Department for Education

– in the House of Commons at 7:21 pm on 1st July 2019.

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the year ending with 31 March 2020, for expenditure by the Department for Education:

(1) further resources, not exceeding £35,024,055,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 2154 of Session 2017–19,

(2) further resources, not exceeding £15,813,820,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a further sum, not exceeding £48,195,607,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Iain Stewart.)

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee 7:35 pm, 1st July 2019

I am delighted that the amendments have not been selected, because that would mean money not being able to be spent on our schools and our colleges. That is not the way to conduct the debate over Brexit.

It is a great pleasure to open this debate on the spending of the Department for Education in my capacity as the Chair of the Education Committee. I am pleased to be here with my Committee colleagues, my hon. Friend Ben Bradley and Emma Hardy. The DFE is one of the largest domestic spending Departments, with a wide-ranging portfolio spanning early years, children’s social care, schools, colleges, and much more besides. How the Department spends its money has a huge impact on millions of people across the nation, with consequences that will be felt for generations to come. That is why it is so important that we get education spending right.

I want to focus on the Department’s expenditure on schools and colleges. According to the House of Commons Library, most of the DFE’s spending goes on grants to schools, which in 2019-20 makes up three quarters of day-to-day spending, at about £52 billion. The Library says that this is a cash increase of 4% compared with 2018-19, which I strongly welcome. However, the Department’s planned further education budget this year is about £4.8 billion—a cash decrease of 3% compared with 2018-19. I am sure that all Members of this House have been delighted to see the issue of school and college funding feature so prominently throughout the Conservative leadership contest. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson says that he is going to increase education spending by £4.6 billion.

My Committee will soon be publishing a report on this area with a view to helping the DFE to make the strongest possible case to the Treasury for the upcoming spending review.

Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Labour, High Peak

Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern—I am sure he will as the Chair of the Select Committee—that school and college funding would not be so prominent on the candidates’ agendas if we were not seeing such a crisis in our schools and colleges?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

I am going to talk about the funding issues for schools and colleges in a bit, but I think we should welcome the fact that all the candidates—the last two and the ones who have been knocked out—have talked strongly about increasing education spending. I greatly welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip said yesterday on the Sky show with Sophy Ridge that he would be spending over £4.6 billion. It is very good news that education has featured as a priority for the potential new Prime Ministers.

As I said, my Committee will be publishing a report on school and college funding with a view to helping the DFE to make the strongest possible case for the upcoming spending review. The Government have not been idle, to be fair. The national funding formula has been a highly welcome first step towards overcoming the postcode lottery of school and college funding.

The Department has announced almost £900 million to fund teachers’ pension contributions, and the introduction of T-levels promises to make a substantial difference to the provision of technical education across the country. I am glad that total funding for high needs will reach £6.3 billion this year—a £1.3 billion increase from 2013. I pay tribute to the work of the Minister for School Standards, and particularly the work he has done to improve literacy in our schools, which will be remembered for years to come and will have a huge influence on the life chances of thousands of children across our country.

However, as our inquiry has shown only too clearly, the education funding landscape for schools and colleges is still bleak. Expanding student populations, education reforms and increasingly complex special needs requirements have put a significant strain on the education sector. Costs have increased across a wide range of areas, and funding has not kept pace. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, total school spending per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2017-18.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I visited three rural primary schools in my constituency on Friday, and a common feature was the £6,000 initial cost of an education, health and care plan. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one thing the Government could do immediately is abolish that? It is so counterproductive. It puts schools in an enormously difficult position, with parents against them, and if children do not get an EHCP, schools are blamed every which way. Does he agree that that could happen straight away?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

As my Education Committee colleagues who are here today will know, we are doing an inquiry into funding for children with special educational needs and the implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014. The Act is very good, but there are significant problems with implementation, funding and many other areas. We will hopefully publish a report by September, and I think the hon. Gentleman will be particularly interested in what we say.

I would like to draw particular attention to the plight of further education funding, which is close to my heart. For too long, this area of education has been considered the Cinderella sector. Participation in full-time further education has more than doubled since the 1980s, yet across 16-to-19 education, funding per student has fallen by a full 16% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2018-19. That is twice as much as the 8% school funding fall over a similar period and, as I mentioned, it is decreasing again this year. This dip in 16-to-19 education makes no sense, given the importance of further education and sixth-form colleges in providing a gateway to success in later life. Those who call it the Cinderella sector should remember that Cinderella became a princess, and we should banish the two ugly sisters of snobbery and underfunding.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I congratulate my right hon. Friend, on behalf of all of us, on the excellent work he does as Chairman of the Select Committee. Talking of princesses, will he pause for a moment and join me in thanking the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, my right hon. Friend Anne Milton, for her incredible support for the reopening of the sixth-form college in Haywards Heath? The college was closed under an earlier Administration, having run up an enormous amount of debt, and this is an incredibly important step for Mid Sussex—one of the fastest growing bits of the United Kingdom. Without the support and energy of the Department for Education, the Minister and her excellent officials, that simply would not have happened. In the middle of what is a very difficult period indeed for finance in the Department, the Minister deserves particular praise and consideration for what she has so brilliantly done.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend’s college has reopened—that is excellent news—and I pay tribute to the Minister. She has passion and enthusiasm for further education, skills and apprenticeships. She said in a recent interview in Schools Week that hers is the best job in Government. I absolutely agree, and that shows her commitment to further education.

The debate around school and college funding has become deeply polarised. On the one hand, there are those on the Government Benches who say that more money than ever is going into the system. On the other hand, we hear that the funding system is nearing breaking point because pupil numbers are rising, and education institutions are having to provide an increasing variety of services. I hope we can move beyond that divide by focusing more closely on providing what schools and colleges actually need, rather than how we choose to interpret statistics.

That brings me on to the most important point in this debate on the DFE’s estimates: what is the Department trying to achieve with its spending? The Department is certainly not short of ideas for policy initiatives and announcements. However, my Committee has become increasingly concerned about the lack of clear long-term thinking and strategic prioritisation. It is partly driven by the politicised nature of the funding system and the short-term thinking that is encouraged by the three to four-year spending review process.

There are serious issues that we need to address. We should start focusing a lot more on tackling the gap between education and employment. The troubling state of social justice in this country will only get worse with future changes to the labour market and the march of the robots unless we take a more strategic and decisive approach to funding vocational and skills-based education routes. High-needs funding, which was mentioned by Dr Drew, is threatening to spiral out of control unless we can get to grips with the underlying drivers more effectively.

I am not confident that those big issues can be addressed within the current funding framework. The Department must recognise that education is a strategic national priority and should not be used as a political football that gets kicked around every few years during election periods or the spending review. Our school and college funding system is under severe financial strain. Simply securing a moderate top-up in the spending review will be little more than a sticking plaster.

That is why we need a 10-year plan for education, backed up with a multi-billion-pound funding settlement. The Health Secretary made a statement in the House today, setting out the NHS 10-year plan. If the Health Secretary can come to the House with a 10-year plan and an extra £20 billion-a-year funding settlement, which Members on both sides of the House welcome, why can the Secretary of State for Education not come to the House with a 10-year plan and a minimum five-year funding settlement for the education system, with the funds that it needs? Why does the Department for Education—our schools, colleges, universities, apprenticeships and skills system—not also have a 10-year plan?

The plan would need to take a long, hard look at what schools and colleges are needing to deliver and what it costs. Taking the politics out of funding with a 10-year plan would mean that we can have a properly financed education system that is characterised by strategic investments rather than reactive adjustments. Only then will we ensure that children and young people receive the high-quality education and support that they deserve, and our education system will be confident that it has the plan and the funds that enable it to plan properly for many years ahead. We must build a sturdy education ladder of opportunity fit for the 21st century, so that everyone, no matter what their background, can climb it to achieve jobs, security and prosperity.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards 7:48 pm, 1st July 2019

It is a great pleasure to follow the Chair of the Education Committee. He speaks with tremendous authority on these matters, and his expertise is well recognised around the House and beyond. I cannot match that expertise in this policy area, but I want to raise a number of issues that I see in schools and colleges in my constituency and, indeed, in wider support for children. In particular, in the context of this estimates day debate, when we look at the spending and policies of one Department, I want to make the point that many of the issues that I would like to talk about cannot be dealt with in a siloed, single departmental context. We need to look at how to bring different Departments and agendas together to ensure that everyone can use their learning opportunities to make the most of their potential.

I would like to start, as I think we all probably would, by saying a little bit about school funding. I was able to participate in a very valuable debate in Westminster Hall on 4 June on this subject. Since that debate, I have been contacted by the Trafford headteachers standing conference, which wanted to express its deep concern at the pressures schools are under not just in relation to the funding for schools themselves, but, as was referred to in the Westminster Hall debate, the fact that schools operate in a wider and very pressured social context.

My headteachers are committed to continuing with early help for vulnerable pupils, but they point to the pressures on a range of support and social welfare services that support families and the children whom they educate. There is a particular worry about children who are not officially defined as in need or who do not meet the threshold for child protection, but who are still in need of significant support and who will fall under the radar in relation to getting it. Their view is that we need to look holistically at the needs of these children and to look holistically at the different departmental and Government strands, both local and national, that support them. That includes adequate funding for local government services in the round and for mental health provision, about which I will say a little more in a moment, as well as support for families, and indeed for family incomes, because currently schools are picking up the pieces of the wider austerity agenda.

As I say, mental health is a particular concern, with parents and children in my constituency experiencing very long waits for referrals and appointments. It was really good to hear the Secretary State for Health earlier this afternoon committing to a four-week waiting time for children and young people, and to a programme of work with schools and health professionals together. That is really important, but in my constituency I see mental health pressures at every stage of a student’s life, particularly at the points of transition during the teen years and at exam time.

May I say that, in common with other colleagues, I have concerns about the mental health of university students, given we have seen some very alarming reports of student suicide? I very much welcome the work by Universities UK and Public Health England on the #stepchange programme and the university mental health charter, but it would be really helpful if the Minister could update us on how that work is panning out in practice.

May I raise a very particular issue? I know it is not the direct responsibility of this Minister, but perhaps he can speak to his colleagues. In the case of a student suicide at university, no redress is available to the family if they have concerns about the welfare support that the student received. If a student is dissatisfied, he or she can go to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, but their family members or parents do not have that access; nor will the Office for Students look at individual cases. May I ask the Minister to use his good offices to talk to colleagues about how we can ensure there is support for family members who have concerns about the care of their children? In particular, when there has tragically been a suicide, how can the family, after the death, continue to have access to redress?

Parents in my constituency report that both exams and school admissions decisions have very adverse effects on children’s wellbeing, and cause them considerable stress and anxiety. Last week, during business questions, I raised my concerns about exam paper security, in that exams are not always kept confidential until the point at which students are taking them. For example, I have been made aware of the same examination being made available on two different days in two different locations, and that cannot be fair to the students who take it on the first day if the children taking it on a subsequent day are able to have any advance notice of what is in the papers. Again, could the Minister, with his colleagues, look at what more we can do to ensure, when public examinations are taken, that all students take them on a level playing field?

