School Funding: East Anglia — [Mike Gapes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:17 pm on 3rd September 2019.

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Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 5:17 pm, 3rd September 2019

I suspect that most hon. Members’ constituency surgeries on a Friday are now full—mine certainly is, and I hear the same when I talk to colleagues across Greater Manchester—of parents trying to get special educational needs provision for their children. Dr Poulter rightly mentions CAMHS, but again the promises are of money in the future. This is the unicorn; this is what will happen. We can only see what this Government have done to education funding since 2015.

The hon. Member for North West Norfolk also mentioned class sizes, but there are now half a million children in super-size classes. There is an unquestionable recruitment crisis in our schools. It is almost a case of one teacher in, one teacher out. And it is not just because of the money. The Government have promised £30,000. I would like to hear that that will apply to all new teachers’ starting salaries and that there will not be differentiation between subjects. The Government have missed their own recruitment targets for six years; every year on the Minister’s watch, they have missed their targets, and teachers are flooding out of the classroom. We need urgent action to retain the most experienced teachers and to recruit new staff. But even now, as we have heard the Education Secretary announce higher pay, teachers will have to wait years for the promised pay rise, and there is every chance that they will never see the fruits of this Government’s promises.

On top of that, despite the Work and Pensions Secretary’s claim that no child would lose their free school meal eligibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that 160,000 children who were eligible under the legacy system will not be eligible under universal credit. We regularly hear stories of teachers buying essential supplies for their classes. We heard earlier today that schools are having to shut for a day. Even schools in the Minister’s own constituency are threatening a four-day week. The curriculum is narrowing: we see schools cutting subjects such as drama, art and music, restricting our young people’s horizons.

There is a crisis in our schools, and beyond, to which this Government are turning a blind eye. In fact, there has been a concerted effort by the Government to fudge the figures and deflect attention away from the cuts. If funding per pupil had been maintained in value since 2015, school funding overall would be £5.1 billion higher than it is now. That means that 91% of schools are still facing, as we speak here today, real-terms cuts.

Hon. Members here today know all too well the impact on the ground already. Headteachers tell us every day. The Government need to stop their sticking-plaster approach to school finances and give schools what they need. Although I am pleased to hear the Government announce more money for schools, I hope that the Minister has truly removed his head from the sand and begun to hear the voices of schools, teachers and parents. I joke that I see more of the Minister than I do of my wife—because it is not just East Anglia that is the subject of Westminster Hall debates. We are here almost weekly or twice a week. We spend hours having to debate what is happening in all our regions—the exact same problems that schools up and down our country face. I have lost count of the number of debates that there have been.

With the economic uncertainty of Brexit, and especially a no-deal Brexit, which the new Prime Minister seems so keen to pursue, it defies all logic to have a Government who are failing to invest properly in education and skills—particularly, as the hon. Member for Waveney pointed out, in our coastal towns. Further education is vital to their regeneration; it will be the silver bullet for regenerating our coastal towns. We are struggling to find the teachers to go and work there.

I have said this before and will say it again. As a former primary school teacher, I know the difference that a good teacher makes. With the right support and resources, they can raise a child’s attainment and aspiration. We go into teaching because we believe in the value of education. Our schools do not want to see one-off, headline-grabbing handouts; our schools need fair funding now.

Labour’s national education service will change this situation when we come to power. The national education service will create social mobility; it will create ambition for all. Our national education service will pay teachers what they deserve. The national education service will provide the investment that our schools so desperately need.