School Funding: North-east of England — [Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 26th April 2017.

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Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Public Health) 9:30 am, 26th April 2017

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered school funding in the north-east of England.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Betts. I am very pleased to have secured this important debate, albeit on the second last day that Parliament is sitting in this Session. I know the subject of the debate has made many of my constituents very concerned, as well as those of my fellow MPs from across the north-east who, I am pleased to say, are in attendance today in some numbers and those who unfortunately could not be here. They include my fellow Sunderland MPs, my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson). My right hon. Friend Mr Campbell, who has raised concerns with the Minister following a meeting he had with headteachers in his area, is also concerned about the effect on his constituency. He asked me to convey his apologies, as he really wanted to be here but had to be elsewhere.

I also thank my hon. Friend Tom Blenkinsop, who has done a lot of work over recent months to raise awareness of our collective concerns about the Government’s negligent approach to schools in our region. I have to add, Mr Betts, that he will be sorely missed when he steps down from this place next week, both by us, his regional colleagues, and, I know, his constituents. I am thrilled to see him in his place today.

Labour Members are passionate advocates for the education of children and young people. It is safe to say that “Education, education, education” is a mantra that we still believe in, yet sadly we have seen this Government ride roughshod over our education system and our local schools, by putting them in an unprecedented position. The Government have not only failed to support our schools; they have made cuts that are fundamentally detrimental to the very viability of some schools.

In my contribution this morning, I will set out why that approach to education is so damaging and why there must be an urgent rethink by Ministers. To do this, I will look at three areas: the national situation; how it is affecting schools in my constituency and the north-east; and, finally, how that approach to our education system is affecting the very nature of our schools, whose purpose is to educate our children and address societal issues, such as child poverty and social mobility.

Before I even get to the crux of why I called this debate, perhaps I can already predict what the Minister will say in response. He will probably say, as the Prime Minister said just a few weeks ago, that this Government have protected the schools budget. However, he knows as well as I do that that is not actually the case, because the real issue is the failure to recognise that our schools are facing real-terms cuts, not cash cuts. It is deeply disingenuous of the Government to say that they have protected school budgets. I suppose it is like the Government paying public sector workers the same as they paid them seven years ago and then saying that they have protected their salaries. Oh, hang on a minute—they have done that as well.

These real-terms cuts are mainly down to inflation, but also four other things: the increases in the cost of employers’ contribution to national insurance and pensions; the abolition of the education services grant to local authorities and academies, which has reduced funding by £600 million; the cost of annual pay awards to teachers, which is set to increase by 4.4% by 2020; and, finally, the impact that the apprenticeship levy will have on maintained schools that take on apprentices. Much of this would not be a problem if the Government were not overseeing static funding for our schools, whereby these real-terms cuts now range from between 6.5% and 8%.

On top of all this, there are growing concerns about what the new schools funding formula will do to schools’ budgets and to staff retention and the schools estate, which is in dire need of an uplift. We might easily come to the conclusion that what we are seeing is the complete mismanagement and neglect of our education system—a perfect storm, if you like.

Instead of coming to terms with those issues, we have seen this Government shove their heads in the sand and carry on regardless, ignoring what many in society—from MPs across the House to teachers and parents themselves—are calling for, which is support for our education system to ensure that our children succeed in life. As the Public Accounts Committee recently stated in its report on school cuts,

“the Government does not seem to understand the pressures that schools are already under.”

I completely agree with that, and I feel frustrated that Ministers are continually ignoring the concerns of a wide cross-section of society on this matter.

School leaders, who know their budgets the most, were surveyed by the National Association of Head Teachers, with 72% saying that their budgets will be untenable by 2019-20. That is not surprising when the National Audit Office has set out that the Department for Education expects schools to make £3 billion of savings a year by 2019-20. It is safe to say that this £3 billion cut—which is what it is, rather than a saving—as well as the funding pressures that schools face and the lack of action to support them through all these difficulties, is leading to headteachers having to make impossible decisions, some of which will ultimately impact negatively on pupils and their education, and all because of what the Minister is doing, or not doing, as the case may be.

This sorry state of affairs that our schools find themselves in is nothing to do with efficiencies; it is all about impoverishing our schools. Shamefully, this approach will hit children living in the poorest areas the most, such as in parts of my constituency and those of my fellow north-east MPs from across the House. We all have deprived communities in our constituencies. That means that more and more children will be held back in life, when we should be supporting them to achieve social mobility and to achieve their full potential.

As I stated at the beginning of my contribution, I know that this is an issue that many of my constituents and teachers in my constituency are concerned about. That is not surprising, when the total budget cuts by 2019 across the city of Sunderland are expected to be over £16 million, which means an average cut of £470 in per-pupil spend and a loss of 439 teachers across the borough of Sunderland.

In my constituency, the worst hit school is Rickleton Primary School, which will see a budget cut of nearly £150,000. That is well above the average cut for primary schools nationally, which is estimated at around £103,000, which is still a huge cut. The headteacher of Rickleton Primary School, Mr Lofthouse, set out clearly in an email to me, which I have sent on to the Secretary of State for Education, what those funding pressures will mean for his school, from potential staff redundancies to the impact on his pupils’ education, and it is not only Mr Lofthouse. Many other headteachers across Sunderland have expressed similarly grave concerns. Those concerns were reflected in a meeting I held in Sunderland recently with around 30 headteachers and school governors, who all agreed that our schools were at a crisis point. That led me to securing this debate today.

The worries of those headteachers and school governors are genuine and showed just how concerned they were for the education of the next generation. In all my 12 years as an MP, I have never been in such a meeting, with headteachers expressing concerns of such gravity. If the Minister had been at that meeting, he would have had his eyes truly opened to the extent of his actions and the gravity of the situation. One headteacher from Sunderland said that if they did not see any support from the Government for their school, it would mean losing five teachers, which would not be legal under the 30:1 pupil-to-teacher ratio. The true scale of this issue was described extremely well by another headteacher at the meeting, who said that balancing their budget had always been hard under successive Governments—they had always had to deal with cuts—but that these cuts will be impossible to achieve. She ended by saying:

“This can’t be done—no joke, not kidding or exaggerating”.

Following that meeting, a joint letter from headteachers in different parts of our region, some of which are represented by MPs who are here today, appealed to parents to make their voices heard by the Government regarding these plans. I for one am proud to stand with my local headteachers, school governors and parents who are deeply concerned about this issue and urge the Minister to rethink his disastrous plans, which will negatively affect the lives of children and young people not only in my constituency, but across the north-east and in other parts of England.

To help the Minister along, I will read an extract from that letter to parents. It will help him understand what is happening on the ground and the plight facing our schools right now. It is unprecedented for teachers from three boroughs to get together and write to parents in this way. The letter states:

“School leaders in our region have endeavoured to make every conceivable cut to our spending, but are now faced with reducing basic services still further, all to the disadvantage of your child.”

