has lost £245. St Andrew’s Church of England Primary in Stanley has lost £477. St Elizabeth’s Catholic Primary School has lost £16. William Gilbert Endowed Church of England Primary School has lost £45. Redhill Primary School has lost £105. Portway Infant School has lost £70, and the junior school has lost £146. Asterdale Primary School has lost £648. Springfield Primary School has lost £531. St Werburgh’s Church of England VA Primary School has lost £179. Lawn Primary School has lost £3, which is also not too bad. Borrow Wood Primary School has lost £185. The only secondary school to lose funding is Allestree Woodlands School, which, although it is not in a very different catchment area from the other three secondary schools, has lost £87 per pupil. The others have gained by £50-plus.

Little Eaton Primary School—which, as I have said, is near where I live—is receiving £3,542 per pupil, while in 2013 it was receiving £3,579 and in 2015 the figure rose to £3,730, its highest point, but it has still lost money. I do not understand why there are such disparities in funding, given the national funding formula, given that these are very similar schools with very similar catchment areas and very similar results, with no huge number of pupils with special needs—there are some, but it is a fairly average number—and without a huge amount of deprivation.

I urge the Secretary of State and his Ministers to think again. I do not like being negative, because the Government have done some amazing things for education and I applaud them for everything that they have done, but in this instance, in my constituency, I think that they have gone wrong.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. There are still a number of Members who wish to speak, so after the next speaker I will reduce the limit to six minutes.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar 3:47 pm, 26th February 2019

I congratulate Mrs Latham on a very evidence-based, thought-provoking and powerful speech. The tone of today’s debate has, in fact, been sombre and evidence-based. There is a strong message for Ministers: this is the reality of cuts. We can bandy numbers and arguments across the Dispatch Box all we like, but this is the reality that schools are facing. There are facts, there are figures and there are numbers, and they represent the reality of people’s lives and the reality of the cuts in our constituencies.

The debate is timely for me, because a number of parents have come to my surgeries and expressed great concern about school cuts, and a large number of head teachers and governors have come to me in groups to tell me about the distress that they feel because they cannot continue to deliver the standard of education that they have been used to delivering, and that our children need.

I commend the primary schools in Redcar and Cleveland, which are among the best in the country. I particularly congratulate St Bede’s Catholic Primary School in Marske—and all the parents, staff and children on being named by The Times as the best state primary school in the country. That is a phenomenal achievement, but all the schools in my area, particularly the primaries, are finding it increasingly difficult to deliver the standard that children need against a backdrop of cuts. According to the School Cuts website, Redcar and Cleveland’s budget will have been reduced by £4.3 million in real terms between 2015 and 2020. That is a per-pupil loss of £226.

I hear grumbling about the statistics from the Government Front Bench. Let me set out the reality of what this means to our schools. Teachers and heads in my constituency are going above and beyond to try to ensure that the children are not affected by the scale of the cuts. It epitomises the quality, care and passion of our staff that they are willing to do these things to try to make sure the cuts are absorbed and the children are not affected. In one school a member of staff has suggested that staff should be regraded for one day a week—graded down from their actual worth, value and achievement—to make savings in staffing costs. Two staff members who are eligible to apply to go through the pay threshold suggested they would not apply to do so because they did not want the school budget to increase.

Support staff have had their hours cut by an average of five hours per week. That might not sound like a huge cut, but these support staff have on average contracts of only 15 hours a week so they are losing a third of their week’s pay. Local churches have been donating money from their charities to help fund curriculum budgets—not little extras but curriculum budgets, an area in which schools have had to make large cuts.

Teachers tell us about the voluntary help they receive in the classroom—people giving up their time free of charge. Without that voluntary work they would not be able to deliver the best teaching practice and would therefore be failing our children. We are reliant on the voluntary sector; I do not think this is what David Cameron’s big society was supposed to be doing—replacing and enabling the fundamental education of our children in schools.

Governors have told me they are concerned that next year things will be even worse as they will have to find extra resources to fund additional pension payments and in all likelihood that will lead to reductions in teaching staff. I was also struck to the core as I was leaving one of the meetings when I was told that one of the headteachers in my area had to make a member of the cleaning staff redundant to meet the budget that year, but was very upset about it and realised that this just was not practical, safe and hygienic, and he is now paying that member of the cleaning staff from his own salary. That is a ridiculous situation for us to be in in this country, and it is clear that the cuts are to the bone now and schools cannot continue to provide the kind of service they want to offer.

I also want to briefly talk in the time allocated to me about SEND—special educational needs and disability—education as there has been a huge increase in demand for that in my local area and there is real and deep concern. Nationally, demand for services for children and young people with SEND has increased by 35% in just the last four years; that is a huge increase but there has not been the budget to cover it. We are seeing now the reality of that in our constituencies, affecting our children. A recent Local Government Association survey of local authorities found that councils fund support for nearly 320,000 children with complex needs and disabilities but are facing a funding gap of almost £500 million. That gap has been plugged by taking funding from elsewhere in schools, as we have heard, and by drawing down reserves.

The National Association of Head Teachers has published the results of a survey on SEND showing that only 2% of respondents said the top-up funding they received was sufficient to meet individual education, health and care plan statements, while 94% of respondents were finding it harder to resource the support required to meet the needs of pupils with SEND, and 73% said it was harder to resource support for pupils with SEND due to cuts to mainstream funding. This is the reality of what we are seeing: vulnerable children who need the most help and support to enable them to flourish and fulfil their potential are those most let down by these cuts. That is balancing the books on the backs of the children who need the most help and support to flourish.

I also want to briefly mention children’s services because, as my hon. Friend Meg Hillier mentioned, wider cuts are having a knock-on effect as well. Pressure is building right across education and children’s services. In Redcar and Cleveland our children’s services have a £4.2 million overspend. The number of looked-after children is almost double what it was five years ago, and that is alongside the cuts of £90 million that Redcar and Cleveland has seen to its budget, which means it now has a £4.2 million overspend.

Ofsted’s 2017-18 annual report commented on a sharp increase in recent years in demand for assessments to be carried out, as well as a growing number of refusals by local authorities to do so, and raised concerns about increasing numbers of children awaiting provision despite having a plan in place. In 2018, 2,000 children with a statement were awaiting provision, almost three times more than in 2010.

