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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:09 am on 26th April 2017.

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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.