James FrithMain Page: James Frith (Labour - Bury North)
Department Debates - View all James Frith's debates with the Department for Education
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.
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.
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
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.”