The tone of today’s debate has been positive, constructive and thoughtful. We all want the same end; we all want our children to have the best start in life, to flourish and to have everything they need from their years in school, but the reality is this cannot happen without funding and the reality is that the funding formulas we have are not working. The support is not there; our schools are being cut to the bone and I urge the Government to do more to make sure every child can fulfil their potential.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 3:54 pm, 26th February 2019

I congratulate the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier, on bringing forward this report. It is good that we have recently had more debating time on things to do with children in schools. We have another debate on schools funding on Monday, and we recently spoke about maintained nursery education and the false economy of not continuing to fund it sustainably. Yesterday, we had the announcement on sex and relationship education. All these things add to the pressures and costs on schools, and I am afraid that the budgets for schools just do not go up commensurately to make them possible. We have had an intelligent debate so far. It has concentrated almost exclusively on schools, but it is a little-known fact that children’s social care is an important part of the Department for Education, which comes within the scope of today’s debate, so I want to raise a few issues on this.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

One of the challenges is that, while this is a policy responsibility for the Department for Education, the funding goes through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and directly to local authorities. This is one of the instances in which the Government need to work together and not succumb to cost-shunting, where cuts in one area can have an impact on children’s achievement elsewhere.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and it is of course the local authorities that get the blame for not delivering the goods, even though we have not been giving them the money to do so in certain cases. There are also huge differentials in the way in which those local authorities use their money.

On children’s social care, I would like to hear more about sufficiency funding, which the Chair of the Education Committee, my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, mentioned, and also about a 10-year plan. Children’s most important years are the ones before they go to school—those years will shape their careers in school and beyond more than anything else—so, for goodness’ sake, if we cannot have a 10-year plan for the social care needs of our children as they grow up, what can we have one for?

I am not going to have time to talk about schools today—I shall have to reserve those comments for the debate on Monday—but I just want to make the point that all the ongoing cost pressures on schools are going to be compounded by the recent directive from the Department for Education that was sent to schools on 6 February recommending a 2% pay rise for teachers this year. That is fine, but the Department’s report stated that

“a pay increase for teachers of 2%, in line with forecast inflation, is affordable within the overall funding available to schools for 2019 to 2020, without placing further pressure on school budgets.”

I am afraid that that is just not the case. School budgets are under huge pressure, certainly in my constituency and elsewhere in West Sussex, where we have been at the bottom of the pile for funding for many years. The cumulative effect of that underfunding means that there is no fat left to cut. All the savings have been made, so even a 2% increase in teachers’ pay, if it is to be paid for by the schools, will have enormous impacts on those school budgets’ ability to provide all the other services, which I will go into in detail in the debate on Monday.

On children’s services, a report commissioned by Action for Children, the National Children’s Bureau, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Children’s Society and Barnardo’s has come out today, and it confirms what we all know about the huge shortfall in funding for children’s social care. That shortfall was also identified in the work that the all-party parliamentary group on children did in the report “Storing Up Trouble” that we produced last year. It is estimated that there will be a £3 billion funding gap by 2025. One of the alarming observations in today’s report is that spending on early intervention services for children and young people fell from £3.7 billion to £1.9 billion between 2010-11 and 2017-18. That is a 49% decrease in spending on early intervention. At the same time, local authority spending on late intervention services for children and young people has risen from £5.9 billion to £6.7 billion—a 12% increase.

This is not rocket science. If we do not spend early to prevent the problems from happening to these children, we will pay for it later. We will pay for it socially—most importantly—and also financially. It is such a false economy not to do more in those early years around perinatal mental health, around child neglect and around making children ready for school, for growing up and for society generally. Some of the biggest falls in spending have been in some of the most deprived authorities in the country, where the impact can be greater because the other support services, including family support services, are not available to help those children.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

I have been in this House for eight and a half years. When I retired as deputy leader of Gateshead Council, it had an annual revenue account of £310 million, but now, eight and a half years later, it is down to £200 million despite the huge growth needs built into the system in Gateshead.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

Well, I have been here for 22 years, and I have also seen a thing or two.

When I was a Minister at the Department for Education, we came up with the early intervention budget because it was the right thing to do on so many fronts. It alarms me that early intervention is seen as a luxury add-on rather than an essential part of everything that we should be doing for our children, and we should be planning for it over the long term. That is why, for all the reasons I have set out, I am pleased to see—I know that the Minister for Children supports this work—the inter-ministerial working party led by the Leader of the House trying to co-ordinate early-years activities across Government.

Turning to schools, the big figures that we talk about in these reports—the big percentage increases—are meaningless until we translate them into their impact on the frontline. I have spent the past couple of years getting all the heads from all the schools in my constituency and all the chairs of governors together to ask them about the impact of funding challenges on their schools. I asked not what might happen, but what is happening now. I wrote a seven-page letter to the Secretary of State for Education with the findings from all those schools, which included impacts as a result of not replacing staff or replacing them with less expensive and therefore less qualified staff, of having to remove things from the curriculum, and of doing away with out-of-school visits. Alarmingly, counselling services have also been reduced—almost to zero in some cases—at a time when we all know the effect of mental health stresses on the younger generation. The Government have recognised that, and work is ongoing, but if people are not on hand in schools to help with the stresses and strains that lead to mental health problems, that will just store up expensive problems, both financially and socially, for children in those schools.

We have been generous and have planned for the long term in the national health service, and it is essential not to neglect early long-term planning in a preventive way for our babies, toddlers, children and young people. It is a complete false economy not to be doing that. While I appreciate the additional money that the Government have been putting in, I am afraid that the estimates that we are looking at today, when they are factored down to the impact that they will have in authorities such as mine in West Sussex, which has had severe underfunding for so many years, will have a detrimental effect on the life chances of our children. Frankly, we have to do better, or we will be picking up a much more expensive and complicated bill further down the line.

Photo of Thelma Walker Thelma Walker Labour, Colne Valley 4:03 pm, 26th February 2019

I am proud to have supported the request for today’s debate that was co-ordinated by my hon. Friend Meg Hillier, Robert Halfon and Layla Moran.

A report published last week by the Resolution Foundation predicted that the proportion of children in relative poverty could hit 37% by 2023. Low pay and cuts to welfare have hit and will continue to hit disadvantaged families the hardest, and I know all about that as a former headteacher of a school with a Sure Start centre on site. Not only does poverty affect a child’s experiences, but it is significant in determining their life chances. In education, the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged children and their peers is visible by the age of five, and it continues on throughout their childhood, potentially leading to poorer qualifications and difficulties in employment later in life.

As stated in the Education Committee’s report on life chances, the Government’s strategy on early years lacks direction. If the number of children in poverty is rising, the early-years workforce needs to be equipped with the support and resources to be the first line of defence in improving children’s life chances and to work on early intervention, as mentioned by Tim Loughton. What is the Department doing to anticipate those challenges, rather than responding in the midst of a crisis when it is much harder and more costly to fix? In addition, funding pressures on local authorities and services have led to reduced support for children and families. Too often, schools take on the burden of providing that support.

As a former teacher and headteacher, I understand their drive to do whatever they can to help their pupils, but I also see the pressure that schools and teachers are already under from heavy workloads and funding cuts. Some 95% of schools in my Colne Valley constituency are facing a shortfall compared with funding levels in 2015-16, and 67% of schools in my constituency have lost over £150 per pupil—seven are losing over £400 per pupil. Just think what could be done for each individual child with that money.

