School Funding Debate

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Department: Department for Education

School Funding

James Frith Excerpts
Monday 4th March 2019

(2 years ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Education
Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith
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I certainly would not advocate that schools in one part of the country should lose to benefit schools in other parts, which is what happened under the last Labour Government: schools in my constituency of Crawley were given about half the funding of their equivalents in metropolitan areas, particularly here in the capital. I believe that funding for pupils should be made available across the whole country. The historical underfunding needs to be addressed; it is beginning to be addressed, but if we are to properly equip our young people and support teachers to ensure that our young people have the best education, we will need more still.

I should have declared an interest at the beginning of my speech: when I was leader of West Sussex County Council, I was chair of the West Sussex learning disability partnership; I am also currently a vice-president of the British Dyslexia Association. I will end with a plea to the Department for special needs to receive extra attention. Those children and young people deserve our support so that they can have a start in life equal to that of all other pupils up and down the country.

James Frith (Bury North) (Lab)
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4 Mar 2019, 5:44 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on introducing this important debate.

I would like to focus in detail on one consequence of school underfunding for an inclusive education system. Rising demand for specialist provision in mainstream schooling, which is already facing an undue burden from cuts, is resulting in a two-tier education system and in the disappearance of the different and the disabled from our mainstream schools. Parents across Bury all too frequently share heart-wrenching stories of their struggles—often years long—to get the support that is needed for their children with special educational needs and disabilities in the mainstream school system. That failure is sponsored by Government direction, budget cuts and the narrowing field in which we judge our children to have succeeded.

In our inquiry into SEND, the Education Committee has uncovered a crisis. Parents are forced to fight with schools and local authorities through tribunals, often at great emotional and financial cost to their families, to secure the specialist provision needed to ensure that their daughter or son fulfils their potential.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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4 Mar 2019, 5:46 p.m.

My hon. Friend mentions children who have special educational needs or are disabled. In many instances, children with higher needs have actually been removed from mainstream schools and moved into a separate education system in which they are not getting the support that they require.

James Frith
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I absolutely agree. It seems to me that in the education system, we ignore everything that we would deem important when using the word “special” in any other context. Enhanced provision, accurate service, more rather than less attention—in education, those things are just not happening for those with special educational needs.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has concluded that between 2010 and 2018, total school spending per pupil fell by 8% in real terms. The National Audit Office says that schools will need to make efficiency savings of £3 billion by 2020—8% of the total schools budget. Ever-tightening school budgets are forcing schools to make difficult and often short-term decisions about lower-level preventive SEND support that would meet the needs of many children without the need for statutory plans and interventions. The failure in mainstream specialist provision creates a perverse incentive to push for education, health and care plans: 320,000 children and young people had EHC plans last year, which represents an increase of 35% since 2014. Schools have to find the first £6,000 for the additional support needed—yet another burden on their budgets.

The Local Government Association has warned of a £500 million SEND funding gap for 2018-19, which is set to increase to £1.6 billion by 2021. Local authorities have stated in evidence to the Education Committee that spending their already limited budget on facing down the legal challenges at increasing numbers of education tribunals is politically and practically more palatable than funding mainstream schooling better in the first place, even though that would be a preventive measure. When appeals go to tribunal, 90% of decisions are found in favour of parents. The number of cases going to tribunal has increased year on year since 2014, at an average cost of £6,000—70 million quid overall. That money would be better spent on improving SEND provision, instead of on the “crisis first, crisis only” provision that there is under this Government.

At every stage of the Government’s education system, we can see the Tory-touted promise of opportunity becoming wasted opportunity. Nursery providers are being forced to ask parents for money. Schools are riddled with asbestos and face a £100 million shortfall. Capital funding has disappeared. Teacher recruitment and retention are at crisis point. College funding is stagnating. Lifelong learning budgets have been gutted by 32% this decade.

I say to the Government: spend more upstream in mainstream. Instead of just increasing the budget, move the money upstream, reach into the system and enable the simple change of frame that is required. Our country deserves a world-class education service for all, from nursery to university and lifelong learning— one where every child matters, can fulfil their potential and take advantage of a lifelong education system that is based on inclusivity and difference, and repeated opportunities.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)
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4 Mar 2019, 5:51 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. When I was first elected to the House almost 22 years ago, the problem in Gloucestershire was that we were underfunded due to something called the area cost adjustment. It has taken a long time to start to correct that, as this Government have done. We lost out not just to inner-city areas, which received a lot more money per pupil, but to other rural areas that got much more than Gloucestershire did.