Teachers do not go into this profession to make life harder for children and to make cuts. They do it because they want to help transform the lives of all children, especially those who need extra support the most. What we are currently seeing is the exact opposite, and it is all due to this Government’s shocking failures. As someone who has campaigned during my 12 years as a Member of Parliament to improve the lives of children and young people, especially those living in poverty, I fail to see how the Government’s current actions with our education system will help to alleviate any issues of child poverty and disadvantage in our society.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy)

I thank my hon. Friend for calling this debate and the critical point she is making about education in deprived communities and social mobility. The school I went to, Kenton Comprehensive School, has announced that it will cut 24 staff posts, including three teacher posts. The head says that she is making every effort to ensure that that does not impact on the learning experience, but does my hon. Friend agree that at a time when we need to enhance our skills, when the future of every child depends on the education they receive, and when social mobility and social equality are such an issue, it cannot be acceptable to cut education and staff in this way?

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Public Health)

I totally agree. As my hon. Friend knows, education is a critical way of reducing poverty in society, as it equips children and young people with the knowledge and tools to get on in life, but the best schools also inspire them to go on and achieve their dreams. That is crucial in the north-east, where an estimated 132,000 children are living in entrenched generational poverty. That is why the cuts are deeply worrying to those of us representing seats in the north-east. The children we represent do not deserve that.

It is a well known fact that poverty impacts on the attainment of children in our society. That was clearly documented in 2015, when GCSE results were analysed. It showed that 36.7% of disadvantaged pupils received five A* to C grades, compared with 64.7% of all pupils. In this country, there is a strong correlation between parental social background and children’s test scores, particularly when compared with other developed countries, where it is less so. This is compounded by the fact that children in some of England’s most disadvantaged areas are 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than children living in the least deprived areas. That is why it is important that schools are used as a conduit to alleviate some of the issues that children in poverty face and to ensure that they get the best possible start in life.

Poverty is not inevitable. We do not need to see poverty in our society. What poverty tells us is that, due to a lack of political will, innovative thinking and a drive to act, we have failed as a society to address the social and economic issues that cause poverty. We have seen none of those things when it comes to school budget cuts. Instead we are seeing further social separation and division. That is seen quite plainly in the Government’s pet project, where they plan to pump millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into grammar schools and the rolling out of more free schools and academies, instead of supporting what parents and teachers are calling for, which is for their child’s current school to be funded properly. That was brought to light just today with the publication this morning of the Public Account Committee report. It called the Government’s free school policy “incoherent” and wasteful, with the Department for Education spending over the odds for schools and new free school places in areas where they were not needed, because there was not demand. Why can we not take some of this wasteful spending—the Public Account Committee is cross-party and it knows what it is talking about—and use it to mitigate the terrible funding cuts that our schools are facing?

In conclusion, for the sake of the children who live in my constituency, but also those of other MPs across the north-east, the Minister must rethink his and his Department’s approach to education without delay. Our education system should be funded fully and fairly, so that it can not only educate our children, but use its power to help improve our society. I hope the Minister will truly listen to this debate and take all our concerns into consideration, especially those of teachers and parents. Investing in education is investing in our children’s and Britain’s future. Those children in the classroom today are our future workforce. They will take our country on to greater things if we only give them the chance. Failing to support them now will be disastrous for our nation’s future and will only store up problems in later years for society as a whole. I hope the Minister understands the scale of what this all means and will go back to his officials following this debate and seriously reconsider his approach to funding our schools. Our children deserve no less.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Communities and Local Government Committee

Order. We have got about 50 minutes before I need to start calling the Front Benchers. We have got six Members wishing to speak in the debate, so I think you can work it out for yourselves. It is about eight minutes each. If Members can keep to that without a formal time limit, that would be helpful.

Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Conservative, Berwick-upon-Tweed 9:46 am, 26th April 2017

It is an honour to speak on the last day of Westminster Hall in this Parliament. I congratulate Mrs Hodgson on securing this debate. She was talking about the challenges of school funding, but it was disappointing not to hear about some of the impressive improvements in educational outputs across the north-east over the past few years. Children are getting the benefit of the improvements, which have come through the education framework and through Ofsted’s encouragement for schools to hone in on what is important in ensuring that children get the very best possible education from those early years and all the way through.

Speaking as the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, which is right up in the northern reaches of our region, we have a different set of challenges to many colleagues here today. I have very many small schools, where the challenges relate not to pressure on places, but to transport and the ability to sustain a school that, by definition, will have small and erratic numbers of children. The arrival of Ofsted can be good in one year and not so good in another, because cohorts vary so dramatically from year to year.

Some years ago, the Minister visited a high school at the very top of the constituency, in Berwick itself. We were pleased to welcome him there. The challenge is that the school, like every senior school, has a fixed cost with a small sixth form. There is no other school to go to—the next high school is 30 miles away. If a young person is choosing college rather than sixth form, the next provider is 60 or 70 miles away in my Labour colleagues’ constituencies. That is a very long way from Berwick. The challenge is to ensure that we can maintain the full provision of education in that far-flung school right up on the Scottish border.

What I would pitch to the Minister on this last day before we head into the election madness is that, in considering how to use continuing education more effectively, the Department needs to think more fully about how we encourage schools to use modern online learning tools. It would probably need capital investment, but it would help children in schools where the challenge is not so much, “Can we find a place?” but, “How can children access the high-tech learning skills they need to work in the industries that the north-east is growing, which will become, and are in some cases already, world-leading?”

I challenge the Minister to think about how we change the nature of the education that we give our children. The pupil-to-teacher ratio is important in younger years, but as children go up the school age groups, there is an opportunity to draw in excellent education from around the world. My son has recently been teaching himself how to write computer code—I cannot remember which one—because, apparently, that was of interest to him. He used a free Stanford University online tool. All he needed was a computer and decent broadband to sit in his room and learn it. He can now speak in a very strange language, none of which makes any sense to me, but he is now able to do stuff at school. The course was not available to him at school, so he did it off his own bat. Access to those tools are not expensive. They require technical investment, and for schools to think more broadly about how they use the funding that the Government provide to give children a chance to jump to another level in their educational attainment. The schools can be world-leading.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy)

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and applaud her recognition of the importance of online learning and the transformative impact of digital technology. Does she therefore agree that the Government’s plans for the universal service obligation for broadband of 10 megabits by 2020 are far too little far too late?

Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Conservative, Berwick-upon-Tweed

As the hon. Lady knows, I support the USO and campaigned very hard to ensure that we got it into the Digital Economy Bill. I speak as someone for whom 1 megabit is still a very good day in my house. It is still a challenge for many of my constituents whose children need to do their homework online, but we are getting there. We have kicked the system into a more proactive premise, but I agree that getting access across the board is vital. It will be no good for my constituents to see Newcastle with superfast broadband at 100 megabit or 1 gigabit, because we still cannot download a basic file to do homework. We need to ensure that the universal service obligation spreads across the nation to every home.

