Royston SmithMain Page: Royston Smith (Conservative - Southampton, Itchen)
Department Debates - View all Royston Smith's debates with the Department for Education
The school in my constituency that seems to have the biggest problem with budget reductions is Cardinal Hume Catholic School. That name should be familiar to the Minister and the Secretary of State, because they came to that secondary school to launch the opportunity fund for the north-east. It should be remembered that the opportunity fund for the north-east will not actually benefit Gateshead, but they came to my constituency to launch it anyway.
Cardinal Hume Catholic School is one of many schools in my constituency—too many to mention—that are due to lose significant amounts, having lost significant amounts already. Some 26 schools are due to have a negative budget by the end of the 2019-20 budget round, in a context where headteachers across the borough and the region are struggling to provide for the children in their schools, many of them in very deprived communities. We should bear in mind that Gateshead has an unemployment problem that has been on the increase, year on year since last year, and month by month in that same period. Some 7% of the working population are now unemployed, and many others are underemployed. There is significant deprivation in that patch.
What headteachers wanted to impress on me, and asked me to impress on the House as well, was that because of significant cuts to a range of other services, there is pressure on them to try to backfill for those cuts: for the welfare reform, for the cuts in local authority services and children’s services—for all of the cuts that have taken place since 2018. I know that Government Members sometimes struggle to get their heads around this issue, but the simple fact is that when I resigned, or had to retire, as the deputy leader of Gateshead Council in 2010, we had an annual revenue budget of £310 million. The commensurate figure this year is £200 million. Some £110 million has gone out of the annual revenue account of that local authority, while at the same time demand, particularly for children’s services and adult social care, has grown like Topsy.
Because of the concerns, particularly welfare concerns, that headteachers in our schools have about the children in their care, they are trying to provide services that used to be provided but sadly no longer exist. By the way, it is not just the DFE that was involved: the DFE was part of that process, but the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Work and Pensions and other Government Departments were also involved. A range of important services for the welfare of children have gone by the board, and funding needs to be restored.
Representatives of the teaching profession tell us that a minimum of £2 billion needs to be restored to the system; possibly £2.7 or £2.8 billion, and perhaps as much as £5 billion if we are to keep all services’ funding in line with inflation. That might be pie in the sky, but we should not expect great benefits for children, particularly those in deprived areas, when services have been cut and headteachers are being expected to pick up the slack. Those benefits are not going to happen without significant investment. Invest in our children and our schools.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. He says there are two sides; surely one is funding and the other is outcomes and standards, which are ultimately what matters. Does he agree that we are seeing real and significant improvements, particularly in phonics and GCSE results, that mean our children will do better in life? That is what matters, surely.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a huge additional pressure is the complexity that some pupils are presenting at school with? Whether that is behavioural problems or emotional problems, those are significant additional pressures that schools are being required to address.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the needs of children with special needs in school, but when he was at school, many of those children would have been in special schools—separated and with a different level of provision. We support the integration of children with special needs in our schools wherever possible, and that needs resourcing.
I am grateful to have been called early in the debate, and I will try to be brief. In the very short time I have, I would like to focus on the overall school system and the malaise that can be taken right back to academisation and this Government’s ideological approach to academies.
Academies, which were originally designed to introduce a degree of competition and choice for parents, have become a system in which there is no more local oversight and scrutiny. It has therefore become incredibly difficult to get to the bottom of the funding problem. Eight years ago, school oversight was done by the local authority. In my authority of Bath and North East Somerset, the council’s schools management budget was just under £1.8 million. That paid for the director of schools and the school support officers for all 78 schools in the borough.