Let me welcome the new Secretary of State to his place and thank him for advance sight of the statement. Of course, we already had some advance sight of it thanks to the norm now being that the press get the information before this House, but unfortunately today’s announcements do not quite live up to their billing. The new Prime Minister said, “I will reverse the education cuts.” Judging from his performance today, he has a tendency to over-promise.
Perhaps the Secretary of State can confirm just how much funding has been cut since 2010 and how many of those cuts are left in place. As welcome as it is that the Government have finally accepted the failures of austerity, they will not fool anyone into thinking that it is over. As teachers and parents start term this week, too many will be in schools that are facing an immediate financial crisis. Will he tell the House why there is nothing for this year and why next year’s funding falls a full £1 billion short of reversing the cuts to school budgets? Is it not the case that this commitment will benefit the most affluent areas while disadvantaged schools get less? The Education Policy Institute found that a pupil eligible for free school meals would receive less than half the funding of their affluent peers. How fair is that? How can the Secretary of State start his tenure by refusing resources for those who need it most? Perhaps it is about starting as they mean to go on—no more nice Conservatives, but the same old nasty party, trying to hoodwink the public.
On teachers’ pay, I am glad that, after six years running of missed recruitment targets, the Government have finally recognised the damage done by austerity, but the devil is in the detail. Will the Secretary of State assure us that this will not be funded by flattening or cutting the pay of more experienced teachers—the very people, I am sure he will agree, we need to keep in the classroom? Will he increase the teachers’ pay grant or will schools have to fund it? Are academies still exempt or does he now accept that national pay must apply to all schools?
Above all, will the Secretary of State reassure us that support staff will not pay the price? The leaked document in the media was rather revealing. It admitted that
“No 10 and…the Treasury…
have been keen to…express concerns about the rising number” of teaching assistants. Let me say that I join parents, teachers, heads and those who care for our children with special educational needs and disabilities—I, too, value teaching assistants—and I declare a direct interest because my son started a mainstream secondary school today. With the help of valued teaching assistants, he was able to do that. The question is: do the Government value them too? Will the Education Secretary promise us now that he will defend school support staff who do such a vital job? That is all the more important, given the work that they do with children with SEND. He has promised £700 million next year, but that is the shortfall that councils already face. The Local Government Association has put next year’s deficit at £1.2 billion, so will he tell us whether he accepts that estimate and whether there will be any further funding on top of that amount in future years?
The Government have finally admitted that there is a crisis in further education, but we know that the Education Secretary came back from the Treasury with just half of what he thought was needed. Will he confirm that there is less than £200 million for increasing the base rate, little more than a real-terms freeze? Other funding is ring-fenced for certain courses—will he tell us which subjects and how that will be distributed? The Secretary of State has made welcome commitments on teachers’ pension costs, but will those commitments extend to further and higher education? Is there any sign of an increase in pay for further education staff, or will they continue to fall behind teachers in schools?
Why was there not a single penny for adult education? The same goes for early years. The hourly rate for providers has not increased since 2017. Sure Start funding has collapsed and the additional funding for maintained nursery schools runs out at the end of the next financial year. Will that be addressed tomorrow, or have the youngest children been forgotten? It is the same story with this Prime Minister: empty promises, hollow words and numbers so dodgy he would probably put them on the side of a bus. If he thinks he will fool anyone, he better think again.