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West raised the issue of the apprenticeship levy, which for small schools in Northumberland is proving to be problematic because councils have been given the freedom to pass the levy fee on. It is an issue for a small school that suddenly got a bill for £10,000 a few weeks ago and will not take up the opportunity of an apprenticeship, and I very much hope the Minister looks at it in more detail.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

Schools in my area have contacted me about the apprenticeship levy. The hon. Lady says that the local authorities have the ability to pass the levy fee on to schools. Local authorities in my area have suffered tens of millions of pounds-worth of cuts. Does she expect them to pick up the bill or does she think the Government should offer a concession or do away with it for schools?

Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Conservative, Berwick-upon-Tweed

The question is how the levy is used. For some of my larger schools the apprenticeship levy is a reasonable fee to pay because they will have the opportunity to benefit from apprentices and will increase their cohort of staff. We need to be a little more flexible and encourage councils to think more constructively in how they deal with the levy.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Public Health)

I know the hon. Lady’s constituency and she speaks well for the schools that will be affected. On the apprenticeship levy, I mentioned Rickleton Primary School and the letter that Mr Lofthouse wrote to me and the Minister about the cuts he will have to make. He has been in touch with my office this morning to say that it has already started. Today he has had to tell Liam, his apprentice, that he will have to let him go because of the apprenticeship levy. That is exactly the point we are making. It is ludicrous that, because he now has to pay however many thousands of pounds in the apprenticeship levy, he cannot keep the apprentice whom he said was excelling in his apprenticeship. Does the hon. Lady agree that that really needs to be looked at?

Photo of Anne-Marie Trevelyan Anne-Marie Trevelyan Conservative, Berwick-upon-Tweed

One challenge that I found as a new MP is that, even if a policy is a good one, getting the delivery right on the ground is another thing. A simple phrasing of words need not negate the opportunity to apply what I would call common-sense thinking. If a school is happy to pay into the levy pot but happens to have an apprentice, it does not mean it should be excluded from the programme. I hope that will be resolved at a local level rather than be considered an impossible, insoluble problem, because that would never have been the intention of the policy.

Speaking as a member of the Public Accounts Committee—the report we published yesterday highlights some of the challenges of how money for free schools is being spent—there is an enormous amount of good work going on. In Berwick-upon-Tweed, we are looking to apply for a free school to create an autism school, because there is an enormous gap across the north-east, particularly in rural areas, in provision for our autistic children. I will revert to mentioning my computer-geek son again, who has Asperger’s and gets mentioned more often than he likes in Hansard. We have been fortunate enough to get by in mainstream schools with the extraordinary support of individual teachers, but the reality is that far too many families across the north-east need access to the different levels of teaching that autistic children across the spectrum require. We hope to be able to create a free school through the free school network. The scheme will allow us to do that. It gives flexibility, freedom and support for parents and teachers who understand special needs provision. We hope to reach out across the region to support families whose children have enormous potential, particularly in the IT and engineering spheres, which are and have always been key skill sets of north-east businesses—they continue to grow. We need to ensure we harness all those talents, including those of a growing number of autistic children.

There is a fascinating statistic. The science is as yet not entirely defined, but the more engineers you put together, the more autistic children you have. There is a spectrum and we create more of these young people—they are mostly young men but there are some young women—for whom a different learning pattern is required. If we get that right, we get extraordinary individuals whose great skills we can use for our economy. I therefore encourage the Minister to continue with the free schools system.

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield 9:56 am, 26th April 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson who secured this important debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) and for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), who will be leaving our ranks. I am sad to see them go. They are both friends of mine and I know they have been excellent representatives for their constituencies over the years.

“Education, education, education” was the mantra of the previous Labour Government, but we do not hear that now. That mantra is finished and no longer there under the current Government. On funding for schools, we need only look at what Durham County Council said about the effect the cuts will have on schools in the county: the funding formula is likely to lead to redundancies with small schools becoming financially unviable; 50% of primary schools will see cuts and 68% of secondary schools will also lose funding; 111 primary schools will see a reduction in funding of about £10,000 on average; and 21 of 31 secondary schools will see a loss of funding of about £48,000 to £50,000.

The National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers have surveyed schools about the funding required from parents, who are being asked to pay for school plays and sports events, and to help fill the funding gaps. One in six parents are being asked to fund their children’s schools; 76% of schools said their funding has been cut; and 93% of schools have said they are pessimistic about future funding. Some parents are paying on average £20 a week to their local school to keep it going.

Parents are being asked to fund sports events, school concerts, arts and design materials, text books, library books, IT and sports equipment. Some 44% of schools are renting out buildings and some are renting out their car parks. That reflects something that happened before. I remember the 1990s when my children were at school under a previous Tory Government, when the schools used to ask for help with funding for text books, pens, pencils and equipment. We have come full circle, but this time it is even worse.

Sedgefield Comprehensive School, which I attended quite a while ago, has been rebuilt under Building Schools for the Future. It is a fantastic facility, with fantastic teaching staff and fantastic children who want to learn and get on, and who aspire to do the best they can in their lives. It was recently named one of the top 50 state schools in the country by The Sunday Times. That is fantastic news. That was established through what the previous Labour Government did. When I compare the school today with what it was like all those years ago, I would say that it has been transformed. The previous Labour Government helped to achieve that. I am proud of our record and of what we have done for that school.

The headteacher, David Davies, has said that

“schools face the prospect of being unable to heat classrooms” and of being unable to ensure that all the subjects that need to be available can be available. He is the head of one of the top state schools in the country. He has said that it is a “complete and utter myth” that the Government are protecting school budgets:

“In recent years, we have seen pension contributions included as well as moderate pay rises and there has been no increase in the budget”.

Schools NorthEast says that schools in the region would have £42 million to spend on education if they were funded at the national average, and more than £320 million if funded at the London rate. The National Audit Office has said that the cuts will be the equivalent of £3 billion by 2020—£119 million in cuts in real terms for the north-east, which is equivalent to 3,200 teachers. It says that the north-east faces an 8% real-terms reduction in its education funding. Sedgefield comprehensive’s headteacher, Mr Davies, has said:

“This will mean schools having to reduce…services, which could include only heating classrooms for part of the day, reduced investment in school buildings, IT facilities being stretched beyond their usable life and expensive subjects being cut such as music and design technology. It is our responsibility to provide the best possible education, but ultimately parents need to be aware that the future of their son or daughter is at risk with these cuts.”

I am a great believer in aspiration, but it is not achieved with the kind of cuts faced not just in Sedgefield, but around the north-east. When headteachers such as David Davies are coming out and passing those remarks to the local newspaper, we know we have a problem that the Government need to address.

The data for the comprehensives and secondary schools in my constituency show that Ferryhill Business and Enterprise College will have a £253,000 cut through a change in the budget by 2019, which is equivalent to six teachers. Greenfield Community College will have a reduction of more than half a million pounds, which is equivalent to 14 teachers.

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

Can I just clarify whether the hon. Gentleman is talking about funding to the school, or whether the figures he is citing are the cost pressures facing the school, which is different from the income?

