Christopher ChopeMain Page: Christopher Chope (Conservative - Christchurch)
Department Debates - View all Christopher Chope's debates with the Department for Education
Thank you for calling me in this important debate, Sir Christopher. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) for delivering such a powerful and cogent speech, which I completely agree with. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and indeed the petitioners for initiating this debate.
Like many Members, I have been contacted by a lot of constituents—headteachers, teachers, support staff and parents—who have encouraged me to speak in the debate. I do not want to repeat arguments that other hon. Members have made this afternoon. The last time I was in this Chamber and it was so busy, it was during the debate on state pension inequality. Members were sitting on the window ledges. I hope that the Government will take note of this terrible injustice, which is one of a number that need to be addressed. Although I am straying from my script, I must say that when Government Members suggest that somehow we have arrived at the current funding crisis by chance or happenstance, we must be absolutely clear: it is deliberate policy. Conservative Members have gone through the Lobby to vote for austerity and cuts in school budgets—effectively, in real terms—and this is the consequence. It is not an accident but deliberate policy, and it is our gift to do something about it.
I am really disappointed that the promises made that all schools would have a modest increase in funding have not been delivered. When the truth is stretched thin enough, people start to see through it. Other Members have quoted lots of data about the number of schools that have not had a real-terms cash increase. Out of 243 schools in County Durham, 194 will face cuts and some will have very modest increases. Easington is not classed as an urban area, but it is a very deprived area, with large numbers of people facing all sorts of problems; I was at the opening of an extension to our food bank on Saturday. There is an argument that areas facing such challenges should be better resourced. I am not suggesting we should take money away from the affluent south, but I am suggesting that we should recognise that there is a cost, that needs should be met and that we must provide the necessary resources.
Class sizes in County Durham have gone up, as they have elsewhere. The local education authority has lost an astonishing £8.2 million between 2015 and 2020, which equates to a loss of £133 per pupil. In Durham, as elsewhere, budgets have been cut. Education is an investment in the future prosperity of our nation, and I urge Ministers to consider very carefully the points that have been put.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.
When I came into this House, schools in York were the seventh worst funded in the country. However, we then proceeded to fall to the very worst-funded schools, and there have been serious consequences. My fear is that the lack of investment now will run through this generation of children as they prepare for later life. We know how much stress and strain children and schools are under at the moment. We have a broken system and we are breaking our children with the stress and strain we are putting not only on them, but on teachers. Colleagues of the Minister are piling more and more responsibilities on to teachers, such as dealing with mental health issues, because our child and adolescent mental health services are seriously broken too.
While we are talking about the amount of money that the schools are being allocated, we must remember the additional costs of pensions and national insurance, and the increasing amount of funding that they have to find for other things. In York, we have had the fourth biggest fall in staff numbers in our primary schools and the largest rise in class sizes in our secondary schools—significantly more than any other area. When I look at where the cuts have fallen in our city—the worst-funded in the country—they have fallen on the schools in the most deprived areas; Tang Hall Primary School will lose £559 per pupil.
There is a correlation with the consequences that that will create, but I also draw attention to the impact it is already having in terms of the attainment gap. As well as being worst funded, York also has the largest attainment gap in the country, at 31%. Three out of five children from disadvantaged backgrounds are not school-ready by the age of five, and that follows through in their schooling: 26% have an attainment gap at the age of 11. Only 40% of disadvantaged children reach expected standards in reading, writing and maths, and that figure has been static. As that moves through to secondary school, we see high absenteeism for children on free school meals, at 44%, so we know there is a correlation between attainment, funding, class sizes and attendance.
I ask the Minister to look at this issue and to see the consequences that are being built as a result of the cuts placed on our schools. Perhaps he could look again at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report on the postcode lottery in schools, and its suggestion of an early excellence fund. We know the difference it makes when we fund early years, whether through Sure Start or through putting a right strategy in place for early years. It will set up a child for life and we need to see funding there.
