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Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 12:12 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Angela Rayner Angela Rayner Shadow Secretary of State for Education 12:12 pm, 16th October 2019

Absolutely. There is a majority across the House to ensure that we push forward with this important legislation and support teachers and heads in delivering it in our schools. We have to lead the way, taking communities with us, in ensuring that our children and young people feel safe, secure and valued. Every single young person deserves that in our education system.

School support staff are another section of the workforce who deserve that support, which the Education Secretary rightly acknowledged in our first exchanges. He will have been told at close quarters about the value of teaching assistants as he is married to one, so I will not question his commitment. However, as his predecessors found, commitment from the Education Secretary is not enough if they do not have it from their Prime Minister, so I hope that the Education Secretary will stand firm and make it clear that he will not countenance balancing the books on the backs of our support staff. Perhaps he could look again at the abolition of the national body for school support staff, because restoring it would be another step that he could take with the support of the House.

There is no doubt that the Education Secretary will talk about investment in schools as if they have not faced a decade of cuts. The Prime Minister promised to reverse those cuts, forgetting to mention, of course, that he sat around the Cabinet table and supported those very cuts time after time. Far worse is the gap between his words and his actions, because the Government are not even reversing their own cuts. Not only did the package ignore the cuts to capital funding, central education spending, further education and so much else, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the announcement made in the spending round would not even undo the cuts to schools since 2010 in its final year—another broken promise from a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted. He promised £700 million next year, but councils are already facing such a shortfall. The Local Government Association has put next year’s deficit at £1.2 billion.

The Education Secretary has warm words about further education, but the spending round included less than £200 million for increasing the base rate—little more than a real-terms freeze. If the Secretary of State truly believes in investing in further education, why did the spending round not include a single penny for adult education? After a decade of managed decline and billions of pounds of cuts, why are the Government refusing to give that vital part of the system the investment it needs? Even in apprenticeships—apparently his passion —we are far from on course to meet the Government’s target of 1 million this year. We do not even know whether that is still the target. We have been told it is an ambition, an aim and an aspiration, so perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us which of those it is and what on earth that means? The story of decline and neglect is the same in perhaps the most vital area: early years provision. The hourly rate for child care 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, or have the youngest children been forgotten?

Even in schools, the extra money promised by the Government is not only years away but is being deliberately skewed to schools with the wealthiest intakes. The Education Policy Institute put it plainly, stating that

“almost all schools serving the most disadvantaged communities would miss out.”

The EPI found that the average pupil eligible for free school meals would attract less than half the funding of their more affluent peers. That comes on top of the research conducted by my hon. Friend Matthew Pennycook last week, which found that over £200 million has been lost since 2015 thanks to the freeze in the pupil premium. The EPI concluded:

“If this is the Prime Minister’s idea of levelling up, then his legacy might be even more disappointing than his predecessor’s.”

Frankly, the funding that the Prime Minister has promised for future years will be rendered a fantasy if it comes after a bad deal or a no-deal Brexit.

We are yet to hear, of course, what all this means for higher education. Will the Education Secretary tell us any more about the fee status of EU students or our participation in Horizon 2020 or Erasmus? We are no wiser this week than we were before. The Queen’s Speech may have had nothing to say about education, but I can promise parents, children and educators across the country that a Labour Government will not neglect our education system, as the Conservatives have.