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

It is not semantics. Actual income to schools in Sedgefield goes up under the national funding formula by £300,000, which is a 0.7% rise in income. So that we can have a transparent, honest debate about school funding, is the hon. Gentleman talking about the cost pressures?

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield

The figures have been quoted by headteachers. They know what the budget pressures are and they say that the budgets are being cut. They say that they are under pressure and are losing funds to the equivalent of the number of teachers I mentioned.

Woodham Academy will lose the equivalent of five teachers. Hurworth School, another excellent school in my constituency, will lose the equivalent of nine teachers; Sedgefield comprehensive will lose 11 teachers; and Wellfield Community School will lose nine teachers. The cut in the budget and the pressures that they have to face is equivalent to £2.2 million.

Part of my constituency takes in the rural aspects of Darlington. Every headteacher from primary and secondary schools in the Darlington borough—39 of them—has written to all parents to point out the dangers to the education of their children because of the changes to formulae and the cuts and pressures on budgets between now and 2020.

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield

I will not. The Minister will have plenty of time to make his comments at the end. I want to get through my speech as other people want to make their comments.

There are also cost pressures and budget changes for the primary schools. For Heighington School in Darlington, which is in my patch, that is £125,000. The primary schools in Sedgefield—Sedgefield Primary School and Sedgefield Hardwick Primary School—will see £120,000-odd changes in their budget. The Minister can shape it any way he wants, but this is affecting schools, teachers and pupils. Headteachers are coming out and saying that, so there is obviously a problem. We can trade figures left, right and centre, but the headteachers are those who know what is happening on the ground.

I want to raise another issue, which is not related to funding but is important to me. It is so important to pupils Christina Davies, Aidan Wong and Melissa Foster from Greenfield School that they came to see me recently. They are concerned about the new GCSEs, where they are treated differently to those in public schools. Only 7% of pupils are in public education—93% are in state schools.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the over-representation of privately and public-school educated people in positions of power on the Government Benches, together with this Government’s obsession with free schools and grammar schools, mean that it is impossible for them to understand the budgeting and funding pressures and what they mean for the experience of our young people?

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield

There is an element of truth in that, and it comes down to the core of my next point, on which I would love to hear the Minister’s comments. In state schools, 40% of coursework used to go towards a final GCSE mark, and there was a chance to sit it in January or June. That cannot be done now. If someone does an IGCSE in a public school, they have the chance to do that, and the result is still recognised by employers.

The pupils from Greenfield school who came to see me are asking why they cannot have a level playing field. If they cannot have 40% of their coursework counted towards the GCSE, why is it not the same in public schools or vice versa? They just want a level playing field and for everybody to be treated the same. Why is it that, just because someone can afford to pay for their child’s education, they have a better chance in life than those children of the 93% of parents who do not have the chance and opportunity to send their children to public school? I am not saying do it one way or the other, but let us have a level playing field. It affects the aspirations and social mobility of our children and is fundamentally unfair.

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield

The Minister can shake his head, but I have pupils and headteachers coming to see me about this. It is fundamentally unfair when people in public schools have a better chance in life than those children who are sent to state schools.

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield

I am going to wind up. The Minister can answer all the points as he wants and I am sure he will. We have a fundamentally unfair system and it needs to be addressed. I am sure my hon. Friends can see that Government Members are shaking their heads. Am I surprised? No, I am not, because they do not believe it is unfair.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Communities and Local Government Committee

Order. Speeches are overrunning. If we continue to overrun, that will cut the time down for other colleagues, so we will now have a seven-minute guideline time, please. I call Roberta Blackman-Woods.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing) 10:09 am, 26th April 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson on securing this really important debate. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) and for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), who will be very much missed by their colleagues.

As has often been said, the proposed fair funding formula is neither fair, and nor will it properly fund schools. As other Members pointed out, the proposed freeze on per-pupil funding is a cut in real terms. The National Audit Office estimates that inflation and cost increases will lead to a £3 billion funding gap due to reductions in real-terms spending. It is estimated that 99% of schools across the country will have a per-pupil funding cut, and schools in the north-east will be particularly badly hit.

I was appalled to note that the income per pupil of some schools in my constituency is projected to decrease by almost a quarter between the 2013-14 academic year and 2019-20. On average, that equates to a £305 cut per pupil and an average cut of 7% for each school in my constituency. The figures for individual schools paint a much bleaker picture. I was particularly concerned that the School Cuts campaign, backed by the National Union of Teachers, estimated that Durham Johnston Comprehensive School—rated one of the best-performing schools in the country—is set to lose £613 per pupil, equivalent to the loss of 19 teachers, which will have a huge impact on the school. Framwellgate School in the north of my constituency is set to lose £437 per pupil. Belmont Community School will lose £461 and St Leonard’s will lose £300 per pupil. Durham Community Business College, which serves a really disadvantaged community, will face a massive cut of £961 per pupil. That is simply devastating for the school.

Primary schools are affected too. St Oswald’s Church of England Primary School will lose £609 per pupil, and Bearpark School, which is also in a very disadvantaged community, will lose the most—£924 per pupil. That is absolutely outrageous. What can the Minister possibly say to justify such cuts?

That all equates to the potential loss of 670 teachers within the local authority of Durham and a budget deficit of more than £24 million by 2019. The situation is terrible and needs to be addressed by adjusting the funding formula and putting more money into education. Overall, the north-east is estimated to lose £119 million in schools funding in real terms by 2020—equivalent to the loss of more than 3,200 teachers. Parents and teachers across Durham have been in touch with me because they are really concerned about the situation.

In 2015, the Conservatives ran on a manifesto pledge to protect education funding, and they promised a real-terms increase in the schools budget in this Parliament. Not only have they failed to keep that promise, but, as we have said many times, they are bringing about a cut in real terms. The effects are damaging: class sizes have increased severely, subjects have been dropped from the curriculum, pupils with special educational needs have lost support, and teacher and school staff vacancies have been left unfilled. Without additional money, the already severe crisis in schools will get worse, threatening standards in education and, perhaps most critically of all, the life chances of pupils across my constituency, the north-east and the country as a whole.

In March, I met the National Association of Head Teachers in Parliament, which is unanimously deeply concerned about the cuts to school budgets. Some 72% of school leaders say their budgets will be unsustainable by 2019. At a recent meeting, headteachers in my constituency said exactly the same thing: they are having to make impossible decisions. What a difference that is compared with a decade ago. Under the Labour Government, I met headteachers regularly to discuss where the investment we were putting into schools was going to go, what new schools we would have, what new technology we would use and what new skills development we would invest in. Not only are the Government not funding our schools properly; they are wasting money on a free school that failed in my constituency, and there is now a proposal for another one. It is a total and utter waste of money.

Since my schools were chucked off the list of Michael Gove—we all remember that—they were due to get money under Building Schools for the Future because they desperately need capital investment. That money has not been forthcoming under the coalition Government or this Government, and the schools in question cannot even get a meeting with the Minister to discuss how to replace buildings that are no longer fit for purpose. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what he and his Treasury colleagues are going to do to put more money into schools and what he is going to do about capital funding.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions) 10:15 am, 26th April 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson on securing this debate. I share her sentiments about my hon. Friends the Members for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop).