My constituency has had a cumulative shortfall of over £5.5 million since 2015, while pupil numbers have risen by more than 800. At my last meeting with Colne Valley headteachers, they told me that the situation has led to cuts in staffing, resources and provision overall. They also talked about the difficulties in SEND provision due to a lack of child and adolescent mental health services and a lack of funding for the delivery of education, health and care plans.

Those headteachers said that their teachers are suffering from stress due to not being able to provide children with the support that their experience and professional awareness tell them is necessary. Let us listen to the professionals. Mounting workloads, rising class sizes and an ever-growing list of responsibilities have pushed classroom teachers to work a 60-hour week. All of that hard work is rewarded by stagnating wages.

It is therefore no surprise that teachers young and old, the recently qualified and those with years of experience, are leaving the profession. The number of teachers leaving exceeded the number joining in 2017, which shows just how serious this crisis is. I welcome the Government’s intentions in their recruitment and retention strategy, but committing £130 million for the delivery of the early career framework in 2021, alongside other smaller measures, is not enough to tackle the root causes that are draining morale in the profession.

If the starting pay for teachers remains low compared with other graduate professions, dedicated and passionate potential trainees may choose other careers. If qualified teachers do not have the resources to fully deliver lesson plans, or to offer extra support to those who need it, they are still going to experience frustration. If responsibilities for safeguarding and mental health, and so on, continue to be piled on to teachers, their workloads will not go down. What consideration are the Government giving to these wider, more fundamental issues in the education system that, if addressed, could deliver long-term benefits for both recruitment and retention?

All of us in this House want the best for the children in our schools. We want them to experience the joy of learning, to develop the skills to succeed in life as well as employment and, ultimately, to live a fulfilled and productive life. But if the Department does not prepare for rising levels of need or for rising numbers, if it does not address the root causes of stress and pressure for teachers, and if it does not give schools the tools to support both learners and educators, we will not be able to achieve those goals.

Unless education is fully funded, I can see children’s rights to a free education and to different forms of education being eroded, and I urge the Department to reflect on today’s debate and to use it as an opportunity to take radical action.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester 4:08 pm, 26th February 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Thelma Walker, who speaks with a huge amount of authority on this issue. I congratulate Meg Hillier on securing this debate, and it was a pleasure to support her application.

I should declare an interest, albeit not a pecuniary interest. My wife is a primary schoolteacher, and as comfy as the sofa is, I prefer the bed. I also have a seven-year-old in a local primary school and a young daughter who will start primary school next year, so I suppose that I have a vested interest.

Like many of my constituents, as a parent I completely understand the importance of education. When I speak to constituents, education is often their second largest priority—second only to our NHS. As a Conservative, I completely support equality of opportunity, which stems from education. Education is at the very heart of it. To that end, I am delighted that 1.9 million more children than in 2010 are being taught in good and outstanding schools—this has increased from 66% to 84%.

This is a debate in anticipation of the Government’s spending review, and although it is not only about money, money is inevitably an important factor. Let me start with the bits that I very much support and welcome. I welcome the introduction of the national funding formula, which is supported by a not insignificant £1.3 billion across 2018-19 and 2019-20. I welcome the fact that the Government protected the schools budget up to 2016, when other Departments faced cuts in the early coalition years. I welcome the fact that the core school funding budget will rise from £41 billion in 2017-18 to £42 billion this year and £43.5 billion in 2019-20.

One of the most enjoyable parts of being an MP is attending assemblies, which I do regularly on Friday mornings, and listening to not only teachers and headteachers but parents, governors and, indeed, pupils, to hear what they think and how they talk about our role here and how it impacts on them. I suppose this is a good juncture to pay tribute to all the teachers and the amazing schools we have in Colchester. Having met those teachers, headteachers, governors and parents, I find that we are asking our schools to do more than ever before and that is putting unbelievable pressure on teachers—I see that at home, but I also understand it from having spoken to teachers from across the schools in the constituency.

Schools are facing unprecedented cost pressures, and I wish to touch on a few of them because the context of the pressures schools are under is important when we talk about additional funding in education budgets. These cost pressures include providing support and intervention for children with specific learning difficulties; mental health issues; employer pension contributions; the national living wage; academies and multi-academy trusts potentially having less bargaining power than local authorities used to in terms of economies of scale; the costs that came with the general data protection rule; the rising cost of utilities; the apprenticeship levy; the growing cost of appeals; the costs of changing to multi-academy trusts; staff development; staff recruitment; and of course the teachers’ pay award. I have just touched on a few of the many rising cost pressures on schools.

In the short time available, I wish to touch on further education, which I genuinely believe is verging on crisis. For 16 and 17-year-olds, funding has been frozen at £4,000 per student since 2013, and for 18-year-olds, it has been frozen at £3,300 since 2014. As I just mentioned, colleges and sixth forms are not immune to all those different cost rises and more, and the Government have imposed a range of new requirements. Costs have risen sharply and the budget has not risen to reflect that. That is not good for students; it is damaging our international competitiveness; and it harms social mobility.

The Secretary of State is no longer in his place, but the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills is. They will know, because I have lobbied them both on this issue on numerous occasions, that I believe that schools have already maximised the efficiency savings that were available to them. A toolkit was helpfully provided by the Department, and schools have used it and gone even further. I genuinely believe that there is no more fat left to trim, and I do not want our headteachers focusing on how they can further squeeze their budgets; I want them focusing on educational attainment and improving outcomes for students in all our schools.

So I do have some asks. I know the Minister has heard them before, but I do not apologise for repeating them. We do need an increase in the revenue budget and in the high-needs budget. The rate for 16 to 19-year-old pupils must increase. The national funding formula needs to be rolled out and implemented in full as soon as possible. Funding settlements should be for a minimum of three years. We cannot expect schools to produce three-year budgets but not give them that certainty and consistency in their funding. We have to increase the capital budget for our schools.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds

Does my hon. Friend think it odd that the NHS has a budget for 10 years, local government has a budget for three years and yet schools have a budget for only one year?

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He reads my mind, because I was just about to say that we need a long-term plan for education and schools, in the same way that we have one for our NHS. This is absolutely the right thing to do, because teachers and headteachers need that certainty and consistency. We also need to ensure that mental and physical health services are adequately resourced.

I genuinely believe that we are on the precipice. The vast majority of any school budget—anywhere between 80% and 90%—is spent on people. They are the asset in our education system. If there is no more fat to trim, the only place left to go is to reduce staff, and that will have a detrimental impact on pupils’ attainment and, indeed, outcomes across the board. There are already schools in Colchester that are letting support staff go and not filling vacancies. My fear is that if that continues, we will start to see a decline in results.

I wholeheartedly believe that education is at the heart of equality of opportunity. I believe in social mobility, and education is its key enabler. Education is an investment in our people. I will continue to lobby for additional funding for education and ask that the education budget is increased in all the areas I have mentioned ahead of the next spending review.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South 4:15 pm, 26th February 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Will Quince.

