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Department for Education

Part of Supplementary Estimate 2018-19 – in the House of Commons at 3:07 pm on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon 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.