I, too, am immensely proud of the progress made in our schools during the last Labour Government. The money ploughed into nurseries and primary schools in particular reaped benefits. I remember one secondary headteacher telling me that more and more children were arriving at his school better equipped, with higher levels of numeracy and literacy than ever, ready for the secondary school curriculum. As Mrs Trevelyan said, some of that improvement has been sustained, but that is because of the tremendous base that the Labour Government created in schools during their time in office. Funding has not been at the levels needed in recent times, and even parents are worried. The gains made over a generation are in jeopardy.

Ann Harland from Billingham wrote to me about her worries that her child’s school, Prior’s Mill Church of England Controlled Primary School in Billingham, faces an effective budget cut of £86,576 over the next four years. That is the equivalent to a couple of teachers or perhaps a few classroom assistants. That picture is repeated across the Stockton borough.

In 2015-16, the block allocation per pupil for Stockton-on-Tees schools was £4,487, compared with £4,612 nationally. That figures has stayed the same in Stockton since 2010, while nationally it has increased. During a schools funding debate in January, the Schools Minister admitted that schools are facing cost pressures, but stated that funding reforms are not about the overall level of school funding or cost pressures, but about ending the postcode lottery and making funding fairer. I agree that funding should be made fairer, but other factors need to be taken into consideration when considering reform. If the new formula is fairer, why do Stockton children get less than the average?

Of the 13 secondary schools in the borough, six face a cash cut of up to 2.9%, while the others, with one exception, expect an increase of less than 1%—Northfield and Our Lady and St Bede get a whopping 0.1% and 0.2% respectively—but that is not the whole picture. As was said, the proposed national funding formula does not take into account other elements, such as inflation, staff salary increases and the increased cost of other resources that the school may need.

Taking all the pressures into account, the vast majority of schools in England are likely to see real cuts to funding per pupil over the next three years. What will happen? Teachers will get sacked, assistants will suffer likewise, the already increasing class sizes will get even bigger and schools’ ability to deliver a wide and diverse curriculum will be compromised. I expect we will see more of what is happening already, which others have already referred to. There will be increased demands on parents to fund everything from classroom essentials to the extracurricular activities, which until recent years schools have been able to provide.

What is going to happen to schools such as Thornaby in the Stockton South constituency, which borders mine, or the North Shore Academy in my constituency? They serve some of the neediest communities in the country, and they face budget cuts of 2.9% and 2.3% respectively. What are parents of children in those schools going to do when they are asked for cash to help their school get through? They do not have the money.

I am worried about the kids at the bottom of the pile. Allocating funding through this formula will increase the attainment gap, and students from deprived backgrounds may not have the same level of support at home as those from an affluent background. Hon. Members know full well that the Government’s formula is far from fair. It is based only on current pupil numbers and does not take into account increases in those numbers.

The Minister may say that, under the consultation proposals, Stockton will receive an overall funding increase of 0.7%, but that will not even help to maintain staffing, teaching and learning at current levels. The Minister questioned whether we were talking about cuts or cost pressures. It makes no blooming odds whether something is a cut or a cost pressure—it means cuts to teachers, teaching assistants and other services.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently reported that schools spending is projected to fall by 6.5% in real terms between 2015-16 and 2019-20. That means that even the schools that benefit from the new formula will have their gains completely wiped out by other funding pressures. That will undermine the quality of education in classrooms, putting children’s academic progress at risk.

Even Tory colleagues know that their Government are letting our schools down. Doubtless Ministers are working on special arrangements for particular areas—we have seen that already in social care—but if they really want to be fair on funding, to address the attainment gap and to see every child realise their potential, they need to take action now to ensure that no school and, more importantly, no child loses out.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming and Rural Communities) 10:21 am, 26th April 2017

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson on securing this debate, which has given rise to many impassioned and honest speeches. I also wish my hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) and for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) all the very best for the future.

Last month, I and my right hon. Friend Mr Campbell, who sends his apologies for being unable to be here today, attended an NAHT meeting of headteachers from across North Tyneside about the effects of Government budget cuts on schools. Both he and I vowed that we would do all we could to support our heads in their campaign to get the Government, if possible, to reverse those severe cuts, which, as they stand, will not only affect our children’s education but cost us important skilled teaching jobs.

I would like to press the Minister on the apprenticeship levy, which is of particular concern to community primary schools in North Tyneside. We heard about the ludicrous situation of a school in Washington and Sunderland West. That case shows that the levy places an unjust burden on all the schools it affects, which mainly have very small budgets. North Tyneside Council, which has had to impose a levy, is really concerned. It has raised its concerns with the Government, but in the face of its budget situation, all it can do is sympathise with those schools.

Headteachers of community primary schools have contacted me to point out the unfairness of the levy. North Tyneside Learning Trust schools and academies are exempt from the levy, which eats up 0.5% of the budgets of schools that are affected by it. I must make it clear that schools are not opposed to the idea of extending the apprenticeship scheme, but they feel strongly that the levy was never intended to impact relatively small employers so heavily.

For example, Holystone Primary School has a wage bill of only £1.3 million per annum. Schools in the North Tyneside Learning Trust, Church schools and smaller academies in North Tyneside are excluded from the levy because, under education and employment law, they are deemed employers in their own right. There appears to be a loophole in the levy’s application. As community school support staff are North Tyneside Council employees, those schools’ wages fall within the local authority’s overall wage bill, which is clearly more than £3 million. For Holystone, the levy amounts to £6,500 per annum. Although that school has managed to make some savings—sadly, by reducing staff hours—it is still sailing close to the wind in balancing its budget.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Public Health)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and she has expounded upon it to make her case really well. Does she agree that the Minister could announce today that he will look at this issue and do something about it?

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming and Rural Communities)

My hon. Friend anticipates what I want to say in my closing remarks. I ask the Minister to look at the application of the levy, which is clearly unfair and adds to the burden on our community primary schools, which are already stressed and are trying hard to provide our children with the best education possible in the face of unfair cuts. I also ask him to heed the pleas of everyone here and realise how unfair the Government’s cuts are for all our schools and the future of our region.

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North 10:25 am, 26th April 2017

I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson, who is an excellent MP, for securing this important debate to highlight the complex issues facing education funding in the north-east. As a parent of three young children, a member of the Education Committee and a local MP who cares very much about the schools in my area, one of the best things about being an MP is getting to visit local schools. I am always blown away by the enthusiasm and ingenuity of the children I talk to and by the hard work and dedication of the education professionals I meet. However, it has become increasingly clear of late from the number of distressing stories I have heard that headteachers are deeply concerned about the real-terms cuts to their school budgets.

