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Department for Education

Part of Supplementary Estimate 2018-19 – in the House of Commons at 4:50 pm on 26th February 2019.

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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.