School Funding — [Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:00 am on 24th October 2018.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 10:00 am, 24th October 2018

Everybody is arguing that more money is coming into the coffers of local schools—that is plainly a fact. It is a question of how many pupils that money has to be spread across, increasing pressures on that funding, and what is left over to fund the basic education of children. It is no good saying that less money is going into schools; it is not. It is just not enough, given all those other factors.

In West Sussex we have the cumulative effect over many years of consistently being right at the bottom of the heap, so that all those savings have been used up years ago and many of my schools are running on empty. Despite that, many schools in my constituency are doing an outstanding job, such as Eastbrook Primary Academy in Southwick, St Nicolas and St Mary Primary in Shoreham, Shoreham Academy, Sompting Village School in Sompting, and Vale School in Worthing, to name just a few schools that have been consistently outstanding and good, despite all those factors. They are a mix of academies, faith schools and local authority schools—I give preference to no particular type of school, and indeed we have no free schools in my constituency. As has been said, there is a particular problem with special needs schools that are not covered by the new fair funding formula, although the numbers of pupils coming forward with severe educational needs has increased. Fantastic schools such as Herons Dale School in Shoreham are suffering huge pressures, and we are seeing the effect on pupils.

I want to concentrate on real examples, not just talk in the round. Last year I invited every head of every school in my constituency to a couple of roundtables to tell me exactly what was going on in their schools—it was not about fears of what might happen, but about what was going on and how they set their budgets there and then. This year I repeated that exercise with the chairs of governors from all schools in my constituency. As a result of those findings, I wrote a lengthy letter to the Education Secretary—I have just had a reply from the Minister—in which I gave real life examples.

There were many common factors, and in the consultation on the fair funding formula, 9% of 25,222 responses that the Department for Education received came from West Sussex. That hugely dis- proportionate figure shows how important this issue is in our part of the world. Common issues were that staffing costs, in some cases, were 90% of a school’s budget. Some years ago they would typically have been nearer 80%, and beyond that figure it becomes unsustainable for many schools. There have been many redundancies and fewer working hours, and non-returning maternity leave cases are commonplace. Senior leadership teams are covering classes to remove the need for supply teachers, and extracurricular activities and trips are being culled due to cost. Infrastructure investment and development is being delayed or ruled out completely.

Let me give a few examples from schools. One medium-sized primary school has reduced teaching assistant support by more than 200 hours and has not replaced its inclusion co-ordinator. It is unable to replace ageing and antiquated IT equipment. A junior school now has a deficit of £40,000, and will require an additional £220,000 for salaries over the next few years. Class sizes are typically 32 or 33 since 113 more pupils came into the school, yet there was an equivalent increase in full-time teachers of 0.8%. Schools are not losing funds because they are losing pupils; they are attracting pupils and yet they do not have the funds to get the teaching cover they need. The professional development budget was between £3,000 and £5,000, but it is now zero. The extended curriculum budget was around £20,000, but it is now £500. The learning resources budget was £120,000, and is now £35,000. There will be a deficit, and in that school 87% of expenditure is on staff salaries and overtime.

In a medium-sized primary school, non-qualified teachers such as high-level teaching assistants are being used to cover classes so that the school cuts the cost of supply staff, and numerous cuts to teaching assistant posts are creating greater workloads for teachers. Schools are unable to pay overtime. Counselling levels have fallen due to cutbacks, and that will be a soft target for further cuts in future. That is a particularly big worry to me because it will create greater pressures on those pupils who require greater attention and resources. They will then fall further behind at school, and they will not get the opportunity to make that time up if we do not deal with the issue soon. In too many cases the waiting list for counselling in school or beyond is many months, and during that time a condition can fester. I have many more practical examples. That is not scaremongering; this is going on now, and this is how governors and heads have to set their budgets to effect those constraints.

What can we do? I have three suggestions. First, the Minister absolutely must lobby as part of the comprehensive spending review and say that the shortfall in funding is a false economy in the extreme. Secondly, it was disappointing that the full teachers’ pay was not covered centrally—just the additional pay over that 1%, and there have been questions about some teachers not getting that full coverage over the 1%. Finally, I suggest that West Sussex, and other coastal areas where there are particular problems of deprivation and high costs, should have something like a coastal communities challenge fund, just as the London Challenge fund in 2003 addressed some of the difficulties in places where affluent areas mask areas of real deprivation, such as those found typically on the south coast, the Kent coast and other parts of the country. I ask the Government to look seriously at addressing the serious deficit in parts of the country such as West Sussex, because we are feeling the effects of it now.