I recently visited a primary school in a deprived part of my constituency where the headteacher, who was clearly struggling to hold back tears, told me that budget pressures had forced her to cut the school’s family support counsellor and consider cancelling long-standing extracurricular activities for the children. It is clear that for a primary school that needs to provide all-round support for its children to lose such a counsellor through lack of resource not only has an impact on the school’s academic outcomes but makes it unable to help children and families who may face chaotic home lives or experiences that could lead to mental health issues, meaning that those issues will not be picked up in childhood and may escalate throughout adolescence and into adulthood. That is clearly a false economy, both in educational terms and more broadly. When children are suffering, they are not able to learn, which leads to lower educational attainment and compounds the social mobility challenge.

I have also spoken to headteachers who decided to take early retirement to reduce budget pressures, knowing that the school would save some money if it got in a younger headteacher on a lower wage. It is baffling that the Government are creating a situation where talented, valuable headteachers see no option but to retire for the sake of their schools’ budgets.

Although the Government repeatedly inform us that they are protecting schools funding—the Minister has already attempted to do that today—they know fine well that they are failing to give a full account of real-terms cuts. The introduction of the living wage and rising inflation, which, according to the Government’s own measure, is currently at 2.3%—its highest for more than three years—mean that schools have to make their money go significantly further. The National Audit Office has said that, as a direct result, schools will need to find an extra £3 billion by 2020, which equates to an 8% real-terms cut in funding. For one secondary school in my constituency, that amounts to a reduction of £761 per pupil by 2019 and, worryingly, the potential loss of 30 teaching jobs.

The Prime Minister’s so-called “great meritocracy” clearly does not extend to the north-east. While the children of the north-east continue to be let down, the current Tory Government unveil plans to expand grammar and free schools at a cost of £320 million. The Public Accounts Committee today denounced the Government’s free school programme as

“incoherent and too often poor value for money”.

I am also incredibly frustrated and angered that the Government are steamrolling ahead with their divisive grammar schools policy when there is overwhelming evidence that grammar schools do not increase social mobility. Statistics from the Sutton Trust show that less than 3% of entrants to grammar schools are entitled to free school meals; so the answer, for the Government, is to create more of them, rather than to invest in schools that now serve less well-off children. It defies common sense.

In response to the disappointing announcement of only £260 million of extra funding for existing schools in the north-east, Mike Parker, the director of Schools NorthEast, said:

“The Government has to recognise that if it wants a world class education system it has to fund schools appropriately.”

He also said that the funding settlement

“doesn’t fill the operational blackhole in schools across England.”

The question remains: why fund new grammar schools on an ideological whim when, as my hon. Friends have testified this morning, existing schools across the north-east are in desperate need of increased funding?

Headteachers across the north-east are expected to make exceptionally difficult decisions day to day, because of an inadequately funded system. If the Minister had to balance a school’s books, what would he cut—teachers, subject choices, support services or after-school clubs? Equally, he could increase class sizes; but let us remember that 900 pupils in primary schools in the north-east are already in classes of 40 or more. When the Prime Minister was shadow Education Secretary she railed against large class sizes, but they are increasing on her watch. The answer is clear: the Government should not cut school funding at all. It is often said in the north-east that the Tories cannot be trusted with the NHS. I say they cannot be trusted with the education system either.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families) 10:31 am, 26th April 2017

It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Betts. I thank my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson for securing the debate, and all my hon. Friends who have spoken. I want particularly to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop). I am sincerely sad that we will never hear from them again in this place—[Hon. Members: “Oh!]—well, for the time being anyway.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Public Health)

I made a terrible omission in my opening remarks, when I mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland and all the work that he has done, but failed to thank my fabulous colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool, for his time here and say how sorely he will be missed. In my excitement at the start of the debate I had not noticed that he was also in his place, and I did not want him to leave thinking I do not love him as much as my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North

I did not want to take up time in my speech, in case there was not enough time in the debate, but I too want to pay tribute to both my hon. Friends. I am sorry they are leaving but very much hope to hear from them again.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families)

As with my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West, it was in my excitement at the start of my speech that I said we might never hear from my hon. Friends again; I did not mean that, obviously.

The desperate state of schools in the north-east is clear from the speeches that my hon. Friends have made, but I am afraid schools throughout the country are in similar circumstances. The crisis in schools is a national failure, perpetrated by the Conservative Government, and made worse by news today of the failed free schools policy and by the decision made by the Prime Minister in her short time in office to divert school funding to grammar schools. That is despite all the teaching bodies, the unions and thousands of teachers talking about the crisis in schools. The Government’s response is to deny that the problem exists, trot out the mendacious response that funding in schools has never been higher, and try to introduce an inequitable new funding formula that has been universally condemned and under which every school in England is likely to face funding cuts in the next three years.

I hope that today the Minister will at least accept that there is a crisis in schools, and take the opportunity to explain why the Government are not responding to the consultation on the new funding formula this side of the general election. Surely the public deserve, at the very least, a summary of responses to the consultation, so that they can make a fully informed decision before they go into the polling booth.

Alan Hardie, the principal of the excellent Whitburn Church of England Academy in my constituency was recently forced, as many others have been, to do the Government’s dirty work; he had to send a begging letter to parents, asking for donations of £10 a month to cover basic resources. Alan said:

“We hear the same phrase repeated time and time again by the Department for Education that school funding has never been higher. What they neglect to mention is more and more of this funding returns directly back to central government through the very significant increases in employer’s National Insurance and pension contributions. This is a stealth tax that means that schools have less and less to spend on the pupils in their care”.

The truth is that schools in England are facing their first real-terms funding cuts in 20 years, and must find about £3 billion-worth of savings—on average about 7% of their overall budget; that the secondary schools that will experience the largest cuts will, in real terms, lose an average of £291,000; and that funding to the most deprived secondary schools, where more than 30% of children receive free school meals, will fall, while the highest relative gains will go to pupils in the least deprived areas. It is an all-too-familiar approach from the Government, who, time and again, make those who can least afford it pay for their mistakes.

Since 2010 the Conservatives have offered much in the way of rhetoric on education, but have consistently failed to make that a reality. Instead, they have left in their wake a litany of broken promises. They promised us they would recruit and keep the best teachers. Yet schools face a crisis of both recruitment and retention. Teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers, and many more are set to follow. The Conservatives promised they would create small schools with smaller class sizes, but the opposite is true. Even analysis by the Department for Education has revealed that more than 500,000 primary school children are now in super-sized classes of more than 30. In secondary schools more than 300,000 pupils are taught in classes of more than 30. The Government promised in their manifesto that money following children into schools would be protected and that funding would rise in line with pupil numbers. Yet the National Audit Office has confirmed that schools are required to make £3 billion of efficiency savings.

Worse still, the Department for Education does not have a clue where it expects schools to make those savings. Perhaps the Minister can use the debate as an opportunity to let us, and schools, know how the savings can be made; or will he confirm what we all know—that the only way to make the savings is by schools continuing to increase pupil-to-teacher ratios, reduce basic services such as cleaning and site and premises work, stop investment in books and IT equipment, cease providing apprenticeships to people such as Liam, who was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West, design curriculum offers that fulfil only basic requirements, not replace staff who leave, outsource support services, and lose more support staff, teaching assistants, lunchtime supervisors, caretakers and—the death knell—teachers?

