Schools: Resources - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:19 pm on 2nd November 2022.

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Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 3:19 pm, 2nd November 2022

To ask His Majesty’s Government what resources they plan to make available to schools in England to ensure that they can remain operational for five days a week.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, we will always support schools so they can stay open five days a week. Alongside the additional £4 billion that we are investing in schools’ core funding in this financial year, the energy bill relief scheme will protect schools from high energy costs over the winter. There is further support available in cases of serious financial difficulty, and we encourage schools that are struggling to come forward to the department to discuss this.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, it is a major failure of government support for children’s learning that some schools are even considering closing for one day a week to save on crippling costs. The Minister mentioned the £4 billion already committed for this year, but that is not enough: a recent survey by the National Association of Head Teachers found that 90% of schools expected to run out of money by the beginning of the next academic year. Will the Minister commit that she and her fellow DfE Ministers will fight their corner with the Treasury to ensure that sufficient funding goes to schools to enable them to at least maintain current levels of provision?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I will respond to the noble Lord in two ways. He is well aware that as a nation we face incredibly difficult decisions over our public expenditure and the fiscal challenges we face, but as a department we are always on the side of children and teachers. We do everything, and use evidence in every way we can, to make our case.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister agree that schools are an important part of every community? They also contain a large part of things such as playing fields, theatres et cetera. What are the Government doing to make sure that these are available to the community outside the school day? Can we have an assurance that they will not be cut in the name of making sure that budgets are balanced?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord that schools are an incredibly important part of their local communities. The Government’s position is that it will be up to individual schools to decide how to use their assets, but clearly those assets can bring in additional revenue for schools, so I would be most surprised if they cut them at the present time.

Photo of Baroness Blower Baroness Blower Labour

My Lords, levelling up will not succeed unless schools are fully funded. That includes teachers’ and other staff’s salaries, as well as energy bills and all other costs, which the Minister has mentioned. I repeat my noble friend’s question: will the Minister make strenuous representations on the absolute need to fully fund school budgets?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

We always make strenuous recommendations on that. Perhaps I was sensitive to the noble Lord’s phrase; I think he used the term “fight”. We are trying to work collaboratively to get to the best answer for the country.

Photo of Baroness Wheatcroft Baroness Wheatcroft Crossbench

My Lords, as we have seen in new figures produced today, the cost of basic foodstuffs has gone up by a massive amount. What are the Government doing to ensure that school meals are not losing some of their nutritional value for the children who need it so much?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Again, the Government work closely with schools, but ultimately it is within schools’ own responsibilities to organise and fund their school meals from their core funding.

Photo of Baroness Chapman of Darlington Baroness Chapman of Darlington Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, 98% of the 630 head teachers surveyed by the Association of School and College Leaders said they would have to make savings to meet the rocketing costs of energy, food and school supplies. Two-thirds of them believe they will have to cut support staff and 17 are having to consider closing for a day a week, with a devastating impact on families and children. Does the Minister not find it astonishing that, despite several suggestions of ways to provide funding that would keep schools open, such as making private schools help shoulder the costs, abolishing non-dom status or a windfall tax on the energy companies, Ministers refuse even to consider these options when our schools face such pressures right now?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

As I said in my opening response, the department is absolutely committed to supporting schools. We have worked through our school resource management teams and saved more than £1 billion so far, and our School Resource Management strategy sets out work with schools to save another £1 billion. In the school sector we see pressure on all schools—I do not dispute that for a second—but some schools are finding it easier than others. We need to work to understand how we can share that best practice across the whole sector.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Chair, Accommodation Steering Group Committee

The Minister knows very well that a number of schools employ specialist staff who help children who have difficulty in school. Many of these children come from disturbed homes or have particular problems in their own lives. Will the Minister assure the House that the department will continue to place an emphasis on this kind of staff, so that these children are not lost to the education system?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

As ever, the noble Lord raises an important point. Obviously, we will be able to say more about that in our responses to a number of the reviews into this area towards the end of the year. He will also be aware that we have raised funding for high needs by £1 billion to £9.1 billion. We remain very committed to that area.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Will my noble friend ask the Treasury to bear in mind that, since the Second World War, the proportion of national wealth devoted to education has risen by a comparatively small amount—infinitely less than the amount devoted to the NHS, for example? May I also ask my noble friend whether there is any substance in the recent reports that the Government are, at long last, considering serious reform of the education system, including the introduction of the British baccalaureate?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My noble friend is right on the share of national wealth. On the British baccalaureate, the department is obviously considering the remarks made by the Prime Minister and we will be reverting in due course.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, in reply to my noble friend Lord Watson, the Minister said that schools were going to have to suffer because the economy had been trashed by the Conservative Government. Are we living in a parallel universe where the leaders of this country have heated swimming pools in their second homes—

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

Noble Lords can “Oh” away, but it is true. Whereas swimming pools in schools are being closed down and children who desperately need free school meals are not getting them. This is a total disgrace.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I think that the noble Lord was in a parallel universe, because I certainly never used the language that he quoted back at me and I hope that he will accept that that is the case. Schools had the largest increase in funding—5.8% in cash terms in the current year. We have increased starting teacher salaries by 8.9% outside London. The noble Lord can shake his head, but those are the facts.

Photo of Baroness O'Loan Baroness O'Loan Crossbench

Will the Minister assure the House that full funding will be made available for the increases in salary to which she has just referred, so that schools will not have use their existing budgets to pay these increases in salaries and as a consequence be unable to stay open five days a week?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I think the noble Baroness may be aware that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has commented that in the current year it sees the salary increases as being affordable by schools.

Photo of Baroness Hussein-Ece Baroness Hussein-Ece Liberal Democrat

My Lords, may I take the noble Baroness back to nutritious school meals? She may be aware of distressing reports of some children turning up to school with empty lunch boxes because their families are on universal credit or their household income is more than £7,400, which is the cut-off point for free school meals. What is being done to make sure that no child spends a school day hungry?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The number of children who are in receipt of free school meals is at the highest level it has ever been—37% of the school population.

Photo of Lord Austin of Dudley Lord Austin of Dudley Non-affiliated

My Lords, education ought to be the country’s number one priority, so school budgets should be the very last place the Government look to make savings, particularly after children had such a terrible time during the pandemic. I do not know a single state school that continued to provide a full timetable during lockdown. Children from poor or overcrowded homes, or those with special needs, will find their lives blighted for ever. The Government need to do much more to sort this out.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I am not entirely clear what the noble Lord’s question was. The Government do work very closely with schools to support them to do this. The balance that we need to strike is to make sure that schools are using funding as efficiently as possible, and we need to understand the pressures under which they operate.