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Department for Education

Part of Supplementary Estimate 2018-19 – in the House of Commons at 3:47 pm on 26th February 2019.

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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.