The National Union of Teachers general secretary, Kevin Courtenay, said that headteachers are cutting back on all spending areas to try to keep teachers in front of classes. That is where the Government have taken us; it is the depth of the crisis in schools. Schools are struggling just to put teachers in classrooms. He has said that the fears about schools operating on a four-day week are real. Four-day weeks—that is the future of children’s education under another Tory Government.

Children with special educational needs and disabilities are another group that the Government promised to prioritise, but it is the hardest hit, as specialist support is no longer available.

The pupil premium, which was designed to help children from poorer backgrounds, is being used by almost a third of schools to cover their budget shortages, with schools with the highest numbers of disadvantaged pupils more likely to report cuts to staff as a result of those shortages. Is it not true that the Government’s priorities do not lie with disadvantaged children or children with special educational needs?

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Labour, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

Does my hon. Friend agree that a lot of these cuts have come from fiscal pressures? If the Government really were a defender of state education, they would review those fiscal pressures and the needs of state education above those of private education. At the moment, private schools, due to their charity trustee status, are exempt from taxation, to the detriment of state schools, which now have to pay higher national insurance levels and the apprenticeship levy. Private sector education seems to have special dispensation, unlike its state counterparts. Does she agree that the Minister should look at that fiscal arrangement first before making further cuts to state education?

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families)

It will come as no surprise to my hon. Friend that I completely agree with him. This is about priorities, and the Government’s are completely wrong. Some £320 million has been promised for 70,000 new places at grammar schools, while other schools, such as those my hon. Friends have referred to, are having to send out begging letters and get rid of staff.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does she agree that the most pernicious aspect of the Government’s education policies is that schools in the most disadvantaged areas face the biggest cuts, yet the Government waste money on grammar schools for the few and not the many?

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families)

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The Government’s priority is an obsession with the educational policy of the 1950s and bringing back grammar schools. All of the evidence shows that those schools favour the wealthy. A child from a private prep school is 10 times as likely to get into a grammar school as a child on free school meals.

It is becoming crystal clear that the Government are not interested in the views of the profession, but I wonder whether they are interested in the views of children and parents. After all, it is their lives, hopes and dreams that the Government are playing with. Nathaniel Smithies is a year 9 pupil at Whitburn Academy in my constituency. He wanted me to say to the Minister:

“I feel worried when a school like mine with an Ofsted Outstanding is so worried that it has so little money in the coffers that it has to ask our parents to pay to try and give us the level of education I know my teachers want to give us. I’ve noticed extracurricular and enrichment activities are diminishing, and we have to pay for little extras for art or for materials like Corriflute or balsa wood for graphics lessons or modelling. And we have a set limit on printing—like if you need to print your homework out at school. I didn’t have to do this when I was in year 7.”

Nathaniel’s mam, Lisa, added:

“When I was asked to help fund my child’s education by contributing £10 per month I felt myself torn. As a mother who wants to provide my child with the best chances possible to fully realise his wonderful, as yet unrestricted potential, I will do whatever I can afford to make this happen…But by contributing to my school do I help create a two-tier education, whereby children whose parents can afford to contribute get a better education than those children whose parents are not able to contribute? Does it mean that later on I will be told by the Government that school budgets are adequate because I have helped bridge the funding gap and will now have to continue to do so to maintain the status quo?”

She went on to say:

“I often hear politicians say we need to invest in the future. Surely there is no sounder investment in the future than for a Government to invest in educating children and providing all children the opportunity to be the best they can be, so that all our futures are the best they can be. Somewhere out there among today’s schoolchildren there are future Prime Ministers and the next generation of innovators, artists, writers, athletes, engineers, soldiers, scientists, leaders, doctors, nurses and educators. A good education for all leads to a more tolerant, fairer and integrated society. We should be saying what more is needed—not how little can we spend on our schools before we break them!”

The coming election is a real chance for parents to make a choice for the future of our education system. I know what Labour’s response is to Lisa questions. We want an education system that works for all of our children, not just the lucky few, and we will invest to ensure the highest standards in schools, where every single child is cherished and supported. Will the Minister answer Lisa’s questions? I am sure that parents up and down the country want, and are fully entitled to, all of the answers.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Communities and Local Government Committee

I will leave two minutes at the end for the mover of the debate to respond. I call the Minister.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Department for Education) 10:45 am, 26th April 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I start by congratulating Mrs Hodgson on securing this important debate. I, too, will be sorry to lose the hon. Members for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) and for Hartlepool (Mr Wright). I have enjoyed debating and sparring with the hon. Member for Hartlepool over many years, both in his role as a Minister for Education and in his more welcome role as a shadow Minister for Education. He carried out both roles with intelligence, humour and application, and I know that I shall miss those debates in the years ahead.

I trust that the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West agrees that we share the ambition to see a country that works for everyone and where all children have access to an excellent education that unlocks talent and creates opportunity, regardless of where they live, their background, ability or need. We are introducing the national funding formula in order to tackle the unfairness in the current funding system, using up-to-date data rather than 10-year-old data. That is why, contrary to what has been said today, under the national funding formula hon. Members will see increases in their funding.

I accept that schools face cost pressures, and I will come to those issues in a moment, but let us get the facts clear. Schools in the constituency of Catherine McKinnell will see a £1.6 million increase in funding overall as a direct consequence of the national funding formula. That is a 3.6% increase—85% of schools in her constituency will see an increase in funding. Funding to schools in the constituency of Mary Glindon will increase by £0.8 million, which is a 1.4% increase in spending. She mentioned Holystone Primary School. That school’s funding will rise from £1.43 million in 2016-17 to £1.47 million, on the basis of the new national funding formula—a 2.7% rise. That is a direct consequence of the national funding formula.

As a direct consequence of the new national funding formula, funding to schools in the constituency of Alex Cunningham will rise by £0.6 million—a 1.3% increase—and schools in the constituency of Phil Wilson will see an increase in funding of £0.3 million, which is a 0.7% rise. He mentioned Sedgefield Community College, where he went to school. That school’s income will rise from £5.332 million to £5.384 million—a rise of 1%—as a direct consequence of the national funding formula. It is important to distinguish the national funding formula from other cost pressures affecting schools, which I will come to in a moment. Those cost pressures are being absorbed across the public sector.

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Chair, Education, Skills and the Economy Sub-Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

I am thankful for, and moved by, the Minister’s tributes to me, my hon. Friend Tom Blenkinsop and other colleagues. He talked about funding increases in general terms, which is true, but we are also seeing record pupil numbers. Will he pledge that, as part of the national funding formula, we will see a rise in funding per pupil in the next Parliament? Just to clarify, I am not dead—at least, not yet.

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

The hon. Gentleman looks very healthy to me. May I just say that the figures I have cited are for 2016-17 and are based on actual pupil numbers in 2016-17. They do not take into account the extra funds that will come forth as pupil numbers rise.

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield

The Minister is talking as if there is not a problem. If everything in the garden is so rosy, why is the headteacher of Sedgefield Community College saying that the Government protecting the budget is an utter myth?