The pressure on school places, and therefore the difficulties that parents in my constituency can find in accessing the school they choose for their child, is another concern that causes considerable stress both to the children and to their parents. In my borough, this is exacerbated by our selective secondary system. Clearly, what we need is a strategy, and this is where the Chair of the Select Committee is absolutely right. It needs to be a long-term strategy to ensure we match the supply of places to where those places are going to be needed.

May I say—I know the Minister has heard me say this before, but I will say it again—that I do think the funding that has been set aside for grammar school expansion is particularly perverse in that context? I am seeing non-selective secondary schools in my constituency under huge funding pressure. They educate the vast bulk of children overall, the vast bulk of children on pupil premium and the vast bulk of children with special educational needs and disabilities, yet they see the funding going to a very small number of grammar schools to expand by a very small number of places for a very small proportion of children.

I agree with the Chair of the Select Committee about the importance of post-16 and further education. I am particularly concerned that, even in these days of near full employment, we still have 50,000 NEET young people —those not in education, employment or training—in England. According to the Learning and Work Institute’s Youth Commission, of which I have been very lucky to be a member, progress in the number of 19-year-olds gaining level 2 and level 3 qualifications has stalled and fewer young people are doing apprenticeships. In particular, the youngest and least well qualified are losing out because employers are preferring to fund higher level apprenticeships, and only 15,000 of those on benefits move into work via an apprenticeship.

With 3 million benefit claimants, it seems to me there is a huge missed opportunity there for the Department to be working with the Department for Work and Pensions and with the devolved Administrations. I do not mean just the nations, but the devolved administrations such as my own in Greater Manchester, where there would be a real opportunity now for the Department to look at how it could link post-16 study, employment prospects, skills and the region’s industrial and regeneration strategies.

Finally, and on a slightly different tack, I would like to raise a very particular issue in relation to EU national looked-after children who may now be eligible for the Home Office settled status scheme or, indeed, for British citizenship. It is for the local authority, as the corporate parent of those children, to apply for settled status for them, but the social workers who support those families may lack the expertise and knowledge to do so. Indeed, I think it is high likely that social workers will not have that knowledge. Moreover, for looked-after children where the local authority has not assumed parental responsibility, the only arrangements in position are in the form of guidance simply to signpost children to make their own application, which is even weaker protection for those I think we can all accept are quite vulnerable children. May I ask the Minister to say now, or perhaps to speak to colleagues and respond to me in more detail in due course, what work his Department is doing with the Home Office to ensure that we protect the best interests of those children in relation to their status?

I wanted briefly to highlight policy challenges where the DFE remit needs to be aligned with the policies and spending of a number of other Government Departments, nationally but also regionally and locally. Lifelong learning, which I think we can all agree is a very worthwhile aspiration, requires lifelong and holistic support for learners to make the most of their potential. Our obligations to our children’s future encompasses their learning, of course, but also their health, material security, happiness and wellbeing across the widest range of social policy. As I say, today’s debate obviously focuses on the role and expenditure of one Department, but I hope the House will agree that this is a challenge for the whole of Government.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 7:58 pm, 1st July 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Kate Green, a fellow member of the Home Affairs Committee. May I endorse her last point about children coming from Europe and assessments? However, there is a bigger issue about asylum-seeking children, who often have family connections over here. Certainly from my experience—having visited Greece, in particular, along with my right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan—a delay is often caused by social worker assessments for the fitness of whatever accommodation those children may be coming to in the UK taking quite a long time to undertake. In the meantime, they are kept in refugee camps and in unsuitable conditions overseas. That is just another aspect of social workers, who do of course come under the Department for Education, being problematic.

School funding is the most important issue in my constituency, and in the constituencies of all hon. Members who represent West Sussex and other counties like ours that have been historically poorly funded. We are seeing the cumulative effects of many years of underfunding, to the extent that, as I have said in every debate in which I have spoken over the years, the tank is now empty. The capacity to make further savings or cuts elsewhere simply does not exist. All those savings—all that fat—went a long time ago.

We were obviously grateful for the additional £28 million that West Sussex was given, but we went from being the worst funded shire authority for schools to about the seventh worst, which means that we are still in the bottom decile. The Minister for School Standards will know from his own West Sussex constituency that the new fair funding formula is only a work in progress.

Last week’s Department for Education report referred to the fact that children in schools in coastal areas achieve several grades lower than other children, certainly at GCSE level. My constituents therefore suffer from the double whammy of being in one of the lowest funded local authorities for schools, and the serious challenge to schools in pockets of deprivation, often in coastal areas, of which there are many on the south coast as well as in other parts of the country.

I therefore ask the Minister to look again at the suggestion that I made last year—I wrote it again in my letter of 12 September to the Secretary of State—to consider a coastal schools challenge fund to examine plugging that gap in the outcomes for children in coastal constituencies. The London Challenge, which the Labour Government set up in 2003, went a long way towards plugging the gap between outcomes in London and in other parts of the country. However, it is now a problem that there is such a large gap between schools in London and those in West Sussex and other shire counties.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

My hon. Friend has been a fantastic champion for West Sussex schools. I endorse his suggestion for a challenge fund. It is an extremely good idea and I hope that it makes some progress. He and I have sat in endless meetings with the Secretary of State and others, and he knows that the funding situation is not confined to the coastal district and that it is just as serious further inland.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the situation is not just confined to coastal areas. However, the problem is that there tend to be more deprived communities in coastal areas around the country. Seemingly affluent shire counties such as West Sussex disguise pockets of deprivation. We have high special educational needs in many of our schools and we need to focus more on bringing the funding up to at least the average in the rest of the country to give those children a better chance.

I have spoken in numerous debates on the problems that schools in my constituency face. I wrote my notorious eight-page letter to the Secretary of State last year after I had summoned all the heads of all the schools in my constituency and all the chairs of governors and asked them to tell me not what they thought might happen and their fears, but what was actually happening now. That included the reduction in teaching assistants and the fact that, with 90% of school budgets in many cases being spent on staffing, any cut means that non-staffing expenditure on, for example, maintenance and buying new computers, does not happen, and real reductions mean fewer staff, or, as happens in many cases, less qualified staff being taken on to replace experienced staff who have left to take others jobs, retired or gone on maternity leave.

I was particularly concerned about the cuts to counselling services in schools. As the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston said, we need a much more joined-up approach to that. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to additional funding to deal with mental health needs in schools, with mental health first aiders and training for teachers and others, but we need to do so much more before children get to school. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on conception to age 2 and the 1001 critical days campaign—I should also declare my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—I stress that the biggest impact on a child’s brain happens in the first 1,000 days between conception and age two. That is when a child forms attachments to a parent and the brain grows exponentially. If there is not a good attachment with a parent—if the parent does not have good mental health—that child will be at a disadvantage when they get to school. It is a truism, but if we consider a 15 or 16-year-old who suffers from depression, as is now common in our schools, there is a 99% likelihood that their mother suffered from some form of mental illness during pregnancy or soon afterwards. We need to do so much more preventively earlier so that fewer children experience the mental health pressures to which too many succumb in our schools, with all the challenges that they face.

I want everything I have said in previous debates on schools funding to be taken as read. However, today’s debate is on education estimates and we neglect the fact that education funding includes provision for children’s social care. Although more than three quarters of the Department’s budget goes on day-to-day school funding, this year, some £9.1 billion will go into children’s social care through local authorities.

Children’s social care is in a state of crisis. I want to spend a few minutes dealing with that subject. Before doing so, I endorse the comments of the Chairman of the Education Committee on the problems that face further education. I know about that from colleges in my constituency and I endorse his frequent calls for a 10-year education plan to allow teachers and lecturers to plan ahead in the same way as the national health service.

There have been so many reports in recent months. The all-party parliamentary group on children, which I chair, produced “Storing Up Trouble”, which gave an alarming account of huge variations in the experiences of children coming into the care system, or not reaching the threshold for coming into the care system. In Blackpool, 166 in 10,000 children are likely in to end up in care, whereas the figure for Richmond is only 28 in every 10,000. There are differences in deprivation between Blackpool and Richmond, but by a factor of seven? The Department is not properly assimilating that sort of information and data, which our report revealed. That is one ask from our report.

There have been several reports, for example, by Action for Children, the Children’s Society and the Education Policy Institute. The Children’s Commissioner for England recently found that England now spends nearly half of its entire children’s services budget on the 75,000 children in the care system, leaving the other half for the remaining 11.7 million. The Children’s Commissioner will produce a further report at the end of this week, identifying the percentage of children in need, constituency by constituency, and asking why we are not doing more to focus on those children at an early, preventive stage.

The evidence is there. Local authorities say that they face a shortfall of at least £2 billion by 2020 in children’s social care. We have a recent record of the number of children in care at the moment. There are other issues around the funded 30-hour childcare entitlement, of which I am a big supporter. However, many of my independent providers tell me that the remuneration they get is not nearly enough to cover the cost. There is a danger of losing places, and the least well off, who most need them, will not be able to access places for their children.

I have concerns about social worker recruitment. Despite the Munro report and everything we did for the social work profession some eight or nine years ago, too many social workers are being driven out of the profession early. I also make a plea for the troubled families programme, which has its origins partly in the Department for Education. It was one of the Cameron Government’s most successful initiatives. It was about joining up the different Departments because, in a family with problems, the problems are not limited to mental health, physical health or school truancy. It is usually a combination of those and they need to be dealt with holistically. When the funding comes to an end in 2020, it is absolutely essential that the project is continued. I would like to see a pre-troubled families programme to deal with families much earlier on—from, as I said, perinatal mental illness stage onwards—so that they are less likely to express those symptoms, which then cost us so much as a society. Child neglect in this country costs £15 billion a year. Perinatal mental health problems cost some £8.1 billion a year. We are spending £23.1 billion a year on getting it wrong and dealing with the problem. That money could be used much more effectively earlier on.

My final point is to ask what has happened to the inter-departmental ministerial group, which was being chaired by the former Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom. That was a great initiative which brought together Ministers from six different Departments, including the Children’s Minister from the Department for Education and the Chief Secretary to Treasury, who will be conducting the comprehensive spending review. It is all about having a joined-up approach and pooling funding to make sure we put investment in to support families where they need it early on to see them through those challenging early years. That work is groundbreaking and it is absolutely essential that it continues. Perhaps the Minister can update us on where it has got to. It is essential that it is a major component of the comprehensive spending review, so that we stop wasting money dealing with the symptoms of failure and start investing upstream to prevent the huge social problems that bring about huge financial problems. If we get that right, it will be better for all our children and young people.

We need more money for our schools. I am glad that all the leadership candidates and the Prime Minister recognise that, but please do not forget children’s social care. If we do, the problems of dealing with children with problems when they arrive at school will be far higher and far more challenging than if we sorted them out before they are even born.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham 8:11 pm, 1st July 2019

I begin by saying thank you to the hard-working teachers and support staff both in County Durham, which I represent, and throughout the country. I would also like to pay tribute to the parents, guardians and school governors who give up their time, which is not usually recognised, to help and support the education of our nation’s children.

