School Funding — [Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:45 pm on 4th March 2019.

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Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development) 6:45 pm, 4th March 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank my hon. Friend Liz Twist, who made some excellent points, and I congratulate her on this debate. I declare an interest as vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Prior to this debate, I received messages from parents, teachers and staff at schools in my constituency, who are rightly concerned. We know the statistics, even if the Government often seem unwilling to accept them. The Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that school funding is down by £1.7 billion in real terms since 2014-15, while one in four primaries and one in six secondary schools have had their funding cut in cash terms this year.

According to the National Education Union, in my constituency the per-pupil funding between 2015 and 2018 has dropped by £347. When we discuss the numbers and the scale of cuts, we must remember the impact on staffing and resources and what that means in practice for our schools and our children. Last week, I met the headteacher of a school in my constituency who was worried about the cuts she was being forced to make, and the impact it would have on the children she and other staff members were trying to support, especially those with additional needs who were awaiting assessments or specialist provision.

A headteacher of another local primary school contacted me about the £1 million deficit the school is facing as a result of increased costs to schools, uplifts in pension contributions and the planned fair funding formula. The school is about to cut six teaching assistants who currently support SEN children and it will need to make further reductions to try and prepare for a 9.3% cut in overall funding.

Meanwhile, a year 5 teacher wrote to me following an hour-and-a-half stock audit at his school, which was done to limit the stock they use. For example, six glue sticks were to be used per half term. The teacher is worried about what happens next and the headteachers told me they were unsure how they will manage to maintain their currently good provision. Does the Minister have any answers? What does he say to the 10 schools, the children and their parents in Birmingham that now close at lunchtime on Fridays because they cannot afford to stay open for longer?

Constituents and school staff have contacted me about this debate. They are not asking for more money to support children, but they are increasingly asking for the savage cuts to be less vicious, and asking whether the cuts can be graduated to try and minimise the negative impact they are having—and will have—on children and young people. Let me be clear: I am asking for more money.

As a mother with two children at school, I think this is a shocking state of affairs and a situation of which the Government should be thoroughly ashamed. The Government have cut funding while expecting schools to do more. Schools are meant to manage the increasingly complex needs of children with mental health problems, special educational needs and disabilities. The LGA estimates that councils are facing a high-needs funding shortfall of £472 million in the 2018-19 financial year and that the funding gap could rise to £1.6 billion by 2021.

With schools close to breaking point, having already cut resources, staff and opening hours, how are they meant to support children and young people with complex needs? The Children’s Commissioner said that the Government’s plans required quadrupling funding to ensure there are no gaps and black holes for children who need support with their mental health. Does the Minister agree that in order to invest in prevention as well as treatment of symptoms, schools must be sufficiently resourced? Can he tell is what steps are being taken to achieve that?