The West of England combined authority, which includes my Bristol South constituency, is one of the areas currently producing a local industrial strategy in a bid to help to boost productivity. Early analysis of the evidence base for the strategy has shown gaps in educational and training provision compared with future business needs and that the job market does not work well for all residents, particularly those with low or no formal qualifications. The attainment gap is larger in the west of England than nationally, with 16 to 17-year-olds more likely not to be in education, employment or training, and there is significant inequality across the geographical area. These inequalities in education need to be addressed to improve future productivity. The local industrial strategy will be successful only if it is inclusive and supports opportunities, but how will that be achieved? I will confine my remarks to the policy areas that I think are critical to reducing inequality and improving social mobility: early years, further education and apprenticeships.

Tim Loughton gave a good summary of the need to support early years education. The evidence base is strongly in favour of high-quality education between birth and the age of five, as has been well established for a number of years. I am a former governor of one of Bristol’s many nursery school and children’s centre settings that has education, not social work or childcare, as its core purpose. As a former member of the Public Accounts Committee, I remember when we looked into the entitlement to free early years education. We saw strong evidence for the sector but recognised that it was not stable and that local authorities needed more support. Local authorities and, indeed, the Department for Education had no real mechanism for identifying what was happening in the sector or whether it was being managed well.

The Education Committee and the Treasury Committee are looking into the provision of the additional childcare element, but we need somehow to get the Government to look across Departments and join up the policy objectives and the money so that we can be clear about what is wanted from the sector. I recently met some of my local headteachers, some of whom have been teaching for 30 years, and they have never seen so much of their workload given over to picking up the crises families are going through. The question for the Department is what is its early years policy objective and how is it going to get grips with it and with the local government cuts that are having such an effect, particularly on the maintained sector.

Several colleagues have spoken about further education, which is absolutely the other key driver of social mobility. It offers everyone a second chance and the opportunity of lifelong learning that the economy and individuals need. The funding cuts to post-16 education have been really quite severe, particularly since 2010. FE funding has been the hardest hit since that peak, resulting in closures, job losses and, critically, cuts to the student numbers that are needed so much. The post-16 transition time is vital. We really need to get to the point where we consider that point as important as the transition into school and the transition from primary into secondary education. The cuts to further education are a barrier to that happening, so I absolutely support the call to increase the funding rates for 16 to 18-year-olds.

I support the letter of the chief inspector of schools to the Public Accounts Committee in which she, too, supported the increase in the base and a welcome look at the accountability across the different bodies that are involved in further education to try to improve their performance, to improve what they are trying to do and to share information.

The Public Accounts Committee also looked at the sustainability of the sector. The area reviews are coming to an end, and I do hope that the Committee will look again at what is happening in this sector. We have seen some good leadership in this sector with regard to financial sustainability, but, again, I ask the question: what does the Department want to achieve for its money in further education? I worry about whether the sector has been made financially sustainable and what on earth are we left with in terms of the teaching in some of those settings to help on that productivity and skills gap, which is so crucial.

When Robert Halfon was a Minister, he came to Bristol South, looking at the importance of a good further education provider in a constituency such as mine, which has many similarities to Harlow in terms of supporting young people into those better opportunities.

I support part of what the Government are trying to do with apprenticeships, because of the post-16 situation in my constituency. Since becoming an MP, I have championed apprenticeships as a route, or a ladder, to greater opportunities. I am about to hold my third apprenticeships and jobs fair on Thursday. This year, I have managed to work with the council and the Department for Work and Pensions to cohere the work that is being done in my constituency around the people of Bristol South. I hope that the fair is again a great success. Again, we are not seeing the apprenticeship policy really doing what it needs to do to improve life chances.

In conclusion, we have a good overview on this matter. Again, I thank the National Audit Office for its briefing—I went to one this morning. We know what the Department is spending its money on, but we are not really clear about its objectives and about how it is achieving better outcomes for young people. We are also clear that we have a skills gap, a productivity problem and a population who are desperate to fill those jobs, which can give them better life chances. The Department’s vision is to prioritise support particularly for disadvantaged people in disadvantaged areas, but, I am afraid, that it is not working in my constituency. I am keen to work with the Government to make sure that it improves.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 4:21 pm, 26th February 2019

I welcome today’s debate. Already, we have heard a whole range of broad themes around education, including, importantly, how we can support and improve the life chances of our young people. It is pretty obvious that the Department has a wide range of responsibilities to secure the delivery of high quality education that meets the needs of our young people and our country. It is right that, over the years, we have seen a focus on rigour in the system and, importantly, that we have ensured that our children and young people are supported and that they get the right kind of care, skill and support to enhance their opportunities and their life chances.

I welcome the fact that, since 2010, there are now 1.9 million more pupils being taught in schools that are rated “good” and “outstanding” by Ofsted. That represents about 86% of all pupils. The fact is, however, no Government, and no Government policy on education, can ever stand still. As we have already heard from friends and colleagues—hon. and right hon. Members—as part of the comprehensive spending review it is important that the Government consider how schools, education providers and local authorities are funded for the services that they provide.

We have also heard about care today—care for young people. Care is provided not just by our schools, but through local authorities. It is a fact that many of our local authorities are strapped for cash and challenged with many other pressures. Education stands at the foundations of our country, and it is, of course, where our next generation comes from in terms not just of our labour market, but of our citizens. It is our duty to equip them with the right kind of skills and to ensure that they have every opportunity when it comes to making a success of their future.

Like many Members, I have many excellent examples in my constituency of outstanding leaders, teachers, education providers, schools and academies. All of them are pioneering and innovating. In the Witham constituency, we have the remarkable Connected Learning Multi-Academy Trust. It is headed up by a remarkable former head teacher called Mrs Jane Bass. The success of that trust is quite phenomenal in the way in which it has turned around failing schools that were within the local authority’s remit. It has done that through demonstrating leadership and providing resource, sometimes with disagreements with the local authority on funding. We have all had to fight alongside our headteachers and our schools to really make sure that they can bring in the resources. Many hon. Members have highlighted what academy conversion does to enhance schools’ financial resources too. School improvement plans also play an important role in turning around many schools that are not performing. That, again, is where resources are needed.

I want to touch on a couple of issues with academies and academy trusts. My right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards and, I think, everybody in the Department is fully aware of the Academies Enterprise Trust and the historical issues that have been associated with it. I urge Ministers never to take their eye off the ball with regard to governance. The governing structures of some these rather big multi-academy trusts—in the case of the AET, one of the fastest growing trusts in the country—did not have the necessary oversight and accountability, and that then led to problems with school exclusions and other wider issues. That is only one of the trusts covering not just my constituency but neighbouring areas too.