Education is a basic and fundamental right. We take it for granted in this country, but we should cherish it and we should all be entitled to it. It changes people’s lives and is one of the ingredients of the glue that holds our society together. Many of our schools are at the centre of our local communities. My hon. Friend Kate Green rightly pointed out that they are also a magnet for a lot of problems in society that have nothing to do with education. I know from my own constituency that many schools and teachers deal with problems that are less to do with education than with the austerity agenda of the past nine years.

People do not think that mental health is an issue for schools, but unfortunately they have to deal with it on a daily basis. I welcome what the Government have done in announcing funding for counsellors and so on in schools, but that is only part of the solution. The real issue is addressing the mental health of young people and children outside school. Many individuals who present with very serious mental health problems do not actually attend school in the first place.

I take the view that education is an investment in our economy not just for now, but for the future. Every successful economy in the world puts investment in education at the centre of its economic policy and this will become more important in the coming years. With rapid technological change, people will not be in the same job for 20 or 30 years. They will need upskilling and training throughout their lives. Investment in education will have to be not just in schools but throughout people’s lives if we are to achieve individual fulfilment from education as well as the economic benefits.

It is important that we realise that education, as the Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon, said, has to be joined up with other Government Departments. Over the past nine years, that has not happened. Education has not been free from the austerity axe. I was interested to hear what the Chair of the Select Committee said about taking politics out of education. I think a lot of teachers would agree with him on that, but the Government have had an ideological obsession with education. Free schools have diverted attention and resources from what is really needed. In County Durham in the early years of the coalition Government, we wasted over £4 million—almost £5 million—on a free school that was not needed. That was done for ideological reasons. Scarce resources that could have been put into the local education community were just wasted on an ideological initiative.

Ministers always say that we spend more on education now than we did in 2010. Of course we spend more: there are nearly 700,000 more pupils in primary and secondary schools, and we cannot educate them without putting more money in. If we actually look at the figures, however, there has been a reduction in real-terms spending on our schools and colleges from £95.5 billion in 2011-12 to £87.8 billion last year. That is a reduction in the amount we spend on education as a percentage of GDP from 5.69% to 4.27%. Are we taking on board the idea that there should be investment in education? No, we are not.

There are other pressures facing our schools—certainly the ones in Durham that I speak to. I have already mentioned that there are 700,000 more pupils than there were in 2010. Teachers have rightly been awarded a 3.5% pay increase. The sting in the tail was that that would not be wholly financed by central Government, with 1% falling on schools’ budgets. Schools are already in a very tight fiscal situation in balancing their budgets. The Government are purporting to put more money in, but by sleight of hand they are putting more pressure on the system. The Chair of the Select Committee argued the case for longer-term funding over a 10-year period. I agree with him. If we want education in this country to be an investment in our knowledge, the wellbeing of individual citizens and the economy, a long-term plan is needed. Schools are also feeling the pressure from contributions to teachers’ pensions. The Government said that would be met with one-off funding of £40 million for one year, but we need to make the case for future years. Again, we have to be careful that the costs do not fall on individual schools, because as it stands future contributions will have to come out of their budgets.

We only have to look at the number of schools, especially local authority schools, that are running budget deficits to realise there is a problem. In 2017-18, about 10% of all local authority maintained schools were running budget deficits. It is okay for Ministers to keep saying that more money is going in, but Government initiatives—for example the apprenticeship levy, which everyone supports—are putting the costs on schools. The Government are giving with one hand but taking away with the other. We can add to that such things as the GCSE changes. Putting aside the practical implications for teachers, there are costs involved for schools, and all these things add to the pressure on individual schools’ budgets.

Let me turn to special educational needs. County Durham is no different from any other area: it is struggling to meet the requirement to provide education support for the most vulnerable pupils. Last year its budget was overspent by £4.7 million, and this year it is forecast to be £5.1 million overspent. It has asked to take money out of the dedicated schools grant, which would direct money away from others into this vital area. We need to ask: why? As has been referred to, such things as the Children and Families Act were well meaning, but there has been a knock-on effect on individual budgets. For example, identifying those with SEN in the early years is very important, but it brings increased pressures. In County Durham, the number of children who have direct support in the early years has gone from 90 in 2014-15 to 287 in 2017-18, so there has been a huge increase in support. I am not saying that children do not need that support, but it has highlighted the issue.

Another issue is young people needing statements in mainstream education. In County Durham—this is the same elsewhere—there has been a decrease in the number of children needing statements who are accessing their education in the mainstream sector. It has dropped from 1,008 to 818 this year, because they are now being provided for in the private sector. That is not just down to the individual choice of parents, but because the provision that those individuals need cannot be provided. On average, it costs about a third more—if not more—to offer that type of provision in the mainstream sector, which puts pressure on the system.

On students in further education with special educational needs and disability, there is huge pressure on Durham County Council to support young people from 19 to 25. In 2015 there were 166 such individuals, and now there are 833. That requires not just support for those individuals, but adaptations that need to be made.

We can add to that the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston made about exclusions: there has been a 20% increase in exclusions from mainstream schools. On average, that costs Durham County Council £21,000 a year, and that does not include transport for those individuals. We have the system of ratcheting, with league tables and other issues, which means that many schools—both those in the maintained sector and academies—are excluding some of those children, but they have to go somewhere.

Olwyn Gunn, the cabinet member responsible for education at Durham County Council, wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, to ask him to come and look at the issues in County Durham. She wrote on 22 November and got a reply in January saying that, unfortunately, the Minister’s diary is overcommitted. May I invite him again, through his colleague the Minister for School Standards, to come to County Durham and meet the professionals on the ground?

Finally, I turn to capital. In my constituency, since 2010, there has not been one single new capital build project that was not already agreed under the last Labour Government. Under that Government, I had a new academy and secondary school, a new school at Pelton, a new school at Catchgate, Greenland juniors, and the refurbishment of St Joseph’s. Not one single new capital project has since been put forward in County Durham, despite the county council recognising that across County Durham, there is a backlog of repairs and capital funding of £125 million. To add insult to injury, the council was told in 2010 that it would not be getting any funding to meet its basic capital funding needs. Sometimes I look at some of the figures, including, for example, for my favourite council, Wokingham. Its basic needs funding allocation per head is £309.43, whereas Durham gets £37.46. That cannot be right. I do not want to go on much longer, but I could name a few more such examples.

In conclusion, education is in crisis in this country and it is no good hiding from that. No matter how many times the Prime Minister says that austerity is finished, at the chalkface in classrooms, teachers and headteachers are struggling to manage budgets. I accept what people are saying about Boris Johnson; he has discovered the magic money tree, which we were told did not exist—actually, if we look at all his commitments, we see that he has discovered an entire equatorial rainforest of money trees. I come back to where I started: education is a fundamental right for individuals in this country. We all benefit from it and, if we want a strong society and a prosperous economy, we need to invest in it.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We have plenty of time for this debate, and I thought that we would not need a time limit, but there have been some rather long speeches. I am still hoping that I will not have to impose a time limit if hon. Members take between eight and nine minutes each, which is a very long time. Stop and think about it: if you cannot say it in eight minutes, is it really worth saying?

Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield 8:27 pm, 1st July 2019

I will do my best to take that advice, Madam Deputy Speaker—I do like to hear the sound of my own voice, though, as many of us in this Chamber do.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on education as a member of the Education Committee, and I hope to be able to contribute something of use. With an ongoing leadership election and a forthcoming spending review, there is a great opportunity to make progress not only to continue some of the great work that is happening, but to change things. Education is a broad and varied subject, so forgive me if I hop about a bit.

The most prominent education issue, as we have discussed across the House in this debate, is school funding. To put it bluntly, there is not enough of it. I absolutely welcome the Government’s steps to increase support through the national funding formula, ensuring that every school gets a rise and gets above a set minimum level of funding. That benefits schools in constituencies such as Mansfield, which have been historically underfunded. It is a positive step, but the truth is that we are also making it harder in some areas. It is positive that the Government have protected the state sector from pension contribution rises next year, for example, but at some point that will hit schools in the wallet. At the same time, the apprenticeship levy inadvertently affects schools’ core budgets—for example, we have not protected the independent school sector from the pension contributions in the same way. Some people will say, “Why should we?”, but if it impacts the independent sector to the extent that some suggest, we could see closures in that sector, and if that happened, state schools would have to pick up the pieces, which is not in our interests either.

There are significant challenges with special educational needs provision. The Select Committee, which is to report on this later in the year, has received reams of evidence from across the sector. SEND provision, too, impacts on schools’ core budgets, as was mentioned earlier by an Opposition Member, as schools are expected to find the first £6,000 for pupils with SEND, which stacks up, particularly if a school has a reputation for delivering excellent and inclusive education for those pupils. A good reputation attracts more children with SEND to that school, and this success creates budgetary problems as more and more of its funding is spent on SEND. Without extra support, that is not sustainable. We should reward good practice. These issues, whether school places or school funding, are increasingly visible in my constituency surgeries, and I hear the same from colleagues across the House

I am a Tory MP—I am a conservative with a big C and a small c—and I believe in people taking personal responsibility for their lives. I believe a person’s success is down to them, their hard work and their talents, and that government exists to ensure that everyone has the basic things they need to take the opportunities out there, including a basic education that gives people the skills they need to get on in life. How far they get beyond that is up to them. I am not one for excessive government intervention in near enough anything else, and even in education we should be clear that parents are responsible for raising their children, but many children need us from early years all the way through the system if they are to have a chance in life. Put bluntly, if we want people to take personal responsibility for their lives and to ask as adults what they can do for themselves, rather than what government can do for them, we have to equip them properly when they are children through education.

The education system is the best chance the state has to fulfil its duty to ensure that everybody can succeed on their own merits, regardless of background, upbringing and barriers in early life. It is also an opportunity to deal with issues early on and so save the taxpayer money later. We have to ensure that parents take their responsibilities seriously and that we support them when they need it, but we should also do more to give children in the most deprived communities and from the most challenging backgrounds the basic tools they need for life. Visiting schools in Mansfield, a former coalfields constituency with significant social challenges, I have come to realise that schools are the only place some kids have that are warm, safe and welcoming and where they can find people they trust—I would make the same case for youth clubs and other youth and children’s services. If we are asking schools to properly support those children, they will need significantly more money.

Schools funded to be flexible and inclusive of all but the most challenging students benefit the community and in the long run the taxpayer. I have been genuinely delighted to hear so many positive pledges for school funding throughout the leadership contest, and I look forward to them being taken forward as soon as possible. We should also look at the opportunities that technology brings to reduce teacher workload, to manage data, to enable personalised lessons and assessment and generally to take the strain off teachers and allow them to focus on supporting their students. We have 25% of the world’s edtech businesses here in the United Kingdom, but no clear route, as far as I can see, by which to roll out and test that technology in our schools. I have a great proposal for a pilot project that I am recommending to the Minister—I can recommend a good constituency for him to try it in as well—but perhaps we could also take it forward in the Select Committee. I have raised it there too.

