Liz TwistMain Page: Liz Twist (Labour - Blaydon)
Department Debates - View all Liz Twist's debates with the Department for Education
I congratulate my hon. Friend and fellow Petitions Committee member on securing and introducing this important debate. In January, the Minister encouraged MPs to write to their local schools and congratulate them on their improvements in key stage 2. I did just that, but I heard back almost immediately from my local schools, which had improved their results significantly, that they were having to lose the key staff who had helped them to do that. Does she agree that that is completely counterproductive and hugely concerning for the future performance of those schools?
Coventry has experienced the same sort of difficulties as my hon. Friend’s constituency. I did a survey and visited several schools last year, which showed that out of 103 schools, 102 were suffering from teacher shortages, demoralisation, rising class numbers or low pay. Does she agree that the Government have to do something about that?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise those inequalities, but does she concede that this Government have tried to do something about fairer funding? In our part of the world, in Devon, there has been an increase, but we are still chronically underfunded. Every child in a Devon school gets £304 less than the national average, so we lose out on £27 million per year. Under a previous Labour Government, funding was skewed towards the inner cities and away from the shire counties.
One of my primary school headteachers, who has been a teacher for 30 years and a headteacher for 15 years, tells me:
“I’ve never experienced a time when the range of needs has been so complex and the financial support so thin.”
She is the head of a school in one of the most deprived parts of my constituency and faces an overall deficit of £70,000 this year. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is not adequate to enable her to do the job that she has been doing for so long?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady and fellow member of the Petitions Committee for giving way, and she is making an excellent start and making the case for more funding for schools. I am sure that there is no one in this Chamber today who does not want to see more funding for schools. However, schools in Cornwall have been making the sorts of rationalisations and working efficiently in the way that she is describing for many years. So while we make the case for more funding for our schools, does she agree that the allocation of that funding must be fairly distributed across the country, because metropolitan schools have had too big a share of the cake for far too long?
My hon. Friend will share my concern about children in areas of high deprivation. They are already well behind the curve in terms of development; they were disadvantaged the day they were born. The education system can actually drag them out of poverty, but does she agree that this Government policy ensures that they are left in poverty?
We all recognise that supporting the higher needs budget is extraordinarily important because of the vulnerable children that it supports. However, does the hon. Lady agree that when there is just a compulsory virement away from other budgets, that exacerbates the problem and that what we need is higher needs properly funded as a bloc?
Break in Debate
Thank you, Sir David. My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech. Given the feedback that I have received from schools in Hounslow, in my own constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), I know that the pressures and demands, particularly regarding the special educational needs of the most vulnerable, could now become the next national issue, just as adult social care has been in crisis because of the lack of places. In my constituency and the rest of Hounslow, although we could provide over 1,200 places with the extra investment and funding that has come, there are more than 2,000 children with educational and healthcare plans. Does she agree that is a concern?
I want to put it on the record that the Backbench Business Committee asked on 5 February for a six-hour debate on this issue, and that request has been granted. That request was supported by 43 Members, many of whom are here today. It is about time that the Government found time for this very valuable debate, because it is roundly supported.
My hon. Friend speaks with great experience on these matters. She reminds me of my own experience at East Acton Primary School, which I visited on Friday. In London, there are not just redundancies; there are also retention issues, because of the prohibitive cost of housing in London. As a result, there is a very imbalanced age structure of the teaching staff. They can get newly qualified teachers up to the age of 30, but then they are off somewhere else, because they want to put down roots. Does she agree that that is a tragic state of affairs?
Also, I spoke to one teacher who qualified in 1998. Our taxpayers have funded her training, but such older professionals are now brain-draining away. The teacher I met is moving to Beijing, because she cannot live on the wages here. Is that not a tragedy, too?
One school in my constituency is looking at more than £1 million of cuts by 2020-21. That will mean that it will not be able to afford any learning support assistants, teaching assistants, office staff or site staff. As children with special needs need one-to-one support from learning assistants, does my hon. Friend agree that school cuts will disproportionately affect them?
I thank my hon. Friend for making such a powerful speech. Does she agree that the education system is on the brink of insolvency, and that it is unacceptable for parents to be asked for money, for professional fundraisers to be employed and for charges to be introduced for parents, to provide basic provisions in schools?
Bringing food into schools to feed the kids in the morning, hand-me-down school uniforms, staff putting their own cash into raising funds, and headteachers paying for cleaners out of their own pocket is the reality in Hartlepool. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a sad indictment of the national funding formula’s effects?
The hon. Lady comes on to talk about teachers, and it seems to me that the impact is not only on the children. We risk those in this much-needed profession being too exhausted and stressed to cope with the additional pressures and workload. We risk alienating them from the profession altogether.
Break in Debate
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.