Education Funding: Wirral

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:09 pm on 31st October 2017.

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Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 6:09 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 very timely debate on funding in the Wirral and on her excellent speech. It appears that both her and her sister, my hon. Friend Maria Eagle, have impeccable timing when it comes to winning Westminster Hall debates.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey rightly spoke about the Government’s sleight of hand in announcing further funding for education to appease their Back Benchers that never seems to materialise, and we have no idea where it comes from. As she said, it is not enough to alleviate current pressures, and the most vulnerable are the hardest hit. In the Wirral alone, the figures are stark: £5.1 million is being taken out of the system by 2020, which equates to 108 teachers.

Just last week, hundreds of teachers and school leaders descended on Westminster to do what is their democratic right: to lobby this place and the Government on school funding. Unfortunately, the Minister took a different view and took the opportunity to label those parents, teachers, school leaders and trade unionists as scaremongers. He has the opportunity today to apologise for using that language to ordinary working people who have come to this place to exercise their democratic right by protesting about school budgets being cut up and down the land.

Let us assess the facts. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey said, £2.8 billion has been taken out of the schools budget. That means 88% of schools still face real-terms budget cuts per pupil. For the average primary school, there will be a loss of around £50,000 a year. For the average secondary school, it will be a loss of £178,000 a year. It gets worse. As Members have outlined, the primary schools with the neediest intake are set to lose £324 per pupil, per year, while the least needy primary schools will lose £116 per pupil, per year. For the secondary schools with the neediest intake, the figure is £343 per pupil, per year, while the least needy secondary schools lose £62 per pupil, per year. That certainly does not sound like scaremongering to me.

There may be more money going into education than ever before, as the Minister will point out—that is the Government’s mantra—but that is because of the simple mathematics: there are more children in schools than ever before. Both my hon. Friend Margaret Greenwood made the point that the Minister will come back to us by talking about increases in cash terms, but that does not take into account inflation, the apprenticeship levy, changes to national insurance and all the other pressures currently placed on schools.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey pointed out, there are more and more cases of multi-academy trusts siphoning money out of the education system—another issue that the Secretary of State and the Minister are failing to acknowledge. My hon. Friend mentioned the disaster that happened in the Wirral with the Northern Schools Trust. We saw a few weeks ago a multi-academy trust collapsing in Wakefield, affecting a whole city and 21 schools, on this Minister’s watch. It does terrible reputational damage to Government when that type of thing happens. As The Guardian pointed out, there is now an investigation into that trust, with hundreds of thousands of pounds allegedly siphoned off before it collapsed and walked away from the children of Wakefield.

The fact is that the £1.3 billion of additional funding announced by the Secretary of State is nowhere near enough to reverse the £2.8 billion in cuts that schools have suffered since 2015. We also know that none of the money announced so far is actually new money for education. I take this opportunity to ask the Minister again—I have asked in writing and in this place before, and I will do it again—whether he will confirm, in the interests of transparency and accountability, where the cuts to funding in the Department for Education budget will fall in order to fill the black hole that the Secretary of State has created.

As has been eloquently outlined, the overall level of education funding is totally inadequate and is resulting in devastating cuts to our schools, sixth forms and colleges as we speak. When will the Minister wake up to the fact that the Government need to invest more so that our children’s education is not sacrificed? The impact of these real-terms cuts in school funding are there for all to see. It means that schools are having to cut subjects and children are being taught in supersize classes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West pointed out.

Schools are cutting staffing, and we have a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. Since 2011, a third of teachers who have trained have left the profession. We have 24,000 unqualified teachers working in our state schools and reductions in support for vulnerable children. Schools are once more beginning to crumble, and teachers are even having to pay out of their own pocket for supplies, let alone what is happening to our special educational needs system, where children’s needs are not being met. We have a crisis in our schools that the Minister is simply not willing to acknowledge.

Our key education unions—“the scaremongers”, as the Minister likes to refer to them, or the “truth-sayers”, as I prefer to call them—have set out five tests of what is required of a new fair funding settlement for schools to ensure that the education of our children and young people does not continue to suffer. The fact is that the Minister has failed on every one of them. School cuts have not been reversed; 88% of schools still face real-terms budget cuts per pupil. There is no new money in the education budget, and we are yet to discover where cuts will be made to fill the funding shortfall. High needs, early years and post-16 education will not, as promised, be fairly funded under the proposed new formula.

The Minister has made no long-term funding commitments, so schools are still in limbo. What happens beyond 2020? When can our schools expect the information they need about longer-term funding so that they can plan their budgets effectively? Yet again, historic underfunding of schools is not being addressed. We have teachers leaving the profession in record numbers, more than half a million students now crammed in supersized classes and there are more than 24,000 unqualified teachers, as I just pointed out. If I were still a teacher, I would not be able to say that the Minister has managed a passing grade.

While I of course support the principle that all schools should receive fair funding, the answer is not to take money away from existing schools and redistribute it when budgets all across the country are being cut. A fair approach would be to apply the lessons from schools in the best-performing areas in the country everywhere. It would look objectively at the level of funding required to deliver in the best-performing schools, particularly in areas of high deprivation, and use that as the basis for a formula to be applied across the whole country.

Goodness knows, we have had enough Westminster Hall debates over the last few months where Members from every area of the country have expressed concerns about school funding cuts in their area. When will the Secretary of State and the Minister remove their heads from the sand and begin to truly hear the voices of schools, teachers and parents across the country? If they do not do that soon, it is our children’s education in the Wirral and right across the country that will continue to lose out.