Despite the many challenges, there are some excellent schools delivering incredible education and opportunities to young people. Very few weeks go by in the academic year when I do not visit a school or college in Mansfield. Just last week, I visited Brunts Academy to see what it was up to for school sports week, which is an excellent initiative that needs more promotion. I met Miss Lockwood and pupils to hear about the extra- curricular opportunities and the great work they do to go above and beyond for their pupils. Such work is always fantastic to see and a great credit to the many schools and teachers who do a great job. As a way to boost facilities and capital spending, I have suggested that we build new school buildings and relocate existing schools to these great new facilities and that we cover some of the cost by developing the old sites. I would love to chat about that with Ministers. As my hon. Friend Tim Loughton said of his constituency, this has become the biggest issue in my constituency and in my inbox. It needs a resolution.

Another challenge in this sector, and an appropriate one for an estimates debate—I could go through the whole system and come up with a ream of different ideas and suggestions, but I will stick to Government spending—is further education funding. Those who look at the detail will see that FE is the part of the sector that gets the least support, which is incredibly frustrating. Colleges are in a constant state of reform, realignment and merger, which makes it incredibly difficult for them to focus on what they are there for. My local college, which has long been a beacon of aspiration in our community, has its own problems. Some were created by the previous local leadership, which has now moved on, and the college is having to rebuild, restructure and refocus on the local provision that matters. It is doing a grand job actually and is getting back on track, which is fantastic.

I know that Education Ministers are staunch advocates of college funding. We must make colleges places that are getting young people ready for work. We are rolling out T-levels, which are a step in the right direction in balancing the equation between academic and technical education. We should value technical skills and qualifications as much as other routes. I hope the Government can make a success of that. We are often guilty of talking about aspiration and social mobility in terms of how many people go to university, but university is not the right choice for everybody. I would be so bold as to say that too many people go to university, chasing promised outcomes that do not exist, when they would be better off taking alternative routes.

For many people, college is the direct route into work at 18. Often vocational and technical courses are more expensive to run and need specialist equipment, while the additional pressure of unfunded requirements for pupils with SEN—up to 25 now—is another challenge. For these pupils, the support they get at college can determine whether they are ever likely to get into work. Not only does extensive, rounded support help them with their additional needs, but it helps us all as taxpayers, because if they can find meaningful work and support themselves, it saves us all money later on.

The recurring theme in schools and further education—and in, for instance, early-years, children’s and youth provision services—is that these are not costs but investments, and that evidence shows that they lead to great savings further down the line. Early spending in the education system reduces the number of exclusions, behavioural problems, social care needs, the cost of adult support services, and the number of young people who end up in prison, and saves the state money in countless other ways. The Government’s own figures show that: the 2018 health profile for England states that educational attainment is “strongly linked” with lower instances of long-term disease and mental health conditions.

Investing money at an early stage in health visitors, early years and primary schools means saving it in our NHS later. Similarly, investment in schools and colleges, helping young people into work, and helping adults to retrain and change careers or achieve basic skills will save money in the welfare system, boost productivity, and produce a happier and healthier population. FE funding needs to increase, and again, I welcome the pledges that have been made throughout the leadership contest.

Part of the college and FE system includes apprenticeships. Apprenticeship spending has gone through the roof, and I welcome that, although the levy is still a work in progress. I echo what has been said about the Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend Nick Gibb, who takes his job incredibly seriously and seems to enjoy it along the way. However, I should like to see increased flexibility to ensure that the money is used. I have suggested that part of the levy pot should be used to plan training and development, that there should be a plan for how the rest of the levy should be spent, and that employers should have an opportunity to realise the potential benefits. That might help to ensure that more businesses make use of the cash that is available. There should also be more flexibility when it comes to how the cash can be used. For instance, recruitment firms could be allowed to spend their levy pots on upskilling jobseekers and helping people to prepare for work, which would, in turn, boost overall productivity. I should be happy to discuss those ideas further.

The Augar review provides an opportunity for big changes to be made throughout further and higher education to meet some of the challenges. Although not all its ideas are good, it certainly shows some positive ways in which reform could benefit the whole sector.

I am flying through this now, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I am close to the time that you specified. I am nearly there. However, you have got me on my favourite subject, so I am going to get it all out! Let me end my speech by raising some fairly disparate points about other areas of education.

I massively welcome the children’s social care innovation programme. The Government have invested £200 million in up to 98 projects for local authorities to develop, test and scale new approaches to supporting vulnerable children in our care system. However, we need to find answers to a great many questions about children’s services, not least the question of how we can take a more proactive and preventive approach that will mean taking fewer children into care. Learning in that regard is hugely important—as is the extra 1 billion quid in the next year’s budget, which is very positive. I have spoken about the amount that front-loaded education spending will save in the long run; the same is true of spending on children’s services, and perhaps even more true of spending on young people who are often very vulnerable.

I also welcome the additional funds to support maintained nurseries in the period preceding the spending review, which were greatly needed. We should consider how we can best utilise early-years funding to support those who need it most. As I have said before in the Select Committee, while I am personally very excited about my youngest turning three next month and about how much that will save me in childcare, I am not convinced that my family is among those most in need of that financial help. It is brilliant to be able to reduce people’s childcare costs and help people to take on more hours or go to work, but perhaps we could revisit the thresholds. Perhaps we could put some of that money to more effective use, or look again at the funding for nurseries for the delivery of those free hours to ensure that it is sustainable. Better career paths, training and staff development in nurseries would help to reduce staff turnover and offer better support for children, just as such opportunities for teachers would do in schools

Needless to say, I am a passionate advocate of delivering for our young people. I think that if there is any sector in which Government money should be spent, it is education and children’s services, which should be a key priority. The statistics on ever-improving school standards and attainment are massively welcome—more children are meeting basic standards in literacy and numeracy, there are more good and outstanding schools, and there has been some excellent progress of which we should be proud—but there is much more to do, particularly for the most vulnerable. I hope that that will be the No. 1 domestic priority for the next Prime Minister later this summer.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his efforts. I am sure it is not his rhetoric that is lacking; it may be merely his arithmetic. Let us now look on this as a test in primary school arithmetic: let us try adding eight and then stopping. Otherwise, I will impose a time limit.

Photo of Laura Smith Laura Smith Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 8:39 pm, 1st July 2019

I will try to be the swot here today, Madam Deputy Speaker, and it is a pleasure to follow Ben Bradley.

I regularly meet headteachers, governors, teachers, teaching assistants, families and pupils, and without exception there are huge levels of concern regarding many different aspects of our education system. As a former teacher and the mother of two young children, I wholeheartedly share their worries. One headteacher said to me recently, “Laura, the difference between the year 7 children I now have and those who are leaving this year is huge. The range of needs that they have is dramatically different but, Laura, we have to remember this is now a generation that has known nothing but austerity.” This comment really struck me: there are children now who have never known anything but cuts and starved public services and the damage that this political choice has made.

Let me be clear about what that looks like in towns such as mine. It means children who are not being fed adequately. It means kids moving house countless times and living in properties that are completely unfit. It means children who see the insecurity of their parents regularly being out of work or in low-income jobs. It means not enough food in their bellies, coming to school with no underwear on, rolling loo roll in their knickers to deal with their periods. They see and experience mental health problems and the reality of no money to pay the bills. And these are not scare stories; this is reality—a shameful reality that needs to change.

There are so many different aspects of school funding that I could focus my remarks on today. However, a recent survey that I sent to local schools in Crewe and Nantwich concurred that top of the list of urgent problems that need addressing is special educational needs provision. I know as one of the vice-chairs of the parliamentary f40 group that this is something we appear to agree on across the House; indeed, a huge number of f40 MPs have recently written to the Chancellor asking for an urgent injection of £1.4 billion to be put into the system to deal with the high needs crisis across the country. The stark truth is that even though there is a statutory obligation, schools and councils are struggling to make this a reality.

This is where we seem to go around in a continual circle: schools report the difficulties they face; local authorities report the difficulties they face; and the Government respond by saying that there is more money than ever before. Meanwhile, we all know that there is a significant problem with children not receiving the education they are entitled to receive, and the evidence points overwhelmingly to the fact that there simply is not enough money in the system to meet children’s needs. It is not just about how the Department for Education divides up its money and the new funding formula; it is also about the fact that the Treasury has not recognised the required amount to make it fair.

This ultimately results in headteachers making difficult decisions that can bring them into conflict with parents. Some schools compromise on the kind of support they provide while others have no choice but to encourage parents to educate their children at home instead, and none of this is what they want to be doing. Shockingly, I now know that there are schools in my constituency that have not taken children with education, health and care plans into their schools because they do not have the teaching capacity, the resources or the money to be able to meet their needs. I also know that there are more children being excluded or off-rolled than ever before.

How is it happening that children with needs are starting to be cleansed from our mainstream schools? I have spoken to countless parents who are unable to get their child’s needs met in mainstream; they are also unable to, or do not wish to, enrol their children in special needs schools. This then can result in parents withdrawing their child from school and trying to meet their needs themselves in their own home. I do not have time to go into detail about the problems that arise from that, but this is simply not the path that parents should be left with.

A report by the think-tank IPPR North revealed that the north had been worst affected, with cuts of 22% per pupil, and research has found that Government spending on support for children and young people with the most complex special educational needs and disabilities has failed to keep pace with rising demand, resulting in a reduction in funds available per pupil. The report also found that the cuts to education and local government budgets had led to a dramatic reduction in support for children with less complex needs and had increased demand for more intensive support.

Many I speak to in the profession have explained that this affects not just those with, or in the process of trying to get, an EHCP; they now have what would be considered more children with moderate needs in their classroom who are also not having their educational needs met. The fact is that everyone seems to be being let down by our education system: pupils, families and the staff working in our schools. We know that cuts to budgets have meant that support in schools and local authorities has been drastically reduced, leaving the most vulnerable students without the full support and care that they need. Parents and carers will not forgive a Government who do not believe that a fully funded and resourced education system is a priority.

Heartbreakingly, the picture facing schools supporting children with special educational needs is bleak. School budgets are at breaking point, and there have been severe cuts to health and social care provision. Schools and local authorities are left struggling to meet the needs of pupils. Without sufficient funding and a more coherent approach, the SEN code of practice is nothing more than an empty promise from Government to parents and children. The fact is that most children with SEN do not have any additional funding afforded to them. That means that the financial burden of additional support penalises those mainstream schools that are the most inclusive. That is unsustainable. Schools are seriously struggling to fund SEN support in the face of crippling budget pressures that force them to cut critical support staff. We urgently need the Government to recognise the scale of the problem and to secure an immediate increase in funding from the Treasury.

Quite simply, it is make or break time for our school funding. It is absolutely essential that schools have the support of specialist services to meet children’s needs, and the Government must provide more funding for health and social care services as well as for education. This is why the comment from my headteacher—that her children have known nothing but austerity—is so pertinent. The whole system is starved. I urge the Chancellor to meet the asks that the f40 group made to him recently and to provide the funds needed so that all children, wherever they live and whatever their needs, receive the education that they deserve. Do not tell me that there is not enough money in this country. Maybe those who have been gorging on the cake for so long should now consider sharing it as a matter of absolute urgency.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash 8:47 pm, 1st July 2019

I would like to take the Chamber on a tour around some of the schools in my constituency. It will be a very positive tour, as I have some great schools in my constituency with some great education being delivered in them. I apologise in advance to those schools that I do not mention tonight, but that does not mean to say that they are any different from the ones I am going to talk about.

