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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.