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

I did not say that there are no issues. I said that there are cost pressures facing schools, but I want to get the factual basis of the issues on the record, so that we know what we are debating. It appears to me that hon. Members in this debate are opposing the national funding formula. The national funding formula is designed to address iniquities in the system and will do so. As a consequence, schools that have been historically underfunded on the basis of their intakes will no longer be so, if and when we implement the national funding formula.

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

I will, and then I will make some progress.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families)

I disagree with the Minister; I do not think we can separate the existing funding pressures from the national funding formula. If he is so confident in the Government’s new national funding formula, why will his Department not publish its response to the consultation before the general election?

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

Well, we are now in purdah and therefore it is not permitted for us to make announcements of that magnitude during the election period.

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

It is not convenient, actually.

School funding in the constituency of Dr Blackman-Woods will rise by £0.4 million—a 0.9% increase—as a direct consequence, again, of introducing the national funding formula. School funding is at its highest level on record, at almost £41 billion this year, and it is set to rise to £42 billion by 2019-20 as pupil numbers rise.

However, the current funding system is preventing us from getting that record sum of money to where it is needed most. Underfunded schools do not have access to the same opportunities to do the best for their children, and it is harder for them to attract the best teachers and afford the right support. That is why we are reforming the funding system by introducing a national funding formula for both mainstream schools and the high-needs support provided for children with special educational needs. It will be the biggest change to school and high-needs funding for well over a decade.

Such change is never easy, but it will mean that, for the first time, we have a clear, simple and transparent system that matches funding to children’s needs and the school they attend. In the current system, similar schools and local areas receive very different levels of funding with little or no justification. Those anomalies will be ended once we have a national funding formula in place, and that is why we are committed to introducing fair funding. Fair funding will mean that the same child with the same needs will attract the same funding regardless of where they happen to live.

We launched the first stage of our consultation on reform in March last year. We set out the principles for reform and proposals for the overall design of the system, and more than 6,000 people responded, with wide support for those principles. Last month we concluded the 14-week second stage consultation, covering the detailed proposals for the design of both the schools and high-needs formulae. Our proposals would target money towards those who face the greatest barriers to their education.

In particular, our proposals would boost the support provided for those who are from deprived backgrounds and those who live in areas of deprivation but who are not eligible for free school meals—those ordinary working families who are too often overlooked. We propose to put more money towards supporting those pupils who have fallen behind, in both primary and secondary school, to ensure that they have the support they need.

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

I will not give way now, because of lack of time; I apologise.

Overall, 10,700 schools would gain funding under the new national funding formula, and the formula will allow those schools to see gains quickly, with increases of up to 3% in per-pupil funding in 2018-19 and 2.5% in 2019-20. Some 72 local authority areas are proposed to gain more high-needs funding, and they would also do so quickly, with increases of up to 3% in both 2018-19 and 2019-20.

We have listened to those who have highlighted the risks of major budget changes in our first-stage consultation, which is why we have introduced a floor of a 1.5% minimum funding guarantee per year, and no school can lose more than 3% overall per pupil as a consequence of these changes.

Schools in the north-east would, on average, see a 1% increase in funding as a result of our proposals, and 60% of schools in the region would see an increase in funding, compared with 54% nationally. Schools in the north-east are doing well: 68% of pupils in key stage 2 SATS reached the expected standard in reading in 2016, compared with 66% nationally, and 82% of children are passing the phonics test, compared with 81% nationally.

Of course, the picture would not be uniform across the whole of the north-east. I recognise that the proposals would result in budget reductions for schools in the local authority of the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West and no real overall change in funding to schools in her constituency. However, I believe that the formula we have proposed strikes the right balance between the various competing considerations for funding, such as the balance between the core funding that every child attracts and the extra funding targeted at each of the additional need factors. We propose to use a broad definition of “disadvantage” to target additional funding at schools most likely to use it, comprising pupil and area-level deprivation data.

I want to turn to the issue of costs. We recognise that schools are facing cost pressures, including salary increases, the introduction of the national living wage, increases to employers’ national insurance pension scheme contributions and general inflation. From the start of 2016-17 to the end of 2019-20, we have estimated that those pressures will amount to approximately 8% per pupil, on average. To be clear, that is not an 8% pressure in a single year, nor is it an 8% pressure that is all yet to come. In fact, some of those pressures have already materialised and been absorbed in the past financial year. Over the next three years, per-pupil pressures will, on average, be between 1.5% and 1.6% each year. The current, unfair funding system makes those pressures harder to manage, and introducing a national funding formula will direct funding where it is most needed.

We have published a wide range of tools and support to schools, available in one place on gov.uk. That includes tools to help schools to assess their level of efficiency and to find opportunities for savings; guidance on best practice, including on strategic financial planning and collaborative buying; case studies from schools themselves; and support for schools to acquire greater financial skills. We have launched a school buying strategy to support schools to save more than £1 billion a year by 2019-20 on their non-staff spend. That will help all schools to improve how they buy goods and services.

I am grateful for today’s opportunity to debate school funding. A fair national funding formula for schools and high needs underpins our ambition for social mobility and social justice, and it will mean that every pupil is supported to achieve to the best of their potential, wherever they are in the country.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Public Health) 10:57 am, 26th April 2017

I am grateful to the Minister for leaving me some time to wind up; not all Ministers do that. This has been an excellent debate. At this late stage, on the penultimate day of this Parliament, it is heartening to see so many colleagues from across the north-east here today. That just goes to show how worried we all are about these funding cuts to our schools. We have all made the case as strongly as possible, as we have all met with our headteachers and are regular attendees at our schools, and we have been told at first hand the consequences of the Government’s actions.

I listened to what the Minister had to say. I really was hopeful that he would listen and commit, even at the final stage of this Parliament, to act or at least promise to look at this again in the next Parliament if he is lucky enough, which I am sure he will be, to be returned at the election and appointed again to his current position in government—if they win.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Public Health)

Yes, it might be the job of my hon. Friend Mrs Lewell-Buck. I am sure she will be putting this all right. That will be a great day indeed, and I look forward to it.

Sadly, the Minister did not make any such commitment. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields will, so I look forward to that day. The Minister instead referred to the fairer funding formula, telling hon. Members that we were wrong. He cited a few examples of schools that may be a little bit better off with regard to the funding formula, and he read out a list to try to make that point, but he is missing the bigger point, which is that the national funding formula is being used as a smokescreen. We all agree with fairer funding for schools across the country, but this is being used to hide the real-terms cuts and pay for the other four pressures on school budgets that I highlighted in my speech, such as the pay rise, the national living wage, the apprenticeship levy and trying to fix the schools that are falling to pieces.

I am sorry that we have not made progress on this issue today. I remind the Minister that the electorate is watching; they are watching all of us, and I am confident that they will make their verdict on this at the ballot box on 8 June. Hopefully it will be my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields who can fix this when we come back to this place in June.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered school funding in the north east of England.