I shall start in Long Eaton, at Wilsthorpe School, where last September the students were able to walk through the doors of a newly rebuilt school, which was absolutely fantastic. I was delighted to take the Secretary of State there to do the official opening. The students now seem to walk around the school with a spring in their step and really enjoy their new environment.

Still in Long Eaton, last week I was delighted to host eight students from Long Eaton School. They attend the enhanced resource centre there, which supports students with a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder. All eight students were a true credit to the school and a delight to be with. They came to London because they are learning about transport, so they walked from their school to the train station in Long Eaton and got a train to London. They then got on the tube and had that experience. They came to Parliament and then did some walking sightseeing, going to Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square before getting a bus back to the station to go back home. I know, just from the first part of their day, that the rest of the day will have been fantastic for them.

I was also delighted to host the Minister for School Standards at Cotmanhay Junior School in Ilkeston, in one of my most deprived wards. We went to the school on the same day as an unannounced Ofsted visit, which was probably not the best time, but I am delighted to report that the school has been rated as good, so the visit from the Minister and me did not affect that. The Minister described the school as a happy school, and I went back a few weeks later to the infant school at Cotmanhay to find that it is just as happy.

Not far from Cotmanhay Junior School is Chaucer Junior School, where the pupils share my passion for gardening. I pay credit to Kerry Wheatley, who has run the school’s gardening club for 17 years, and I am sure that the pupils will be busy harvesting their vegetables and fruits as we speak. The school has entered the Keep Britain Tidy competition and was a regional winner last year, and the pupils just love litter picking. They understand the importance of not dropping litter and the cost to the taxpayer of picking it up.

Going back to Long Eaton, Dovedale Primary School took part in Long Eaton’s carnival just a couple of Saturdays ago. The fancy dress was inspired by “101 Dalmatians”, but there were so many of them that it seemed more like 1,001 Dalmatians, with students, teachers and parents taking part. Everyone really enjoyed the day, and the school won the walking parade competition.

Moving on to Sandiacre, I had the pleasure of going along to the opening of an astroturf pitch a couple of weeks ago at Friesland School. The pitch is not just for the school but for the whole community, and it is now a community asset. A tremendous amount of fundraising was done by the school, by the Football Association and by the community as a whole, and I was pleased to learn that funding was also secured from the sugary drinks levy. While on the subject of school sports, I have a question for the Minister about the school sports premium. It has been a real positive for many primary schools across Erewash, but several schools have shared their concerns about the provision of the funding and their fear that it is about to cease, so will the Minister clarify the situation when he responds?

Schools do a lot to improve not just their facilities but the whole teaching environment, and they often think outside the box. Historically, Derbyshire is recognised as an area of below average funding, but the situation is improving. I hope that the schools I have highlighted on my whistle-stop tour demonstrate that this is not just about the amount of funding that a school receives, but about how that money is spent. This is about the dedication of our teachers and teaching assistants and the involvement of parents and volunteers. This is about everyone working together to ensure that our children, who are the future of our country, get a great start in life and a great education.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 8:52 pm, 1st July 2019

When talking about education, it is important to recognise its position within the wider national context. Some of my colleagues have already talked about this, but I will focus my remarks on the most vulnerable children who go to our schools. I recently read a fascinating report written by LKMco and others for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. It is a couple of years old, but it talks about a few interesting things, including inter- generational disability and the likelihood of a child with SEND having had parents who also have special needs and disabilities.

The report focused on the link between SEND and poverty, and some of its conclusions were quite stark. It said that

“children with special educational needs and disability…are more likely to experience poverty than others.”

It also stated that SEND

“can be a result of poverty as well as a cause of poverty.”

It highlighted that 28.7% of children with free school meals have SEND and that

“more than half of children with behavioural difficulties or physical difficulties were living in poverty at the age of 9 months”.

The study went through all the years of the children. The report also found that

“the families of children with SEND are more likely to move into poverty”.

When I looked into all that, I thought, “Why would that happen? Why is it that a child with special needs is more likely to live in poverty?” The report said that there was an increased risk of family breakdown as a result of a stress on the family, and that the chances of both parents being able to work are less likely if they are caring for a child with special needs and disabilities; childcare is near impossible to find and can end up being more expensive, and time away from work to care for a child with SEND means that someone is less likely to advance or pursue their own career. All these things need to be taken into account when we talk about funding for children with special needs and disabilities. The report also says that it is not just that children with special needs and disabilities do not achieve as well. The report looked at the interconnecting factors— including the area where a family live, whether they live in poverty and whether they have special needs and disabilities—and how those factors combine to give these vulnerable children the worst possible chance and the least likelihood of progressing and achieving. When we talk about cuts and a lack of funding for SEND, we have to place it in the reality that these children are already at a significant disadvantage and are likely to come from poorer backgrounds.

Last year, Hull headteachers wrote to the Secretary of State asking for extra money to help these children, and they have failed to receive that money. The support, although targeted through the education, health and care plans, is still more readily available to parents on higher incomes. We saw that at the Education Committee, where parents described having to fight all the time to get a plan, having to go into battle and having to enter tribunals. I have absolute respect for each and every parent who has done that, but I am fully aware that so many parents out there do not understand how to fight the system or, for various reasons, are unable to do so. Even after getting an EHC plan, over 4,000 children are awaiting provision.

I was lobbied the other week by Sense, which talked about parents whose children have been awarded a placement only to find that they have not been awarded the transport to get there, so they are unable to take up that place. The charity told me this is happening throughout the country. I have tabled nearly 20 parliamentary questions on this issue, so we will see all the facts when we get the answers back from the Department.

I have had examples from Elizabeth, who spent over £5,000 on independent assessments, and from Sharon, who spent £7,500 on individual private assessments. I totally understand that. Would not any parent here do the same for their children? We have the financial advantage to do that, but not all parents of children with special needs do.

Children with special needs and disabilities are less likely to report themselves as happy, which I find really sad. They are more likely to report that they feel bullied, and they are more likely to report that they do not feel they have friends at school. I ask the Minister to look at redesigning the whole way in which special educational needs and disabilities is funded, because the high-needs block, based on historical data and information, does not work, and nor does the notional £6,000. A fundamental rethink is needed.

We also need a fundamental rethink of how we support these children in our schools, because it is not just about money—I agree with the point made by Ben Bradley. It is about support, it is about designing the curriculum, and it is about recognising that these children come to school from a different position and often face more disadvantages than many of the other pupils.

I finish by saying that it is far easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham 8:58 pm, 1st July 2019

It is a real pleasure to follow Emma Hardy and to have listened to her elegant speech.

Being a Member of Parliament is a great privilege, and one of the greatest privileges is going to schools in my constituency to speak to the young people. In the past month alone, I have had the pleasure of speaking to young people at Saint John’s Church of England Primary School, St James’ Church of England Primary School, St Mark’s Church of England Junior School and Lakeside Primary School.

The children from Lakeside Primary School came to the Parliamentary Education Centre. They might think they got the opportunity of asking me questions here, but it is actually me, as a Member of Parliament, who derives the greatest benefit. I find it hugely valuable and stimulating to hear from young people about their aspirations and what matters to them.

This debate has focused a great deal on funding, and I will come to that, but we ought to pause and take a moment to recognise so much of the good and positive work taking place in our schools, which is certainly the case in my Cheltenham constituency. One example, in particular, is critical to underscore: literacy improvements in our schools are astonishing. The phonics screening check has led to an enormous increase in the percentage of six-year-olds who are on track to become fluent readers, from a figure at or around 50% to well over 80%. That is a stunning increase. It is also the case that a full 85% of children are in good or outstanding schools, which compares with 66% in 2010. These are not just glib statistics; these are thousands of pupils getting a better education, setting themselves up for a better life. We should recognise that and celebrate it, and I wish to pay tribute to the teachers in my constituency, who are working phenomenally hard to deliver those excellent education outcomes.

Other exciting initiatives are taking place in the educational sector in Cheltenham, one of which is a formal partnership that has been set up between All Saints’ Academy and Cheltenham College. That is working to provide richer extra-curricular provision, shared knowledge and expertise in learning techniques, and improved career professional development opportunities. The partnership is working well and we should support it.

In addition, Balcarras is spearheading the GLOW maths hub, which provides additional teaching resources to schools, not just in Gloucestershire, but beyond. That is being headed up by Steve Lomax, who is doing a tremendous job, again raising standards and aspirations in mathematics across my constituency and beyond.

Some additional funding is also coming to Cheltenham, in the form of more than £20 million for a new school that Balcarras will be running in the south of Cheltenham. So this is additional funding going into my constituency. Although I am talking about funding, it is right to say that not every problem in our schools can be solved by finance but it does remain an issue, and I make no apology for referring to it. True it is that the Government have supported schools with additional funding—in particular, the planned increase in employer contribution rates is going to be met by the Government and the increase in pay grants—but schools have been shouldering additional pressures in national insurance and pension contributions.

The point I really want to focus on in the time left available to me is the issue of special needs funding. The budget for special needs is about £6.3 billion, which is a significant sum. To put it in context, the entire prisons budget is about £4 billion. Although the Government have continued to put money into this important sector, the need has grown, if not exponentially, certainly very dramatically. That was brought home to me when I went to a special school in Cheltenham, where I met a teacher who had been teaching for some 20 years or so. He said that when he began teaching in a special school in Cheltenham, the pupil to teacher ratio could be about 15:1; these were children who needed a bit of additional support, with which they would have been able to enter the workplace successfully and go on to lead a full and fulfilling life. The reality now, however, is that such is the level of complexity that 15:1 is manifestly inadequate. Schools that are nominally intended to be catering for children with moderate learning difficulties are increasingly dealing with children with severe learning difficulties, and schools that are supposed to be dealing with children with severe learning difficulties are addressing the needs of children far beyond what was ever anticipated, even as recently as 10 years ago.

In my constituency, we have the Battledown children’s centre, which is providing specialist assessment, as well as Belmont School, Bettridge School and The Ridge Academy. The common theme we see when we visit any of these schools is that the level of complexity has gone up. We have precious little understanding of why that is. Some people say to me that it is to do with social breakdown. Others say that that there is the role of social media. Others say, in an observation that perhaps causes us some concern and is difficult to articulate but may be true none the less, that there are children surviving childbirth who might very well not have done 20 years ago. That is a matter for great celebration but it potentially has a knock-on impact. I wish to make it clear that I do not know whether that is a cause, but it has been raised with me. The point is that these needs are there. With some modest additional support, the schools can keep functioning, but if they do not get that additional support soon, I fear that some of them will be placed under intolerable strain.