Many parts of our communities and constituencies are experiencing considerable population growth. We are now looking at new developments in Witham town and in areas such as Stanway that come under the Colchester borough where we are seeing new investment in schools, which is the right thing to do.

Only a week ago, we were speaking in Westminster Hall about another issue that has been raised today—financial support for children with special education needs. I do not want to go over many of the points that have been covered already. The governance reforms are welcome, as is the new 2015 SEND code of practice, which is vital. At the same time, however, the introduction of the education, health and care plans is leading to a much greater increase in demand, complexity in particular cases, and, unsurprisingly, pressures on local government and authority funding. Essex County Council has experienced exactly this. Yes, there has been more resource from the Government centrally, and in Essex that equates to over £3 million a year for the county council, but we still have pressures. For example, issues around the transfer of the block grant for schools from the county council are causing tensions locally.

There are many other issues around skills, apprenticeships and support for young people, but for the purposes of this debate we should say that we pride ourselves, as a country and a nation, on our education system. It is absolutely right that we all collectively work together to do more to provide the aspiration, hope and opportunity that will support the life chances of young people in our country.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. In order to be able to get everybody in, I am going to have to cut the time limit to five minutes.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 4:27 pm, 26th February 2019

I thank Meg Hillier for bringing forward this incredibly important debate. I want to emphasise and add my voice to the concerns that many Members on both sides of the House have raised about the financial pressures facing so many of our schools.

The reason I wanted to take part in this debate is that schools in my constituency are literally at desperation point—and we know why. Mainstream schools have seen their general budgets savaged by 8% real-terms cuts since 2010. So when Ministers say that they are spending more, we know that that is not true, per pupil in real terms. In fact, it is a thinly veiled attempt to gloss over very real, serious and damaging cuts. That is demonstrated by the stark results of a recent survey of approximately 2,000 headteachers. One of the questions put to them was, “Do you trust what the Department for Education says about overall school budgets and the financial situation of your school?” Shockingly, fewer than 1% gave the answer, “I trust what the DFE says about school budgets.” Ministers cannot ignore that, or the other shocking results such as 80% reporting that teachers in their schools were contributing their own money to buy resources for their pupils to use. In addition, 86% said that recruitment and retention of teachers is getting harder, and 87% disagreed with the statement, “Any additional revenue or cash received in the financial year 2018-19 has been greater than additional costs in the same period.”

All that evidence and those abstract figures are borne out by the reality in our schools up and down the country. Headteachers in Brighton are writing to me in desperate terms. They face sleepless nights because of the impact of the funding crisis on their ability to support pupils, particularly those with complex needs. Schools have to manage delayed education, health and care plans, as well as crippling pressures on local authority budgets. The LGA has identified a potential £1.6 billion deficit for special needs education, and yet the Government have responded with an inadequate £350 million. Head- teachers say that that is too little too late and does not even cover local authority high needs shortfalls, which simply exacerbate the problems with mainstream SEND.

For example, teachers in my constituency say that the very successful Every Child a Reader scheme for SEND children can no longer be funded because their schools simply do not have the money. I have had so many letters saying that schools are having to drop crucial counsellor services and so on. There is real concern. I am grateful that the Secretary of State has said that he will meet a delegation from Brighton to discuss this issue, but it goes right across the country.

In the short time I have, I want to say a few words about sixth-form funding. There are so many areas of concern in education funding, but the pressures on post-16 funding are huge. I have two fantastic sixth-form colleges in my constituency—Brighton Hove and Sussex Sixth-form College, or BHASVIC, and Varndean—and an amazing FE college, the MET. They all feel massively under pressure because they do not have enough funding. Those concerns are, again, backed up by the statistics. London Economics found that in real terms, sixth-form colleges received £1,380 less per student in 2016-17 than in 2010-11. That is a 22% decline in funding. The IFS was also clear, saying that funding per student aged 16 to 18 has seen the “biggest squeeze” at all stages of education for young people in recent years.

At the same time, costs have risen. Students’ needs have become more complex, and the Government are asking more of schools and colleges. The purchasing power of sixth-form funding has been greatly diminished as a result. A recent funding impact survey by the Sixth Form Colleges Association makes shocking reading. It found that 50% of schools and colleges have dropped courses in modern foreign languages as a result of funding pressures; 34% have dropped STEM courses; a huge 67% have reduced student support services or extracurricular activities, with significant cuts to mental health support, employability skills and careers advice; and 77% are teaching students in larger class sizes.

The only way to address the funding crisis in 16-to-18 education is to raise the rate paid per student. Sixth-forms can respond to the Treasury’s “something for something” mantra. An increase to the funding rate of at least £760 per student would have specific outcomes. It is the amount needed to provide student support services at the required level, to protect subjects at risk of being dropped, such as modern foreign languages, and to increase vital extracurricular activities such as work experience and university visits. I will conclude by echoing what others have said: these cuts are hugely counter- productive because they mount up and will mean bigger cuts in the future.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester 4:33 pm, 26th February 2019

It is a great pleasure to be the tail-end Charlie in this high-quality debate and to follow Caroline Lucas.

I should declare an interest: I come from a family of teachers. In fact, my elder son is now a teacher too. What comes with that is a commitment to not only visiting schools but engaging with them, as well as with our further education college—the outstanding Gloucestershire College—and the University of Gloucestershire. I also ought to refer to the newest university in the country, Hartpury University, in the constituency of my neighbour, my right hon. Friend Mr Harper. They all have masses to offer lots of people with skills and interests in various sectors.

This debate focuses on estimates and therefore inevitably on money. However, it is encouraging that the debate has been about not only what an Opposition spokesman in an earlier debate called “growing the cake” but improving the cake. How do we get the outcomes that are obviously affected by the input of money but where the relationship is not absolute? What really makes the difference?

I ask myself that a lot because in my constituency we have outstanding primary schools in areas that would be considered economically deprived, such as Tredworth, Coney Hill, Robinswood and Finlay Community School, which is on the verge of outstanding. Coney Hill is in fact rated the fourth best primary school in the county of Gloucestershire, and the second best is Field Court, also in my constituency, which is in a slightly more affluent part of the city. We therefore know that it can be done, and schools that have succeeded, such as Coney Hill, have not done so because they get a great deal more money.

It seems to me that the challenge for us as MPs is how to know what does make a difference. How can we be sure about what a school needs and whether it is getting enough of it? How can each school—every one of which will claim, and they may be right, that they have cut to the bone in order to make sure that every penny is used effectively—know how good they are as against other schools? How can we compare them, and how can we see how good they are at managing the business of a school, as well as being an outstanding place of learning for all the pupils there?

In this sense, of course, the statistics do not always help to shed light. The IFS, an independent body, tells us that the funding for five to 16-year-olds will have gone up by 50% in real terms from 2010 to 2020. If I translate this into a local figure, Gloucestershire schools will be getting 3.1% more in 2019, but salaries have increased by 3.5% and there are the pension increases as well. I deduce from that that this is not an issue of cuts—that is a very easy word to use, particularly in opposition—but of costs growing faster than the increases that schools, further education colleges and universities are getting from the Government. That is the challenge for heads and others who are running schools.

