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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.