I will touch on capital funding, because we have some serious issues in our school buildings. Tang Hall Primary School was 90 years old last November; it is so cold in the winter that the children have to wear hoodies just to keep warm, and their hands are so cold as they sit in those classrooms, yet they are boiling in summer. They need a new school. Tang Hall was top of the Building Schools for the Future list in 2010 and there is still no sign of a new school. Carr Junior School has water ingress and needs repairs, and St Wilfrid’s RC Primary School needs green space for its children. We have too many children trying to squeeze into schools. The spring statement is coming up; we need the funding now.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist). I always want to sing “Blaydon Races” every time I think of her constituency. I thought she did her duty diligently as a member of the Petitions Committee, and despite a barrage of interventions, she was very composed when she made her speech.
I thank Mr Andy Ramanandi, the headteacher of St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School, and the group of headteachers, staff and parents who launched the petition we are debating. Over the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have watched their Facebook video, explaining the scale of the impact of the cuts on their school. Headteachers such as Mr Ramanandi, Mr Malik and others who have been involved in the campaign are here today. Their efforts have ensured that cuts to school funding are being debated in this place again, and I commend them for their work. Is it not ironic that the headteacher of a school named for St Joseph, the patron saint of workers, will have to go back to Gateshead tomorrow to start consulting on redundancies to make people unemployed?
This has been a fascinating debate. Normal practice as shadow spokesman is to thank all the hon. Members on my side for the excellent speeches they gave today—“You did really well, well done everybody,”—but that is not what I am going to do. I want to highlight a few hon. Members on the Government side who spoke today. It seems that nearly every MP from West Sussex is in the room: the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Crawley (Henry Smith), the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), and the Minister himself—
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on her opening speech, which was very good indeed.
There have been several very good speakers, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), who pointed to rising standards in our schools. He is of course absolutely right: thanks in part to our reforms, the proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools has increased from 66% in 2010 to 84% today. Our more rigorous primary school curriculum—on a par with the highest performing in the world—has been taught since September 2014. Since it was first tested in 2016, the proportion of primary school pupils reaching the expected standard in maths has risen from 70% to 76% in 2018, and in reading from 66% to 75%.
Our primary school children have achieved their highest ever scores on international reading tests. When we introduced a phonic check in 2012, just 58% of six-year-olds taking it reached the expected standard. That figure is now 82%. More children are now on track to read more effectively than when we came into office in 2010. The attainment gap in the primary phase between the most disadvantaged pupils and their peers, as measured by the attainment gap index, has narrowed by 13.2% since 2011. In secondary schools, our more rigorous academic curriculum and qualifications support social mobility by giving disadvantaged children the knowledge they need to have the same career and life opportunities as their peers. I thank the 452,000 teachers—10,000 more than in 2010—who have delivered these higher standards in our schools. I also thank the 263,000 teaching assistants, of which there are 49,000 more than in 2011, and the 263,000 support staff, of which there are 129,000 more than in 2011.
To support these improvements, the Government have prioritised school spending while having to take difficult decisions in other areas of public spending. We have been enabled to do that by our balanced approach to the public finances and to our stewardship of the economy, reducing the unsustainable annual deficit of £150 billion, which was 10% of GDP in 2010, but 2% in 2018. The economic stability that that provided has resulted in employment rising to a record 32.6 million and unemployment being at its lowest level since the 1970s, giving young people leaving school more opportunities to have jobs and start their careers.[Official Report, 21 March 2019, Vol. 656, c. 10MC.]
That balanced approach allows us to invest in public services across Government. Core funding for schools and high needs will rise from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion in 2019-20. That includes an extra £1.3 billion for schools and high needs, announced in 2017, that we invested across 2018-19 and 2019-20, over and above plans set out in the spending review.
Since 2010, 825,000 new school places have been created in our schools. One of the first decisions we took on coming to office in 2010 was to double basic-need capital spending, reversing the cuts of 100,000 school places that we saw under the last Labour Government.
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I will not for the moment, if my hon. Friend will forgive me. I want to respond to the very serious points made by hon. Members during the debate. If there is time at the end of that, I will of course give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), who always has important issues to raise. I am always very cognisant of his expertise as a former teacher and as a member of the Select Committee on Education.
