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

Part of the debate – 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 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.