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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:15 am on 26th April 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

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.