I wish also to reiterate a point that has been made by others, including Dr Drew, who is no longer in his place. He made the point that mainstream schools often absorb and address some of the need within mainstream provision, but increasingly they are disincentivised from doing so because they are required to cover the first £6,000, which needs to be paid from within their existing budgets. As a matter of fact, that rule was set at a time when we could understand the logic for it—because otherwise there was a risk of creating a perverse incentive; schools would wish to mischaracterise and over-diagnose SEND to ensure that funding was provided—but that was in an era when the level of demand was nothing like what it is now.

We have to support responsible schools, including in my constituency Balcarras School, which does a fantastic job for pupils with SEND but needs to be encouraged to continue to do so, because if the school cannot provide that support, those children will go out into the schools that cater for children with moderate learning difficulties, and in turn that will shunt children with severe learning difficulties out of their schools and so on. Ultimately, if they cannot be educated in that system, they will move into alternative provision, which is fantastically more expensive and drains the high-needs budget fast.

I invite the Government, who are making really important strides to support the SEND budget—the high-needs block—to consider two things in particular. The first is the £6,000 issue to which I just referred. The second thing is that the common message coming out from special schools in my constituency is that, when they have to deal with episodes of mental health crisis, which they do increasingly regularly, they find it difficult to know what to do. Should they deal with it in-house with teachers who, truth be told, are not expert in this area, or should they take the children down for a long wait in A&E, which is unlikely to be the best place for them? If we could have specific support, no doubt commissioned by the clinical commissioning group, to provide on-tap mental health support for those schools, that would make an enormous difference and free up resources to allow teachers to do what they want to carry on doing: teaching some of the most vulnerable students in my constituency.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington 9:07 pm, 1st July 2019

It is an honour to follow Alex Chalk, who spoke so well and in such an informed manner, particularly about the demands and challenges of special educational needs. I thank all the great teachers and headteachers, the leadership teams, the teaching assistants, and all the governors who provide their time voluntarily to some great schools, of which I am proud to have so many throughout the constituency of Warwick and Leamington.

As far as I am concerned, education is probably the greatest gift from one generation to the next, and it always has been. But all that is changing, and it is changing incredibly quickly. From the wholesale closure of children’s centres to the pressures on higher education, every facet and every sector of education is in or potentially faces a funding crisis, but for the purposes of this debate, I wish to focus primarily on our schools and colleges.

In recent weeks I have had the privilege of visiting many primary schools, including Woodloes, Westgate, Telford, St Margaret’s, Bishop’s Tachbrook and Clapham Terrace. Just 37 days ago I visited a great little school—perhaps not so little—and met the children, who were all highly motivated. I took questions from years 5 and 6, and they asked about climate change and plastics in our environment, and there were even questions on Brexit and its impact on exchange rates. I thought it was pretty tough. I got talking to the headteacher, who confided that sometime that day he was going to have to find £50,000 to meet a budget cut. He introduced me to a pupil with special needs. The child needs one-to-one support, but the school cannot afford it, so the headteacher is left trying to square a difficult circle. Since 2015, the school has lost more than £340 per pupil. Of course, the school is not alone in that. In fact, that sum of money is pretty typical across our primary schools.

Thirty two days ago, I went to a special educational needs picnic in the constituency. It was brilliantly organised by some wonderful parents—Cassie, Ellie, Froo, Helen and Emma. The event brought together parents from across Warwickshire and gave them a voice, enabling them to speak about the crisis that we are facing in special educational needs and disability funding. The parents are desperate. As we have heard from Members across the House, their children are being squeezed out of mainstream education by schools that cannot afford to teach them. Some schools can provide only a limited number of hours a day or week, so the children spend much of their time at home. Some of the most vulnerable children in our society are being denied a full education. It all sounds faintly Victorian, but I do not blame schools and nor do the parents—but they do blame the Government.

Eleven days ago, I hosted a meeting for parents at a local secondary school. Some 60 people attended. They feel anger and frustration. Just nine months ago, only days before the start of the academic year, the headteacher was suspended, the board of governors dissolved, and an interim executive board introduced. Months later, the sixth form faces closure and the school faces significant cuts. The pupils and parents are being left in limbo; their choice is limited. They are having to look around for alternative sixth-form provision—as if that is going to be easy.

Earlier in the week, I was talking, by chance, to a sixth-form student at another secondary school who had just finished her A-levels. Her story well illustrates the destruction of the provision and choice available to this next generation. Like several of her friends, she wanted to study politics, but there were too few of them—just six—so the choice was withdrawn. She took German instead, but the teaching staff had to be cut, so she ended up teaching herself for her final year. What chance is there for her?

Ten days ago, I visited another primary school—again in Warwick. I met the school council. The headteacher talked me through the financial crash that the school has faced. It has lost £97,000 since 2015-16—that is £511 per pupil. It has lost two teaching assistants, and the school has just 200 pupils. The headteacher has to cover special educational needs and disabilities in the absence of sufficient special educational needs co-ordinators. As a result, it is typical for the school to have up to 3% of pupils excluded at any one time. As if that were not enough, the future appears even bleaker: there will be a £35,000 deficit next year followed by a £140,000 deficit the year after. This school is, of course, not alone.

All our primary schools across the area are facing a crisis. One in south Leamington has lost almost £650 per pupil. Similarly, a school in north Leamington has had to cut £570 per pupil and six teaching assistants. In Whitnash, one school has lost £540 per pupil. These are huge sums for schools to have to face up to.

It is not just primary schools facing massive financial pressures, but our superb nursery schools, such as Warwick and Whitnash. Since 2013, we have seen the dismantling of our precious children’s centres. In Warwickshire, the Government’s funding cuts, together with the failure to raise sufficient money by claiming zero council tax increases, have seen the wholesale closure of the children’s centres, with 26 of 39 being closed.

As Tim Loughton rightly observed, the first 1,000 days are critical for both child and parent, yet we are seeing the withdrawal of these services for many in our community. Across Warwickshire, the bigger picture is pretty bleak. Schools have lost £50 million in total since 2015—that is an average of £244 per child. It is not as if Warwickshire already had very high per-pupil funding; it comes 120th out of 140.

It is easy to talk about these cuts in the abstract. They are extremely damaging to our children, their parents and the teaching staff, but they are also damaging, as we have heard elsewhere, to our society and to our communities, as schools are so often at the very centre of them—they are the very heartbeat of them. They are also damaging to our cultural wealth and our economy, as my right hon. Friend Mr Jones illustrated so well earlier on.

How can it be that we have cut music, arts and design and languages from so many schools’ provision and choices? Those sorts of subjects are increasingly the preserve of private schools. It has to be a concern that so many in our society are being denied that choice.

I am afraid to say it, but I think that what the parents of Warwick and Leamington appreciate so well is that the Government are failing the next generation. It cannot be right that so many young people are being denied the education that they deserve and that would ultimately serve this country well. But they are also being failed in the protections they need, whether safeguarding or mental health provision in our schools.

In conclusion, I agree with the notion of a 10-year education plan, as mentioned by Robert Halfon. He is right that we need long-term planning—schools are crying out for it—but that means nothing without the massive increase in investment that we need in our education system. I urge the Minister to fight hard for that in the spending review. However, that would benefit only those born today. As it stands, this Government have failed the next generation, and the young people let down by an ideology born of austerity will never forget it.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South 9:15 pm, 1st July 2019

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for adding me to your list of speakers. I begin by declaring my interests, as the husband of a higher-level teaching assistant currently working in a west midlands primary school, as the father of two young children who attend primary school in Dudley, and as somebody who, like many Members across the House, simply would not be here without the benefit of excellent state schools and the support of parents who placed a huge value on good education, despite—or perhaps because of—not having any formal qualifications themselves. It is hard to imagine any area of policy that is more vital to our society, our economy and our communities than education. Education lies at the heart of opportunity, it drives social mobility, it reinforces inclusion and it strengthens community cohesion.

Schools in Dudley face many challenges. The debate around school funding is often framed in terms of inner-city schools or remote, rural village schools, but schools in industrial towns face their own challenges: in educating many children, often with multiple indices of deprivation; in bringing together and educating children from many diverse backgrounds and cultures, often with first languages other than English; and in educating in a post-industrial age, with changing work patterns and a move away from children following their parents into traditional industries, with the impact that has on aspirations and educational expectations.

However, Dudley also has many excellent schools, and many outstanding teachers and other staff who are doing amazing work to give our children the best possible start in life, regardless of their background. Like other Members, I regularly visit schools in my constituency—I have now visited almost all of them three times in the four years since being elected. In the past two weeks I have seen the outstanding work being done on sports and physical education at Glynne Primary School, which I visited ahead of sports week to see how it is using the school sports premium to support greater participation and love for sports among children at all levels of physical activity. I have visited Dingle Community Primary School and St Mark’s Church of England Primary School in Pensnett—two schools that arguably had not been meeting their full potential or delivering what they perhaps should have been for local children—where new headteachers who have started in the past few months are already making a real and visible difference.

I have revisited Pens Meadow School, a special school where I formally opened a post-16 unit three years ago, to see the incredible work it is doing with children across the age range, many of whom have very complex special needs—the headteacher told me that, although it is a small school, typically it loses at least one pupil each year because of serious health conditions. Each of these schools and many others are delivering exceptional results against very tight budgetary constraints. The additional £1.3 billion being invested last year and this year, over and above what was set out in the 2015 public spending review, is important, as is the Government’s decision to meet the costs of schools’ increased employer’s contributions. That issue was raised by many school headteachers who were concerned that their existing budgets simply could not cope with this additional cost.

This debate is about the estimates, but it would clearly be impossible to separate that from the forthcoming spending review, which is the context in which they must be considered. Reassuringly, at all the meetings with Treasury Ministers that I have been to with Conservative colleagues, it has become clear that while we are very pleased to see the large increases in funding for the NHS announced last year as more money becomes available for this spending review, our schools, colleges and maintained nurseries must, alongside policing, be the priority for additional investment.

Nowhere is that money more desperately needed than in special schools. We see in these estimates increased funding for high needs, but going forward we need more. We need significantly more capacity for special educational needs, particularly in special schools. In Dudley, all our special schools are assessed as either good or outstanding. Unusually, parents, when given the choice, would rather their child went to a special school than be educated at one of the mainstream schools. However, too many pupils who need a place at a special school this autumn are being told that no places are available. Incredibly, 40 children who have been assessed as band E or higher—so with very, very severe learning disabilities or complex special needs—are without a place at a special school this September. This needs to be addressed, and that can only be done with significant capital funding to increase capacity.

Of course, education is not only about our schools. At either end of the state education spectrum, our colleges and state nurseries are disproportionately underfunded. I welcome the £24 million of additional supplementary funding that has been provided for state nurseries, which will make a big difference, but there is clearly a need to provide greater certainty further into the future. As the head teacher of Netherton Park Nursery School, the only maintained nursery school in Dudley, has written to me to say, unless this funding can be put on a sustainable footing going into the future, it will probably mean cuts to staffing and services or even the closure of her school. She writes:

“We do not know what places we can provide after Summer 2020. We are making decisions that could be detrimental to the future of our schools because we have no clear direction from the government about our funding.”

