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Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:27 pm on 9th January 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Blower Baroness Blower Labour 1:27 pm, 9th January 2020

My Lords, I rise to make this brief maiden speech and in doing so I wish to thank my noble friends Lord Dubs and Lord Knight for their assistance both prior to and at my introduction, which I am bound to say now seems a long time ago. I also wish to place on record my thanks for the warm welcome I received on entering your Lordships’ House and to thank the staff of the House, whom I have found unfailingly patient and helpful in all circumstances.

I know that much expertise and wisdom is gathered here, from which I hope to learn and to which, in some small part, I hope in time to contribute. Having served as general secretary of the National Union of Teachers and serving currently as president of the European Region of Education International, which covers the education unions in 52 countries, my interest is indeed in education, although I am quite prepared to accept that there are noble Lords who have a far greater in-depth knowledge and experience of many phases and sectors of education than I do.

Given that a young person’s domestic circumstances contribute in part to their potential success or lack of it in the education system, I am also interested in and concerned about child poverty and adverse childhood experiences. Figures on child poverty in every constituency are available from the organisation End Child Poverty. They indicate that overall 4.1 million children are trapped in poverty in the UK—30% of children in the UK, or the equivalent of nine in every class of 30. That is an unthinkably high number. Child poverty fell consistently from 1998 to 2010, but is now on the rise with the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicting that 5.2 million children will be living in poverty by 2022.

While social and economic disadvantage should never be proposed as an excuse for lack of education success, it is certainly a contributory factor and reason. In a survey of its members, the National Education Union asked what impacts on children’s learning could be attributed to poverty. Some 78% of respondents talked about fatigue in children and students; 76% talked of very poor concentration; and 57%—significantly more than half—talked of students experiencing hunger. Hungry children find it much more difficult to learn.

While it is laudable that there are warm words from the Government about ensuring that

“every child receives the best possible education—wherever they grow up”,

these will remain nothing more than words without a determined poverty reduction strategy. There is an indication of increased spending in education; however, analysis by the School Cuts coalition demonstrates that 83% of schools will still be worse off in April 2020 than they were in April 2015, in real terms. Schools will have £20 billion less spending power in 2020-21 than they did in 2015-16, and this when pupil numbers are rising. Compared with 2015, we have 420,000 more pupils in schools and, by the way, there are 3,500 fewer teachers. Recruitment and retention of teachers continues to be a problem, with almost a third of teachers—32% to be precise—leaving within the first five years of joining the profession. Numbers in teacher training recruitment continue to fall. The Government have indicated a commitment to raise teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000 by 2022-23. However, this will return pay only to its 2010 level, in real terms.

Anyone can see, therefore, that we really need a funding system based on the bottom-up need of what it really costs to educate all our children and young people. In Australia, some years ago, David Gonski, a businessman, was commissioned by the Government to look at a funding model. His commission ascertained what input was really needed to work out the actual amount that we need to educate everybody. Noble Lords who have had the opportunity to look at the Library briefing on children’s rights know that there have been enormous problems with this over the years. It means both a focus on poverty reduction and significant spending on education, which is the investment that we need in our nation’s future and a significant matter. The £780 million to address issues of special needs may well be insufficient.