In a debate in Westminster Hall at the end of January on education in Gloucestershire, the Minister for School Standards referred to a number of things that the Government are doing to try to help schools with the issues I have mentioned. They include the schools buying club, the schools commercial team, the DFE schools buying strategy, a pilot project in the south-west of England at which 39 schools in Gloucestershire are registered, a focus on supply teachers and agency workers costs, and a benchmarking website. All these things sound very encouraging, but I sense—the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills will be able to shed light on this—that not all of these are really up and running or are easy-to-access tools for us or the heads of the schools.

I turn now to further education funding, which is of course the worst part for funding in the education sector, despite all that has been done with the new national colleges, T-levels, the investment in apprenticeships and so on. The fundamental fact we have to deal with is that we are in the bottom quartile for OECD skills, at level 4 or 5, for the education of our apprentices and others. At level 4 or 5, we are really way below where we should be in terms of the numbers studying. The letter I wrote with my colleague Nic Dakin to the Chancellor focused on the fact that, of all the areas in education that need funding, we really are looking for more to boost productivity and to boost what our young people can give. As 165 Members signed that letter, I urge the Minister to consider it.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 4:38 pm, 26th February 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Richard Graham.

Many people have made incredibly important points about the cuts in so many different areas—FE, schools and children’s services—but I would like to focus my contribution on how the cuts are affecting children with special educational needs and disabilities. Among the written evidence given to our Education Committee inquiry on SEND, there is a really useful summary from the Devon SEND Improvement Board, which said:

“The level of funding for SEND provision remains insufficient to meet increasing demand and puts significant pressure on existing budgets. Local authority, NHS and High Needs Block budgets have not grown to reflect the increasing demand for EHCPs and specialist provision. Tension related to funding is directly affecting parental relationships with professionals and organisations. The increase in general costs is affecting schools’ ability to support increasing SEN needs for example increases in national insurance contributions and the rise in living wage, with no additional funding to cover these increases.”

I am not sure about everyone else in the House, but certainly the concern that stands out for me is the tension affecting parental relationships, which is something I am hearing about in my surgeries and in all the evidence given to the Education Committee. Parents relate having to fight the system in order to get the support their child needs. That point was made a number of times.

One of the more worrying pieces of evidence, submitted by Christine Lenehan, is that in some special schools 100% of the children attending are there only because their parents were able to fight through tribunal. She said that is actually a class issue, because it is white, middle-class parents who are able to go to a tribunal and know how to work the system and where to get support. What about all those children whose parents do not have the same cultural capital and do not know how to go out there and fight for them? They are not in these residential special schools, so where are they and what is happening to them?

Jean Gross mentioned the lack of interventions and support for children with SEND. She talked about the lack of speech and language therapies. I am sorry, but that is also a class issue. I know from parents in my constituency that those who can afford it will of course pay for speech and language provision for their children. They will pay for additional tutoring and support, but that is not universally available to all children. The SEND cuts are not only cruel and unfair, but exacerbating the situation that children are already facing. All this talk of social mobility and equality of opportunity is not played out in the schools system that has been created by this Government.

I have two asks in relation to SEND funding. First, the Government should stop the idea of notional funding of £6,000 for schools and instead make that actual funding. Secondly, they should look at reforming the whole of SEND funding, because so much is based on what local authorities get. We know that there is no correlation between the number of SEND children in an area and the amount of money it gets, because that is based on a historical formula rather than an actual formula for that year. Instead, I would like the Government to consider some kind of SEND pupil premium money, which would follow the child around the country. That way, even if the child moved between local authorities, their parents would still know that they were entitled to the same amount of money to meet their needs. At the moment it is a postcode lottery.

In my last effort to be helpful—I do like to be helpful to the Government—I have identified some departmental savings that the Government might be interested in. One is the 84 interest-free loans that have been given to multi-academy trusts, with no information on how much was given or when it was given. A recent freedom of information request on what the associated conditions were was refused We could also ask the Education and Skills Funding Agency to do an asbestos survey on buildings before schools actually move into them, which could save millions of pounds in decontamination costs.

We could also look into making savings by re-brokering and being a little more open and transparent about how much money has been handed out by regional schools commissioners to encourage academy chains to take on other ones. We could look at the pupil number adjustments, and at academy trusts getting extra money for schools with an estimated roll. How much money has been written off by that rather secret process? Could we have more transparency on that? Finally, could we look at helping schools to save the £200 million they collectively pay on entry fees for exams?

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education) 4:43 pm, 26th February 2019

I thank Meg Hillier for introducing this extremely interesting debate. I also send my best wishes to the school mentioned by Layla Moran. As a former teacher, I know the feeling of dread when the inspectors are coming—in Scotland we had Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education, rather than Ofsted—so I send my best wishes to her school, and indeed to any school undergoing inspection at the moment.

As we have heard, school budgets are being stretched to breaking point. Richard Graham talked about the costs pressures, which include pay rises for teachers, higher employer contributions to national insurance and teachers’ pension schemes, and rising costs. There is an urgent need for a better commitment from the Government, because these issues become even more pronounced when we focus on sixth-form and further education spending, tuition fees and academies. We know that in the next six years there will be a 19% increase in pupil numbers in England. The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch highlighted that it is not enough to just increase education funding, as has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members on the Government Benches. We know that the budget is increasing, but it has to be a per pupil increase in spending to have any impact.

I would just like to mention academies. We do not have academies in Scotland. In England, they were hailed as a way forward and a remedy for failing schools. At first, it looked as though that was the case, because money and resources were thrown at them. However, we now see a disturbing situation where some high-performing and improving academies are accepting fewer children from disadvantaged backgrounds or pupils with additional support needs. Surely that cannot be considered a success. Pupils with special educational needs must be properly catered for. If they are not being catered for within the academy system, there has to be greater spending on them in maintained schools and that increase must be significant. We are not talking about a small increase in per pupil spending: if they have been taken out of the academy programme, we have to put serious investment into them in other schools.

On academies, the teaching profession in England has experienced an attack on terms and conditions, including the ability of school leaders to bypass nationally agreed pay scales. That allows schools to stretch budgets further or ensure huge pay awards to the chief executives of multi-academy trusts without, it seems, any scrutiny. Essentially, Department for Education funding is being syphoned off to pay individuals, regardless of the success of the academy itself. According to the Education Policy Institute, there is little measureable difference between the performance of academies and local authority schools. Underperformance in academy trusts, including a lack of diversity in the pupil cohort, must be challenged, as should academy trusts that are paying excessive salaries to CEOs, a point highlighted by Priti Patel.

