Education Funding: Wirral

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:00 pm on 31st October 2017.

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Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 6:00 pm, 31st October 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Eagle on securing this important debate.

According to the Government’s own figures, funding for schools in Wirral under the new formula will rise from £194.7 million in 2017-18 to £197.8 million in 2018-19, and then £199.3 million in 2019-20. Funding in Wirral in 2019-20 is scheduled to be 2.4% higher than in 2017-18. However, the average national increase for that period is 3.2%, so it is clear, even from the Government’s own figures, that Wirral is set to miss out.

Figures from the National Education Union tell a different story, showing that funding for schools in Wirral is to fall by nearly £4.8 million between 2015-16 and 2019-20, and revealing a loss in per-pupil funding of 2%—£111 per pupil. It predicts that, as a result, schools in Wirral will lose more than 100 teachers overall. It has also pointed out that school cuts have not been reversed, and that the vast majority of schools will have less money per pupil next year and in 2020 than when the Government took office in 2015. As a former schoolteacher college lecturer myself, the quality of education we provide to our young people is a subject very close to my heart. I know only too well, from first-hand experience, what happens when schools struggle with cuts by Conservative Governments, because, of course, we have been here before.

The loss of 100 teachers from Wirral schools will have huge implications for pupils and teachers. Cuts are likely to lead to increased class sizes, the loss of subject choice and curriculum areas—especially in the arts, which are so important to ensure the development of a rounded education—and increased pressure on the remaining staff, who will have to teach the same number of pupils. All of that matters because education is vital to the development of the next generation and to the future of our country, and I believe there really can be no shortcuts. The National Education Union has said that high-needs, early years and post-16 education have suffered the biggest cuts and are not being fairly funded.

Headteachers of schools in my constituency have told me that they face a real challenge in supporting children with special educational needs. In one school, Fender Primary School, 39% of pupils have special educational needs, compared with the national average of 13.5% for primary schools, while more than 50% of its pupils are eligible for free school meals. That presents particular challenges, but the school’s most recent Ofsted report noted that

“The school’s commitment to ensuring all pupils equally succeed is strong. All pupils achieve well, and some outstandingly so, including disabled pupils and those with special educational needs.”

I pay tribute to the school’s staff, its pupils and their parents. The report also said:

“The headteacher has high ambitions for pupils’
personal development and academic achievement”,

and that she is “driving improvements”. High levels of support are important for children with special educational needs, whether provided by teachers or classrooms assistants, who of course can often be very highly qualified.

In some cases in which a child is experiencing special difficulties, one-to-one support may be necessary; for other pupils, smaller class sizes may be sufficient. It can take considerable time for an education, health and care plan for a pupil to be approved. During that time, schools have to fund that extra support themselves and are not compensated for it, even though some pupils may actually have moved to another school by the time the plan is in place. In 2017-18, 145 pupils out of 244 at Fender Primary School qualified for the pupil premium. It is clear that extra funding, whether through the pupil premium or SEN funding, is vital.

Fender Primary School works hard for the community it serves. It remains open for four weeks in summer and all of Easter to support the families of its children in a range of ways that go beyond the purely educational, such as emergency food parcels and furniture for families who need it. However, despite the clear high level of need, according to the School Cuts website, Fender Primary School is predicted to lose £109,500 per year by 2020—amounting to £452 per pupil and the loss of two teachers. I will be grateful if the Minister sets out what action he will take to ensure that Fender Primary School and others like it get the funding they need, particularly for SEN, and what he will do to drop the planned cuts to Wirral’s schools as a whole.

Staff in schools across Wirral show immense dedication to their pupils. One such school, which works with children in their early years, which we all know are so important for everything that happens in the rest of their lives, is Ganneys Meadow Nursery School. Around 20% of the children there have special educational needs and/or a disability, including autism, epilepsy or mobility problems. The families of a number of the children are on low incomes, and some children may be quite vulnerable. The Ofsted report published this month judged it “outstanding” in every respect, and said of the children:

“Their joy at being at Ganneys Meadow is evident from the moment they walk through the door with happy, smiley faces.”

Ganneys Meadow’s chair of governors even voluntarily teaches GCSE maths to mothers, such is the level of commitment at the school. However, like many other maintained nursery schools, it is under extreme financial pressure. We all know how important the early years are, and it is essential that the Government give the sector the funding it needs to give children the very best start in life; the Government should match the immense dedication shown by teachers by giving them the funding needed.

Post-16 education has also received severe cuts. In his March Budget, the Chancellor announced an extra £500 million a year in funding for technical education reforms. Wirral Metropolitan College, which sits in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Frank Field, has provided technical education for people in Wirral for more than 160 years, but it, too, has been hit hard by a severe squeeze in funding, like so many colleges. The National Education Union’s website reports that funding for 16 to 19-year-olds fell by 14 % in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15. The Government announced in November 2015 that 16-to-19 funding would be protected in cash terms between 2016 and 2020. However, taking inflation into account, that is still likely to mean a real-terms cut of around 8%.

There is also the introduction of adult loans. Since their introduction in 2013-14 for students aged 24 and above, and their extension to 19 to 23-year-olds in 2016-17, 58% of the total budget—£910 million—has been left unspent, according to the Student Loans Company. In other words, people have not been taking out loans. I used to work in a further education college, and although the sector can often be overlooked, it has to be recognised just how hugely important these colleges are for people as they progress from their school years through to their workplace—particularly for people who may have struggled during their time at school, due to something happening in their family, such as a bereavement, or because they were ill. It is a massively important sector, and the Government should look at it very closely.

Wirral Met serves a diverse population in Wirral, including many people from deprived backgrounds, who may be less likely to take out loans because they are already at higher risk of being in debt, which the head of the Financial Conduct Authority recently stressed as an issue. There has also been a fall of nearly 40% in the number of levels 3 and 4 learners since the loans were introduced, which the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills actually predicted back in 2012. I will be grateful if the Minister outlines his plans to address the clearly detrimental impact that cuts to post-16 education and the introduction of loans is having on the education and training of young people in Wirral.