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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.
“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.