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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:56 am on 26th April 2017.

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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.