A number of hon. Members talked about post-16 funding, including Robert Halfon and, in particular, Emma Reynolds. We know that since 2010 this funding has been cut sharply. Caroline Lucas talked about the 22% cut in funding that has damaged the variety of courses, the number of STEM courses offered and the provision of extra-curricular activities, and has resulted in larger class sizes.

Given the hardship that further education colleges are having to cope with, it is little surprise that Ofsted’s annual report concluded:

“We are concerned about the financial sustainability of the college sector, and the clear impact that real-term cuts to Further Education funding can have on provision.”

A long-term overhaul of post-16 education in England is needed. Courses must be linked specifically to needs in the labour market. We regularly hear rhetoric about positive destinations for young people, and how we have to value all types of education and all outcomes for young people, but increasing the budget for further education is only a part of that. We also have to make sure that courses are properly tailored to needs in the job market. Brexit will make this issue even more acute, so England really should be looking at what we are doing in Scotland. In Scotland, we are ensuring that college places are actually linked directly to employment requirements, and we have the highest number of young people going on to positive destinations.

One issue that has not been mentioned this afternoon is tuition fees, but I think it is important if we are talking about budgets. We estimate that £23.4 billion is expected to be paid out in student loans this year, with capital repayments amounting to only £1.1 billion. As became apparent last December, these huge tuition fees betray a staggeringly short-term perspective that has added £12 billion to our national debt.

Up until now, it suited the Government to pretend that student debts are genuine loans, but it is now clear that many graduates will never earn enough to pay off these loans in full, which will result in the Government effectively having to pay the loans off. Why continue to put these pressures on students? Why not look at proper funding of our courses in higher education?

In conclusion, education funding must serve young people regardless of their background or educational needs. We must ensure that 16 to 19-year-olds are properly catered for. Funding must be adequate to ensure that young people avoid a lifetime of debt, and finally, meagre education budgets should not be siphoned off to line the pockets of rich businesspeople in academy trusts.

Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner Shadow Secretary of State for Education 4:50 pm, 26th February 2019

What a fantastic debate we have had this afternoon. I congratulate all the many colleagues from across the House on their contributions to the debate and, of course, the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, my hon. Friend Meg Hillier, on opening it. I also take this opportunity to give my best wishes to Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, who has retired this week on health grounds. I wish her all the best for the future.

I would like to echo some of the points that many Members around the Chamber have made today and start by paying tribute to all the educators in our schools and educational establishments across England. They do a fantastic job to educate the next generation and to feed our economy with the skills that we require. It can often seem in this place as though we are all preoccupied with Brexit, but hearing from so many hon. Members today says to us that education is enshrined as one of the three pillars, as I see it, that helps social mobility and keeps our society going forward and our nation progressing in a global economy. The Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon, and the Education Committee member, my hon. Friend Thelma Walker, made powerful contributions, as always, based on the practical obstacles and on ensuring that better educational outcomes are there for all learners.

Like the right hon. Member for Harlow, I look forward to hearing the response for the Government from the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills. I am glad to highlight the work that goes on in further and adult education, which, of course, is where I got my qualifications, but as my hon. Friend Emma Reynolds articulated, the reality is that since 2010, funding for adult and further education is down by £3 billion in real terms. Colleges are facing collapse and sixth-forms have been cut by a fifth. At the same time, there is a significant underspend for the apprenticeship levy, yet the money now lines the coffers of the Treasury rather than funding our education system. My hon. Friend Karin Smyth made a key contribution about the need for cross-departmental work and funding. We on the Opposition Benches are clear about investing in both further and higher education and replacing the current unsustainable system of fees and loans.

As Carol Monaghan said, the Department’s estimate is down by £12 billion. For once, that is a reflection not of cuts, but of the accounting change that means that it can no longer pretend that every pound of student loans is paid off. Can the Minister tell us how much additional funding will be needed to continue the current system, and will that be provided? She will know the alarm that universities have expressed about some of the leaked discussions around higher education funding.

Let me turn to the issue that we have heard raised time and again in these debates, including today, from Members across the House and across the country: the desperate shortage of funding for our schools. Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said that every child in this country deserves the chance to thrive, and on that, I absolutely agree with him. I also agree with his contributions about school exclusions, which I hope the Minister will address.

Last year, the Secretary of State told us that every school

“will see at least a small cash increase.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 536.]

In the spring statement, the Chancellor gave the House a guarantee that every school would receive a cash increase. Will the Minister tell us whether that guarantee will still be honoured?

Mrs Latham spoke about her concerns with the national funding formula and cuts to her local schools, as did Caroline Lucas. Of course, the Chancellor had something else to say about schools in the last Budget: he offered them “little extras”—enough funding for them to buy a couple of whiteboards. Schools have lost billions of pounds and now they are offered a whiteboard! I hope that the hon. Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham) are not on the naughty step at home, following their contributions today. Of course, the Education Secretary has promised that he would ask for at least some of those billions back. As my hon. Friend Anna Turley outlined, our schools desperately need the money now.

Priti Patel and the hon. Member for Colchester brought up the stat of 1.9 million pupils in good and outstanding schools, but I caution hon. Members: more pupils are in our schools and some of those schools have not been inspected for years. On league tables, I do not think that talking about so-called “failing schools” is helpful for the teachers who deliver excellence in their classrooms in those schools every single day. My school would have been a “failing school”, but I do not think my school failed me—or I would not be stood at this Dispatch Box today, doing the things I do with the resilience that I have.

We are reaching the last financial year of the additional school funding announced in 2017. Will the Minister tell us whether there is any sign of that new funding from the Treasury? Children with special educational needs need the help most, and they are not getting it. My hon. Friend Emma Hardy raised the heart-breaking experience of parents and their children in need of additional support and the inequalities they face in the system. Despite the Prime Minister’s words, austerity is far from over in education. Ministers have told us for years that they are protecting school budgets, yet our analysis of the Institute for Fiscal Studies data found that school funding in real terms will be £1.7 billion lower in 2020 than it was in 2015. Layla Moran was right to highlight the pressures on the system and the need for the focus on outcomes and to crack down on the financial scandals and lack of oversight in some trusts.

Finally, I would like to address the early years. I welcome the Health and Social Care Committee report published today. I hope the Minister agrees that early years support can transform lives for the better. Yet across the country, children’s centres are closing, nurseries are under threat, childcare is underfunded and the shambolic roll-out of tax-free childcare left an underspend of around £1 billion. I hope that the Minister will agree that Sure Start centres desperately need that money.

Tim Loughton was absolutely right to raise children’s services, the pressures that they face and the fantastic work they do every single day, and to link that to the report out today from Action for Children.

This is an important debate, and I am glad that we have had it on the Floor of the House. But our children’s services, nurseries, schools, colleges and universities need not words, but actions. Investment in education is an investment in our collective future.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education) 4:59 pm, 26th February 2019

I thank Meg Hillier for securing the debate. I can assure her that I will not resort to smoke and mirrors. That is not really my style. I will not necessarily be able to give her all the specific details about the money that I think she will want to hear, but I will respond to a couple of her points.