I was very pleased that this Government agreed to set up the national funding formula. That was good news, but we need to start to see the fairness of the formula coming through a bit more quickly. If we continue at a very slow pace—let us say that it takes 20 years for there to be an equalisation of funding per pupil—three or four generations of pupils will lose out. I say to the Minister, “Well done so far, but perhaps we need it to happen a little bit quicker than it is happening at the moment.”

Break in Debate

Mike Kane Portrait Mike Kane
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4 Mar 2019, 7:07 p.m.

Forgive me; the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), too. We know that that authority is having to cut—let me get my figures accurate—£8.9 million from the schools in their patches between 2015 and 2020. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) spoke well about Southampton losing £4.9 million over the same period. The hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), my footballing partner, spoke of Suffolk losing £7.8 million over that period.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) spoke passionately about his schools in Stockport. Stockport, my neighbouring authority, is losing £6.4 million and a special school in Stockport has said just this week that it will have to cut Friday afternoons from its curriculum. The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), who like my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) represents Gloucestershire, spoke of cuts of £11.1 million. The hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) spoke about Essex—I was at St Dominic’s just the other week, and what a fantastic school it is—and the £29.8 million cuts faced there. Finally, there was a really powerful speech from the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), speaking about Hertfordshire having to cut £33.2 million from the budget. I will end my speech with what she said about the cake.

We can be in no doubt after what we have heard today about the impact of continued Government austerity on education. In fact, it is not austerity anymore; the Secretary of State has already said he wants to reduce spending on education and that he thinks it is too high. The policy is ideologically motivated. Education urgently needs investment across the board, and the Government must finally begin reversing the devastating cuts. Just look at how many right hon. and hon. Members have turned out today.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Education Secretary have both stated in the House of Commons that every school in England would see a cash-terms increase in its funding, but that flies in the face of the reality we have heard about today, what parents and teachers are telling us and what is happening on the ground. The Institute of Fiscal Studies has stated that it is simply not accurate, and the UK Statistics Authority has even rebuked the Education Secretary for his statistical inaccuracy. There has been a concerted effort by the Secretary of State and the Minister to fudge the figures and to deflect attention away from the school funding cuts that they have presided over. To add insult to injury, we have had a one-off £400 million for “little extras”, when schools cannot even afford glue sticks at the moment, as we have heard. The fact is that, across the country, schools are having to write to parents to ask for money.

If funding per pupil had been maintained in value since 2015, there would be £1.7 billion more in the system now. That means that 91% of schools still face real-terms budget cuts per pupil. Those in this Chamber know all too well the impact on the ground already. The average shortfall in primary school budgets is more than £67,000, and more than £273,000 in secondary school budgets. Our schools have 137,000 more pupils but 5,400 fewer teachers, 2,800 fewer teaching assistants, 1,400 fewer support staff and 1,200 fewer auxiliary staff.

I have spent far too many hours in this Chamber and the main Chamber, trying with my shadow Front-Bench colleagues and Members from across the House to get the Government to face facts and act. It beggars belief that the Government have ignored the School Teachers Review Body’s pay recommendations—the first time that has happened in 28 years. To make matters worse, the Government expect schools to meet the cost of the first 1% of the pay award from existing budgets.

As a former primary school teacher, I know the difference that a good teacher can make, with the right support and resources, to a child’s attainment and aspiration. We go into teaching because we believe in the value of education, we believe in its power to create social mobility and we believe in its ability to create ambition for all. This is about our children’s future and that of our country.

I will close with the words of teachers and teaching assistants from across the country:

“Last year the school I work at had to lose many of its teaching assistants due to lack of money.”

“I have to buy equipment and supplies for my job.”

“We do not have budget for staff training, resources or opportunities for children.”

“I am a qualified teacher now working and being paid as a teaching assistant, but I am being used to cover classes as the school cannot afford to employ supply teachers.”

“The Minister’s claim that more money is going into schools than ever before is pure sophistry.”

James Frith
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4 Mar 2019, 7:12 p.m.

On a point of order, Sir Christopher. It was remiss of me not to mention that I am the founding director of a careers education company. In the interests of transparency, I share that with you now.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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4 Mar 2019, 7:12 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record.