The hon. Member for Edmonton should be aware that funding for schools in her constituency has risen from £89.2 million in 2017-18 to £91.3 million. That is an increase of £2.2 million. It is an increase of 2.5% overall and of 3% on a per-pupil basis.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove asked about funding for the increase in the employer contribution to teachers’ pensions. That will rise to 23.6%, so 23.6% of the salary will be paid by the employer into the teacher pension scheme.[Official Report, 21 March 2019, Vol. 656, c. 10MC.] We propose to provide funding to meet the additional teachers’ pension scheme pressures in 2019-20 for maintained schools, academies and FE colleges whose staff are part of the teachers’ pension scheme. That proposal includes centrally employed teachers and teachers at music education hubs. We have recently closed a public consultation on the proposal. We will now assess the replies and publish a formal response alongside announcing funding in due course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) made similar points about taking a serious approach to the debate. He would acknowledge that in Southampton, Itchen funding has increased from £60 million in 2017-18 to £62 million in 2019-20. That is an increase of 3.3%, and 2.3% on a per-pupil basis.
The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) should be aware that funding in her constituency has risen from £44.2 million in 2017-18 to £47.8 million in 2019-20. That is an increase of 7.6% and of 6.3% on a per-pupil basis. The hon. Member for Bury North (James Frith) should be aware that funding in his constituency has risen from £61 million in 2017-18 to £64.8 million in 2019-20. That is an increase of £3.8 million or 6.2%, and of 4.7% on a per-pupil basis.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) will be aware of course—he always is on these issues—that, in his constituency, schools are being funded to the tune of £72.7 million in 2017-18 and that that is rising to £76.4 million. That is an increase of 5.1% and of 3.1% on a per-pupil basis. He raised the issue of FE —[Interruption.]
Thank you very much, Sir Christopher.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester raised the issue of FE funding. We have protected the base rate of funding for 16 to 19-year-olds until 2020 at £4,000 per pupil and we continue to provide extra funding to add to that base rate; an example is the £500 million of funding for T-levels.[Official Report, 21 March 2019, Vol. 656, c. 10MC.] We plan to invest nearly £7 billion during the current academic year. However, we are aware of the financial pressures on school sixth forms and other providers of education for 16 to 19-year-olds and will continue to look carefully at funding for that age group in preparation for the spending review.
I point out to the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) that in her constituency we are spending £82.3 million in 2017-18 and that is rising to £85.4 million in 2019-20. That is an increase of 3.8% and of 2.5% on a per-pupil basis. I could not miss out the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) of course. Funding in her constituency is rising from £42.9 million in 2017-18 to £46.2 million in 2019-20. That is an increase of 7.9% and of 4% on a per-pupil basis.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley raised the important issue of special needs education. When we state our commitment to supporting every child to succeed, it is important to be clear that that applies, without reservation, to children with special educational needs and disabilities. That is why we have reformed the funding system to take particular account of children and young people with additional needs, and introduced a new formula. We recognise the concerns that have been raised about the costs of making provision for children and young people with complex special educational needs. We have increased overall funding allocations to local authorities for high needs year on year. We have also recently announced that we will provide £250 million of additional funding for high needs across England over this financial year and the next. High-needs funding is now over £6 billion, having risen by £1 billion since 2013.
We have also announced other measures to do with capital: a £100 million top-up to the special provision capital fund for local authorities in 2019-20 for new places and improved facilities.
Of course, we recognise that schools have faced cost pressures in recent years. That is why we have announced a strategy setting out the support, current and planned, that we will provide to help schools to make savings on the £10 billion of non-staffing spend across England. It provides schools with practical advice about identifying potential savings that they can put back into teaching. That includes deals to help schools to save money on the products and services that they buy. Schools spend £75 million on advertising their vacancies, so we are also launching a free teacher vacancy listing website to help schools to recruit excellent teachers and drive down recruitment costs. We have created a benchmarking website for schools that allows them to compare their own spending with that of similar schools elsewhere in the country. That will help them to identify whether and where changes can be made to direct more resources into high-quality teaching.
To give the hon. Member for Blaydon time to wind up the debate, I will finally just thank hon. Members for their contributions to this important debate. We are determined to have a world-class education system that allows every child to achieve their potential, regardless of who they are or where they live.