We need to provide that clear direction. It is essential that that is done in the weeks—at most, in the couple of months—that lie ahead, so that schools can plan for 2020-21, nurseries can provide people with the best start in life, and we can deliver the state educational system that all our communities deserve.

Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Labour, High Peak 9:24 pm, 1st July 2019

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for letting me speak in the debate, which it has been a great pleasure to listen to. I concur with almost everything that has been said by Members on both sides of the House.

Education is in a state of crisis. In Derbyshire, I live in one of the f40 areas. Our schools have some of the lowest funding, and they are struggling. House of Commons Library research shows that the 50 schools in my constituency have lost more than £2 million over the last five years. They are having to lose teachers—in particular, teaching assistants—which is having an impact on pupils. It is also having an impact on the governors, who have to make some incredibly tough decisions, and on the school leadership, the support staff, the tutors, the parents and the children themselves.

I pay tribute to the incredible dedication and support that is given across the education sector, particularly by those who work in it and do hours over and above the call of duty, but also by the parents, who contribute; by governors, who give up their time; and often by the children themselves, who bake cakes for fundraising days, have school councils and contribute where they can.

The impact of our crisis in education is felt most sharply by our children. My hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) and for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith) spoke movingly about the impact of austerity on children in their constituencies, which I concur with. Our schools are having to deal with children who turn up hungry, who do not have school uniform, who are struggling for housing and who simply cannot do homework because they do not have the resources—for example, access to the internet—or support, or even somewhere quiet at home to do their homework. Schools are also suffering from the mental health crisis, as we have heard, and from county lines, drug pushers and knives. Increasingly, our schools are having to deal with problems that we would usually ask youth services or the police to deal with. So much more is being placed upon their shoulders, with fewer resources to do it.

I would like to concentrate my speech on the early years, which we have heard little about today but which is facing at least as much of a crisis as any other part of the education system. Mike Wood spoke about maintained nurseries, but there is only one of those in his constituency, and there are only three in mine. Around 3% of children are educated in maintained nurseries. Everywhere is struggling. We have seen over 10% of nursery provision close in the last two years alone. This is a crisis.

I regularly meet people who work in nurseries across my constituency, and they tell me the struggle involved in making the 30 hours’ funding stretch. It is based on costings from six years ago. Since then, they have seen rises in the minimum wage, pension provision, rent, rates and all the other costs they face, and it simply does not cover them. We had a meeting this afternoon with the Minister and nurseries from across the country, to launch a report by the all-party parliamentary group on childcare and early education, which it has been my pleasure to temporarily chair. There is incredible anger across the nursery sector that they are essentially working for nothing. They are having to employ people with the great skills, dedication and qualifications to deliver the Ofsted results for early years education that are required of them, but they cannot pay more than the minimum wage on the amount they get from the 30 hours’ funding. It is an absolute scandal. They are having to work longer hours, with more bureaucracy—monthly payments mean monthly assessments for children—and it is difficult to offer contracts.

That has an impact on the best providers. Nurseries that seek to employ qualified staff and support them, to do more for their children and to have low ratios are the ones that suffer most from a lack of funding, as well as nurseries that take children with special educational needs—many nurseries do not because they simply cannot afford to; they do not get the support they need to do that. So many of the special needs problems we are seeing in our schools, which have been very passionately spoken about by Members from across this House, could be addressed by investment in the early years—in speech and language development for children, or in support with their social issues at a very early age—before they get to school, where they have to be assessed all over again and where those special needs become even more of a problem. On behalf of the whole nursery sector, may I make a plea to the Minister to look at this across the country? The f40 group, which has been fighting just for schools, has realised that we are on the brink of a crisis in nursery education. We have seen 10% of nursery provision close. We will end up at a stage where we do not have enough nursery places for our children, and the best providers will suffer most.

The other issue that is raised so often in my constituency is further education and sixth-form provision. We have seen New Mills sixth form have to close after 21% cuts to the funding for school sixth forms. That means we have provision of just two sixth forms left in my entire constituency, out of 50 schools. Buxton Community School is left offering just 10 A-levels. Hundreds of young people simply do not have the choice to be able to do the courses they want to do or aspire to doing. They often have to travel an hour each way to access the colleges that do offer A-levels in particular, but also the vocational courses they want to do. And it costs: they get no support from 16 with the funding for that, not even a youth rate of bus travel. That means young people from deprived backgrounds, whose parents do not have the income to pay the often £1,000 a year in bus fares, cannot afford to go on to that provision. They cannot afford to have the aspirations we would want any of our children to be able to achieve. That is absolutely devastating for those young people, for their life chances and for our communities, where young people cannot achieve all that they want.

I spoke to year 9s in one of our local secondary schools last week. I spent the whole day there, and the headteacher joked that an innovative way to cover the cuts was to get the MP in to teach some of his pupils. I asked those 13 and 14-year-olds what they wanted from me and what they wanted from the Government to see what they could aspire to. Do you know what they asked for? They wanted a covered bench in the park because they get wet when it rains. That I am afraid, after a decade of austerity, is what our young people are aspiring to: they just want to stay dry. I think that is an absolute indictment of our society and of our system. Young people have had their aspirations limited by what opportunities there are for them in youth provision out of school, but also within school, in spite of the very best efforts of the fantastic teaching staff and support staff in all our schools. It is here in this House that we are failing our schools, our children, the parents who are fighting day and night for special educational needs provision for their children, and the staff that go over and above to provide it. We here need to do our part and support those schools, nurseries and colleges so that our young people have the aspirations and the achievement they deserve.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 9:33 pm, 1st July 2019

It is a real pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Ruth George. Far from being wet, I noticed it was 30° heat at the carnival in Tideswell on Saturday, as I paraded around with my pipe band. Far from needing shelter, I have to say it was more like a Tuscany hill town.

Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Labour, High Peak

It does rain occasionally.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

It is true that it does rain occasionally in the Peak district.

We have had a good debate. May I congratulate right hon. and hon. Members from across the House on their contributions, and obviously the Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Halfon, on his articulate opening? I also congratulate him on how well he chairs that Select Committee.

When I last spoke in this Chamber about education cuts, I was positively surprised about how many Members from the Conservative party were in open dissent, and it has been no different really tonight.

I will pick out a few contributions. My hon. Friend Matt Western said that education was the greatest gift that we could pass from one generation to the next. That is true, but we have heard the bleak reality today. The Chair of the Education Committee said that funding was “bleak”—several Members used that adjective—and that there is little long-term thinking about education and its budgets compared with the Department of Health and Social Care.

Tim Loughton talked about the double whammy that some coastal towns suffer in terms of education standards and attracting the calibre of people needed to our education establishments. He said that the tank was now empty. That was the best metaphor of the evening. He went on to say that there was a crisis in children’s social care on this Government’s watch.

The debate reinforces the unity in this legislature that things must change. Members who criticised the Government for education funding did so bravely and well. As they vie for the leadership of their party and the country, the right hon. Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt) have pledged new funding for education. Whether they fulfil their promise—I suspect that they will not—the pledge is an implicit criticism of their Government’s neglect of education.

Ben Bradley spoke well. He spoke for many of us when he said that his constituency surgeries were often rammed with parents who are desperate to get SEND provision for their children. Many Members will recognise that situation.

Maggie Throup spoke passionately about the schools in her constituency. She mentioned the good work that the Long Eaton School is doing, despite suffering a £385,000 cut since 2015.

Alex Chalk spoke well and passionately about the schools on his patch, but Gloucestershire has suffered a £41.7 million cut to its funding since 2015.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

The hon. Gentleman will know that one of the issues that Gloucestershire has had to face is inheriting an unfair funding formula. Will he take his share of the responsibility for bequeathing to the Government a funding formula that disadvantaged rural authorities in favour of urban authorities?

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I remind the hon. Gentleman that, as a representative of the Trafford authority, I, too, am from one of the f40 authorities, so I know what underfunding looks like. We know that the fair funding formula is making no difference because it does not level up all schools as required.

We also know about the frustration in the Department. After all, the Secretary of State said that he had heard the concerns about education funding “loud and clear”. Last year, it was reported that he was trying to squeeze more money out of the Treasury. He also told us that every school would see

“at least a small cash increase”—[Official Report, 29 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 536.]

However, we have seen nothing substantial—nothing that will wind back the years of austerity that No. 11 has waged against Sure Start centres, schools, colleges and universities and all those who work in them.

Instead, all the Chancellor offered in the last Budget was “a few little extras”. It is worth unpacking what he meant by that. When he was pressed, he said it could be for “a couple of whiteboards, or some laptop computers, or something”. It is no wonder that the Secretary of State was said to have cringed. That is another example of how isolated the Chancellor is from everyday reality. That “little extra” does not match the £3.5 billion that the Government took out of capital expenditure in the last Budget. It will not address the link between poverty and special needs, as my hon. Friend Emma Hardy articulated brilliantly.

The Opposition know that the massive cut, along with the impact of the public sector pay freeze, has engendered an unprecedented crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. New teachers are less likely to stay in our schools now than at any time in the past 20 years. This week alone, the statistics are getting worse. That is happening at a time when there are some 45,000 more pupils in supersized classrooms, according to the Department’s figures, which were released last week. Schools have more pupils, but fewer teachers, fewer teaching assistants and fewer support and auxiliary staff. The latest OECD international survey ratings confirmed that England has the eighth biggest problem in the world for secondary school teacher shortages and the third highest level shortages in Europe.

At the advent of a new Tory Prime Minister, it is perhaps of little worth inquiring whether we will see the money the Secretary of State said he was trying to squeeze out of the Treasury. I wonder if the Secretary of State has made representations to the leadership candidates. Matt Hancock said that there would be a pay rise for public sector staff, but that seemed to be rolled back almost immediately the other day. Again, I suspect that that promise will not be fulfilled, but I hope the Secretary of State has informed both candidates of what teachers and pupils are going through. In fact, can the Minister even tell us if the School Teachers’ Review Body will publish its annual report before the summer recess, or will a new Prime Minister just kick that down the road?

The recent report by the UN special rapporteur found that children are showing up at school with empty stomachs, and that schools are collecting food and sending it home because teachers know that students will otherwise go hungry. The rapporteur also found that teachers are not equipped to ensure that students have clean clothes and food to eat, especially as teachers may be relying on food banks themselves. It is worth noting that the Chancellor rejected the report, dismissing it as nonsense. It is no wonder that the Secretary of State has not been able to get anything out of him.

The early years are the most important in anyone’s life. We have had some excellent contributions. My colleague in Trafford, my hon. Friend Kate Green, said that schools are picking up the pieces of the wider austerity agenda, particularly when it comes to mental health. My hon. Friend Laura Smith in a passionate speech said that this generation of children are the austerity generation—a shameful reality, she said. Mike Wood spoke with passion about campaigning for the maintained nursery in his school, but his authority, Dudley, has suffered £27 million cuts since 2015. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak said that 10% of nursery provision has been closed in the past two years.

