School Funding — [Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:11 pm on 4th March 2019.

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Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester 6:11 pm, 4th March 2019

Having spoken in the estimates day education debate last week, I do not intend to keep the House long now. However, I thank the 214 people from Colchester who signed the petition, and I declare a small interest in that my wife is a teacher.

I am passionate about education for a number of reasons, but primarily because it is an enabler of social mobility. At the heart of equality is equality of opportunity, and education is very much at the heart of that. Like my hon. Friend Royston Smith, I thank teachers in my constituency, who do an amazing job. Pressure on teachers is immense, and they are asked to do more and more every single year.

Only last week, I met a number of teachers and school governors at North Primary School; some of them came from other schools. We discussed the disconnect between the messaging from the Government and the messaging from schools, and how that confuses parents and the wider public. The Government rightly say that more money is going to schools than ever before, but schools say that they face incredible cost pressures and have to not replace or lay off support staff.

In effect, both are correct. I praise the Government because between 2010 and 2015—before I entered Parliament—there were no cuts to education per se, to age 16. Inevitably, however, cost pressures have risen considerably over that time. I went into the different cost pressures on schools last week, so there is little point in going over them again, but the amount of increased funding has not kept up with those considerable cost pressures on our schools. That is the reality, so I strongly support calls for an increase in both revenue and capital funding for our schools.

In particular, we need to look at further education. The 16-to-19 budget has been frozen since 2013-14, and all those cost pressures that I mentioned in the debate last week have equally affected sixth forms and colleges. As a result, educational standards are suffering.

One point that has not been made in the debate so far—if an hon. Member has done so, I apologise—is about certainty of funding. We have talked about increased funding, and that is important, but certainty of funding is too. We ask schools, rightly, to set a three-year budget, but we do not tell them what funding they will get next year or the year after. That presents a problem. We have just created a 10-year long-term plan for our NHS to give certainty of funding. We need to do something similar for our schools. I am not suggesting that that has to be for 10 years, but it needs to be at least three years, so that headteachers and school business managers have the certainty of knowing what funding they will have.

Why have this debate now? We know that more money is going into education but that the cost pressures are rising. I genuinely feel that we are at the precipice. Two, three or four years ago, governors and headteachers were not raising such issues with me. Yes, there were efficiencies to be made in our schools—the Government sent out a helpful toolkit on saving money—but there is now no fat left to trim. Schools have maximised efficiencies, so there is only one place left to go. In a school whose budget is 80% or 90% spent on staff, what else is there to trim apart from staff? When we start to take away staff, we hit educational attainment. We are at the precipice. I fear that we will start to see results decline. I urge the Minister to increase funding for schools.