School Funding — [Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:33 pm on 4th March 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:33 pm, 4th March 2019

And it really takes that. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her remark, which of course comes from her experience. As I said, the other reason this issue has not been spoken about as much as it might have been in another part of the public sphere is simply fear of competitive disadvantage. If a headteacher talks about having to lose teaching assistants, the children who would have come to their school might go to another school instead. People therefore keep quiet and suffer in silence.

However, as the hon. Lady rightly says, we have got to a breaking point—a point of immense frustration, which has led headteachers, who would normally dutifully have got on with the job, to speak out very clearly. Just this week, 16 headteachers in my constituency, representing primary schools, special educational needs schools and secondary schools, clubbed together to write to parents and others in our community to be explicit about what the cuts mean for them. That is a brave and unprecedented thing to do. They deserve our taking notice, and they deserve the Government’s taking notice. We must listen.

Those headteachers note that in my constituency alone, there has been a £2.4 million real-terms cut in schools funding, even allowing for the fact that, as a rural area, we are a net beneficiary of the fairer funding formula. The net impact on us has been £2.4 million of cuts—£190 per child has been lost from schools funding in Westmorland and Lonsdale. Headteachers in my community talk explicitly about losing teaching posts—indeed, about making some teachers redundant—and getting rid of teaching assistants. They talk about having smaller establishments, meaning the merging of classes and reductions in the options available, particularly at secondary school. Any country’s greatest asset is its people, especially its young people, so to underfund our schools in this way—to undervalue our greatest asset—is not just cruel but incredibly stupid. Investment in our education is an investment in our country’s future.

Teachers are committed professionals. They do what they do not for the money—there isn’t a right lot of it in the profession—but because they are passionate about making a difference in our young people’s lives, so it breaks their heart to see the impact of these cuts on the quality of education. They also see cuts that affect children in other parts of the public sphere. In Cumbria, because of a cut in public health funding, all school nurses have been abolished. Only 75p per child is spent on preventive mental healthcare across our area. Three years after it was promised, there is still no specialist one-to-one eating disorder service for young people in our community. Just before Christmas, £500,000 was sneaked out of public health spending. That affects the community as a whole, but particularly our young people.

Nowhere are cuts in schools funding more noticeable, though, than in special educational needs. Of course, the first 11 hours of special educational needs provision are paid for by the school. One small high school in my constituency with fewer than 500 pupils spends £105,000 a year on supporting those children. That comes from its main school budget. We penalise schools that do the right thing and advantage those that do not. Will the Minister fund special educational needs directly, rather than damaging schools?

I will give the last word to a highly respected headteacher in my constituency, who wrote to me just yesterday:

“In the last two years we have made reductions to teaching and support staffing, with no reduction in the overall workload. All we get is hackneyed and frankly quite pathetic suggestions from the DFE on how to economise…I love my job, but…I do not wish to be head of a school in a state system that is en route to economic meltdown.”

This Government are demoralising our teachers and letting down our children. That must change.