The Secretary of State is extremely mindful of the problems involved in asking schools to do more. He is determined to ensure that we do what we can to help them to manage their budgets and their workload. The hon. Lady mentioned high needs. An additional £250 million will be invested in 2019-20, and we are looking at some of the perverse incentives that currently exist, especially considering that first £6,000 that schools are asked to pay. The hon. Lady raised the issue of asbestos exposure and capital budgets. The impact of asbestos in buildings on health, and the changes and challenges that it poses, are quite complex, but I welcome her comments about the schools survey that we have undertaken. The Department has established an asbestos working group, which includes the Health and Safety Executive, to address some of those problems.

A total of £23 billion has been provided for capital spending over five years—between 2016-17 and 2020-21 —and we are on track to create 1 million new school places during the current decade. That will be the biggest expansion for two generations, and it contrasts with the loss of places between 2004 and 2010. Between 2010 and 2017, 825,000 additional places were created; that includes 90,000 in 2016-17 alone. I should add that 97.7% of families received offers from one of their three top primary school choices, and 91 received offers from their first choices. Those are important figures, because that is what matters to parents.

I will respond to some of the most pressing points that have been raised, but I should first point out that in 2018-19 the Department’s resource budget is about £79 billion. Of that, £18 billion is for higher and further education, £55 billion is for early years and schools, and £0.3 billion is for social care, mobility and disadvantage.

I welcome the contribution of the Education Committee, and the work of the Chairman, my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, has been particularly valuable. He is right to remind the House that putting in more money does not necessarily equate to better outcomes. It is not as simple as that. Good outcomes are what matter, but good outcomes in themselves are not enough. We want excellent outcomes not only for those at school, but for those for whom school did not work. Many of them need a second, a third or even a fourth chance. I am, of course, delighted that my right hon. Friend raised the issue of further education, and I thank him for his kind comments.

My right hon. Friend talked about the importance of plans. It will certainly not be before time that we articulate a vision for further education, which is so often squeezed between the noises surrounding schools and universities. As my right hon. Friend rightly says, reducing inequalities in education has a wide impact, not least on people’s health—those who are better educated have better health—and it can also enable people to become socially mobile.

I was extremely pleased that Emma Reynolds reiterated the need to reform all education, highlighting further education. I assure her that we are very aware of the issue of maintained nurseries. I am aware that their need to know the situation is very pressing.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Minister of State (Education)

I do not have much time, so if my right hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not.

My hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown raised the issue of exclusions. We are not complacent, but I should point out that the number of exclusions reached a peak in 2008. Layla Moran raised a specific issue about local schools and academies. I think it is a mistake always to blame structures, but I understand her underlying point about accountability, which is so important.

My hon. Friend Tim Loughton—although he was corrected slightly by Meg Hillier, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee—raised the important issue of children’s social care. He drew attention to the key role that early years education and care play in the eventual outcomes for young people. He made a predictably powerful speech. I worked with him when I was in the Department of Health, and I am extremely pleased to see him continuing his excellent work, albeit from the Back Benches. I know he has also been a champion for his local schools and their funding, as indeed has my hon. Friend Will Quince, who reiterated similar issues. He raised one thing that has long been a bugbear of mine: the need for more certainty in budgets. He mentioned three-year rolling budgets, but whatever it is we are talking about something that gives organisations certainty.

I have already met Karin Smyth and she raised the issue of inequality and social mobility and the importance of local industrial strategies. She, like the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, highlighted the need for us to have an articulate and adequate clear vision for further education. I am sure she is aware that Bristol is one of the five cities in our “5 cities” project trying to increase diversity in apprenticeships. I met a woman recently in Bristol who demonstrated exactly what can be achieved through apprenticeships. [Interruption.] She was a single parent, and I am sorry hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench find this amusing, but I found it very moving: she had been unemployed for 10 years and had a small child, and because of that project she had got a level 2 apprenticeship and was really proud of what she had achieved, and proud that her daughter was now proud of what her mother was doing.

My hon. Friend Richard Graham has been a huge champion of further education and rightly pointed out the need for much greater emphasis on levels 4 and 5; we are looking at that at the moment. He also recognised the need to increase the number of people undertaking qualifications at that level.

I know Emma Hardy always tries to be helpful and it is always a pleasure to hear her contribution, and she rightly pointed out the inequalities that exist from those with sharp elbows fighting those tribunals.

We are investing an additional £1.6 billion in schools this year and next over and above the funding confirmed at the 2015 spending review. This significant additional investment means core funding for schools and high needs will rise from almost £41 billion in 2017 to £43.5 billion in ’19-20.

We recognise the cost pressures that schools, nurseries and further education are under, but the Government have achieved a huge amount since 2010: 1.9 million more children are being taught in good or outstanding schools; the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils has shrunk by 10%; a record proportion of disadvantaged students are going to university; and we now have a truly world-class technical education offer through T-levels and high quality apprenticeships. There is massive reform in apprenticeships which has a life-changing impact. There has also been £100 million into the national retraining scheme, a partnership between the Government, the TUC and the CBI.

I am a lucky Minister to be able to contribute to debates that are often so well considered and passionate and I will never cease to be grateful to all those involved in education at every level. We all want the same thing: that whoever you are, wherever you are born and whoever you know, everyone has the chance to get on in life, and get a rewarding career and a job.

We on the Government Benches will not play party political games with education, but put children, young people and adults and education first and foremost, and we will not shirk the difficult decisions sometimes needed to make sure we achieve that end. Party political rhetoric has no place in a debate like this; it is, as many Members have said, the outcomes for those we serve that matter.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee 5:08 pm, 26th February 2019

I rise very briefly to thank all hon. Members who have contributed and put in such detailed preparation and to thank again the NAO for its work.

It is important that we debate the money, because ultimately that is what then shapes how policy can be delivered, and I reiterate my points made at the beginning: that we must look at the money and talk about the right baselines—per pupil funding, not vast global amounts on different year bases, because that gives a confusing message.

The Government need to look at every area of spending and assess how effective they are being in delivering their outcomes. I may disagree with the outcomes, but it is right, as Layla Moran said, that we focus on those outcomes.

I thank hon. Members for their contributions. This is not the end of this: the PAC will continuously look at education spending, value for money and outcomes, and I know the Select Committee on Education so ably chaired by Robert Halfon will do so as well. So the Minister will see a lot more of us, and I put the Secretary of State on alert that we will be poring over the numbers and challenging him at every step of the way to make sure he is getting as much value as possible for the taxpayer, for our pupils and for all those who work so hard in our education system from cradle to further education and higher education in order to deliver better outcomes for young people.

Question deferred, (Standing Order No. 54).