My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State has spoken about her local Sure Start and how it changed her life. She speaks for many. The policy area is equally important, and yet since 2010 over 1,000 Sure Start centres have closed. We cannot quantify how many people will have missed out because of that and it is a false economy. The latest Institute for Fiscal Studies report showed that Sure Start saved the NHS millions by reducing the hospitalisation of children, a point made by a number of hon. Members across the House. Is the Minister aware that right now there are 1,500 children with special educational needs and disabilities without a school place? What is his Department doing to help them?

There is one area that has suffered the deepest cuts and there is no reason to believe that a new Prime Minister will reverse the damage. Further and adult education has suffered funding cuts every year since the Conservative party came into office. The cuts stand at £3 billion. The Chair of the Education Committee said that FE has suffered twice the amount of cuts of other sectors. If the candidates to be Prime Minister want to make a real difference, they should look at ending devastating cuts to further education. In higher education, we have seen students loaded with more and more debt just for seeking an education, but it is adult and part-time learners who have lost out the most. The Sutton Trust found that the number of adult learners fell by more than half since 2015. Will the Minister admit at long last that his Government’s policies have driven part-time learners out of education? Do we expect a future Tory Prime Minister to implement the recommendations of the Augar review?

Lastly, I would like to repeat the point many Members have made today and finish by paying tribute to all the educators in our country. My right hon. Friend Mr Jones summed it up brilliantly. As my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak said, governors have had to make intolerable decisions. I wish to praise them as well. They do a fantastic and vital job to educate the next generation and to feed our economy with the skills we require. For the last nine years, however, they have suffered a heavy burden as the Government have needlessly made their lives harder.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 9:44 pm, 1st July 2019

I thank my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, the Chair of the Education Committee, for the way that he opened this debate on education estimates, for his kind comments about my work on literacy, and for his praise for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills. He is right to emphasise, as he so often does, the importance of education as preparation for the world of work.

To address one or two points raised by Mike Kane, he should know that there are 40,000 more teaching assistants today than there were in 2010 and there are 10,000 more teachers. He mentioned Cheltenham; there is no more assiduous champion for school funding and schools in Cheltenham than my hon. Friend Alex Chalk. That is one reason why £49.9 million has been spent on schools in Cheltenham in this financial year, which is a 5.3% increase on 2017-18.

There were good speeches from Emma Hardy, Mr Jones and the hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith), for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) and for High Peak (Ruth George). My hon. Friend Maggie Throup demonstrated her passion for education with her whistle-stop tour of schools in her constituency, including Cotmanhay Junior School, which I enjoyed visiting with her recently—I feel so sorry for the headteacher who had the appalling double whammy of having the Schools Minister and an Ofsted inspector there on the same day. My hon. Friend Mike Wood was equally passionate about the schools in his constituency, not just because his wife is a high-level teaching assistant.

Kate Green raised the important issue of mental health, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham. Mental health is a priority for this Government, who are working closely with Universities UK on embedding the #stepchange programme, which calls on higher education to adopt mental health as a strategic priority. The university mental health charter, announced in June last year, is backed by the Government and led by the sector, and it will drive up standards in promoting student and staff mental health and wellbeing. The charter will reward institutions that deliver improved student mental health outcomes.

The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston also raised the tragic issue of young suicide. Following a conference in spring last year on understanding suicide in the student population, Universities UK worked with a range of experts to develop guidance on measures to help to prevent suicide. The Government have also published the first cross-Government suicide prevention plan for wider society. The plan, led by the Department of Health and Social Care, sets out actions for local government, the NHS, the criminal justice system and the universities sector.

The Government are determined to create a world-class education system that offers opportunity to everyone, no matter what their circumstances or where they live. That is why we are investing in our education system to make sure that schools, colleges and universities have the resources that they need to make this happen. In 2019, the Department for Education resource budget is around £68.5 billion, which we are debating today. Of that, £54 billion is for estimate lines relating to early years and schools, £14 billion is for estimate lines relating primarily to post-16 and skills, and £0.4 billion is for social care, mobility and disadvantage.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow also raised the issue of the long-term plan for funding education. Given the strategic national importance of education, I share that view. At the spending review, we will be considering our funding of education in the round and looking to set out a multi-year plan. This will look at the right level of funding as well as how we can use that funding.

Since 2010, we have been reforming our education system to ensure that every child, regardless of background, is able to achieve their full potential, and to close the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged, which is also a priority for my hon. Friend Ben Bradley and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham. Thanks in part to those reforms, the proportion of pupils in good and outstanding schools has increased from 66% in 2010 to 85% in 2018. In primary schools, our more rigorous curriculum, on a par with the highest performing in the world, has been taught since September 2014, and the proportion of primary school pupils reaching the expected standard in the maths test rose from 70% in 2016, when the new curriculum was first tested, to 76% in 2018, and in reading it rose from 66% to 75%. Moreover, this country has risen from joint 10th to joint eighth in the Progress in International Reading Literacy StudyPIRLS—survey of the reading ability of nine and 10-year-olds.

In secondary schools, our more rigorous academic curriculum and qualifications support social mobility by ensuring disadvantaged children have the same opportunities for a knowledge-rich curriculum and the same career and life opportunities as their peers. The attainment gap in primary schools between the most disadvantaged pupils and their peers, measured by the disadvantage gap index, has narrowed by 13.2% since 2011.

Our vision is for a school-led system that recognises headteachers as being best placed to run their schools and to drive improvement based on what they know works best. The reforms of the last nine years show that autonomy and freedom allow the best heads and teachers to make the right decisions for their pupils to enable them to reach their full potential. Over half a million pupils now study in good or outstanding academies, which typically replaced underperforming local authority maintained schools. There are more than 2,000 sponsored academies—schools taken out of local authority control because of performance concerns—and seven out of 10 are good or outstanding, despite their having replaced the most underperforming schools. Some 50% of pupils are now taught in academies.

To support these improvements, we have prioritised and protected education spending while having to take difficult public spending decisions in other areas. We have been able to do that because of our balanced approach to the public finances and our stewardship of the economy, which has reduced the annual deficit from an unsustainable 10% of GDP in 2010—some £150 billion a year—to 2% in 2018. The economic stability that has provided has resulted in employment rising to record levels and unemployment being at its lowest level since the 1970s. This has given young people leaving school more opportunities to have jobs and start their careers.

This balanced approach allows us to invest in public services and education. Core funding for schools and high needs has risen from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion this year. That includes the extra £1.3 billion for schools and high needs that we announced in 2017 and invested across 2018-19 and 2019-20 over and above plans set out in 2015.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

I am not sure what colour the sky is in the Minister’s world, but it is certainly not the same colour as it is for many teachers I speak to in my constituency. He has obviously visited many Conservative constituencies at the behest of his colleagues. Can I challenge him to come to Durham to speak to the local authority and SEN teachers, who are under huge pressure because of the policies he is pursuing?

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I am aware of the pressures that schools are under, and I am very happy to come to Durham. I went to university there and would be happy to make a nostalgic trip back. I meet two or three times a week with groups of headteachers brought here by Government Members as well as Opposition Members to discuss these issues. I am fully aware of the pressures that schools are under as a result of the increased costs they face from national insurance and other issues. We take these issues seriously and will take forward a well-configured spending review as we enter the next spending review period.

We are committed to directing this school funding where it is needed most. This is why, since April last year, we have started to distribute funding to schools through the new national funding formula. The formula is a fairer way to distribute school funding because each area’s allocation takes into account the individual needs and characteristics of its schools and pupils, not accidents of geography or history—not, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow put it, on the basis of a postcode lottery.

Schools are already benefiting from the gains delivered by the national funding formula, which provides every local authority with more money for every pupil in every school, while allocating the biggest increases to the schools that have been most underfunded. This year, the most historically underfunded schools will attract increases of up to 6% compared with 2017-18. My hon. Friend Tim Loughton raised concerns about the historical unfairness of funding in West Sussex, of which, of course, I am well aware. As he will know, the new national funding formula has sought to address that unfairness. That is why it was introduced, why schools in his constituency are attracting 5.5% more per-pupil funding in 2019 than they did in 2017-18, and why West Sussex as a whole has received a £33.5 million increase since that period.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

As I said earlier, the extra funding is welcome, but it takes us from the bottom of the last decile to the top. A moment ago, my right hon. Friend mentioned a balanced approach. Will he at least make some mention of children’s social care? So far he has not mentioned it once, although it is the issue on which I focused most of my speech.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I hope to deal with that issue in due course. However, when we are putting together a league table of local authorities, if we ensure that the funding system is fair, the funding will reflect the level of prosperity of a particular local authority area. Someone has to be at the top and someone has to be at the bottom of a league table showing funding per authority. However, our national funding formula system is fair, because it allocates three quarters of the funds on the basis of the same figure for every pupil and the rest on the basis of the needs of those pupils, which I think is absolutely right. The principles of the formula attracted widespread support when we consulted on it.

Our commitment to helping all children to reach their full potential applies just as strongly to children with special educational needs and disabilities, and we know that schools share that commitment. We have therefore reformed the funding system to take particular account of children and young people with additional needs. We recognise the concerns that have been expressed about the costs of high-needs provision, an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham. We have increased overall funding allocations to local authorities year on year, and high-needs funding will be £6.3 billion this year, up from £5 billion in 2013. That includes the £250 million that we announced in December 2018 for high-needs funding. However, we understand the real, systemic increase in pressure, and it will be a priority for us in the forthcoming spending review.

We also want to ensure that the funding system for those children and young people works effectively, so that money reaches the right places at the right time. That was raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle. In May we launched a call for evidence to gather the information necessary to make improvements where they are needed, so that the financial arrangements help headteachers to provide for pupils with special educational needs. We have paid particular attention to the operation and use of mainstream schools’ notional special educational needs budget of up to £6,000, which was an issue of concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, a former children’s Minister, raised the issue of children’s social care. I said that I would come to it, and this is the point at which I have done so. All children, no matter where they live, should have access to the support that they need to keep them safe, provide them with a stable and nurturing home, and enable them to overcome challenges to achieve their potential. The Government are committed to improving outcomes for children who need help and protection. Our children’s social care reform programme is working to deliver a highly capable, highly skilled social workforce, high-performing services everywhere, and a national system of excellent and innovative practice. We recognise that local authorities are delivering children’s services in a challenging environment, and are having to take on those challenges.

We are making big steps in relation to our schoolteacher workforce. We have provided more than half a billion pounds through a new teachers’ pay grant of £187 million last year and £321 million this year, and we remain committed to attracting even more world-class teachers. We also continue to focus rigorously on the curriculum to ensure that children are prepared for adult life. We have reformed GCSEs and have introduced the EBacc, which encourages the uptake of subjects that provide a sound basis for a variety of careers for those over 16. Since our reforms began in 2010, entry levels for EBacc science have increased dramatically, from 63% in 2010 to 95% in 2018.

The Government have achieved a huge amount since 2010. There are 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools, the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils has shrunk by 10%, a record proportion of disadvantaged students are going to university, and we are developing a truly world-class technical education system through T-levels and high-quality apprenticeships. However, there is still much work to be done, and as we look to future funding settlements beyond 2020, we must ensure that the momentum does not slip.

Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54(4)).