School Funding

Tim Farron Excerpts
Monday 4th March 2019

(1 year, 12 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Education
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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We absolutely want a balance of newer and more experienced teachers in schools. However, it has been raised with me that schools have to pay the apprenticeship levy, which is about £10,000 per school, but they do not want to take on apprentices. That money could be spent on a teaching assistant. Schools do not need apprentices. That is a very quick way in which the Minister could help schools.

In the limited time I have left, I want to focus on SEND. Since 2010, Bristol City Council has lost more than 40% of the funding it gets from the Government, and funds for early intervention have stopped being ring-fenced. That means the council’s high-needs budget has been in deficit for some time, and it has had to raid the mainstream education budget to compensate. Over the past few years, the number of SEND pupils in Bristol has risen three times faster than SEND funding. Obviously, that has an impact. It means children with SEND are often diagnosed later, and that they miss out on early intervention during their first years at school. Early intervention is crucial for ensuring that a child thrives and often prevents problems from developing into something more serious. Services such as CAMHS and speech and language therapy, which have supported schools, have also been cut. That is leading to a crisis. If we do not have early intervention and cannot support children at an early stage, they will develop far more serious problems as they become older.

I am involved in a project called Feeding Bristol, which aims to eradicate food poverty in the city. There is also a very good school food project, which looks particularly at holiday hunger, breakfast clubs and so on. It is not just a case of getting food to children. We can get donated food for breakfast clubs and holiday hunger schemes from excellent projects such as FareShare, but schools need to be able to afford the staff. That little bit of extra money that schools cannot come up with makes the difference—it means children do not have to start the school day hungry or go through the long school holidays hungry. This is about so much more than just providing education. We need to look at the whole picture. If we are to produce well-rounded, physically and mentally healthy children, which is what we should be doing, we need to be able to support them outside school as well as in school.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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4 Mar 2019, 6:34 p.m.

The word crisis is overused in this place, for certain, but it feels very much as though the situation with school resources is a crisis. However, it is a crisis largely in disguise, for two reasons. First, headteachers and the profession as a whole are loth to get involved in what they consider to be politics, or in any way to use the children they serve and teach as pawns in a political debate. Secondly, headteachers do not want to speak about the situation quite so much, simply because, understandably, they fear competitive disadvantage.

Thelma Walker
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4 Mar 2019, 6:34 p.m.

I am sorry, but the fact that 1,000 head- teachers marched on Downing Street last year is symbolic of their frustration at the point we have reached.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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4 Mar 2019, 6:38 p.m.

And it really takes that. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her remark, which of course comes from her experience. As I said, the other reason this issue has not been spoken about as much as it might have been in another part of the public sphere is simply fear of competitive disadvantage. If a headteacher talks about having to lose teaching assistants, the children who would have come to their school might go to another school instead. People therefore keep quiet and suffer in silence.

However, as the hon. Lady rightly says, we have got to a breaking point—a point of immense frustration, which has led headteachers, who would normally dutifully have got on with the job, to speak out very clearly. Just this week, 16 headteachers in my constituency, representing primary schools, special educational needs schools and secondary schools, clubbed together to write to parents and others in our community to be explicit about what the cuts mean for them. That is a brave and unprecedented thing to do. They deserve our taking notice, and they deserve the Government’s taking notice. We must listen.

Those headteachers note that in my constituency alone, there has been a £2.4 million real-terms cut in schools funding, even allowing for the fact that, as a rural area, we are a net beneficiary of the fairer funding formula. The net impact on us has been £2.4 million of cuts—£190 per child has been lost from schools funding in Westmorland and Lonsdale. Headteachers in my community talk explicitly about losing teaching posts—indeed, about making some teachers redundant—and getting rid of teaching assistants. They talk about having smaller establishments, meaning the merging of classes and reductions in the options available, particularly at secondary school. Any country’s greatest asset is its people, especially its young people, so to underfund our schools in this way—to undervalue our greatest asset—is not just cruel but incredibly stupid. Investment in our education is an investment in our country’s future.

Teachers are committed professionals. They do what they do not for the money—there isn’t a right lot of it in the profession—but because they are passionate about making a difference in our young people’s lives, so it breaks their heart to see the impact of these cuts on the quality of education. They also see cuts that affect children in other parts of the public sphere. In Cumbria, because of a cut in public health funding, all school nurses have been abolished. Only 75p per child is spent on preventive mental healthcare across our area. Three years after it was promised, there is still no specialist one-to-one eating disorder service for young people in our community. Just before Christmas, £500,000 was sneaked out of public health spending. That affects the community as a whole, but particularly our young people.

Nowhere are cuts in schools funding more noticeable, though, than in special educational needs. Of course, the first 11 hours of special educational needs provision are paid for by the school. One small high school in my constituency with fewer than 500 pupils spends £105,000 a year on supporting those children. That comes from its main school budget. We penalise schools that do the right thing and advantage those that do not. Will the Minister fund special educational needs directly, rather than damaging schools?

I will give the last word to a highly respected headteacher in my constituency, who wrote to me just yesterday:

“In the last two years we have made reductions to teaching and support staffing, with no reduction in the overall workload. All we get is hackneyed and frankly quite pathetic suggestions from the DFE on how to economise…I love my job, but…I do not wish to be head of a school in a state system that is en route to economic meltdown.”

This Government are demoralising our teachers and letting down our children. That must change.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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4 Mar 2019, 6:39 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank everyone for their contributions, which I found incredibly powerful. We hear so much about the cuts as numbers; it makes such a difference when we hear what they actually mean, so I am going to take the advice of the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) and talk a little about outcomes.

Here are a few outcomes for the Government to ponder. First, 15.93% of children with special educational needs are excluded, compared with 3% of those without such needs. Pupils identified with special educational needs accounted for around half—46%—of all permanent exclusions and 44% of fixed-period exclusions. Pupils who have an EHCP statement are five times more likely to be permanently excluded than those without SEN. Pupils on SEN support are six times more likely to be excluded than those without SEN.

I have a few more outcomes for the Government to hear about. The latest school workforce statistics show that in England 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. Students are also being taught by less experienced staff. According to Unison, 70% of teaching staff were doing work previously done by higher-grade staff and half of those doing the extra work were not trained to do it.

Another outcome is that fewer support staff mean that support staff make up half the school workforce and are the lowest paid in the public sector. Since 2013, despite the increase in pupil numbers, there has been a 12% reduction in the number of science technicians and a 10% cut in the number of teaching assistants in secondary schools. What does that mean? It means there is less support for our children with special educational needs, who desperately need it.

I am not suggesting for one moment that schools or teachers have suddenly become cruel and that that is why exclusions for children with special needs are rocketing, although I have mentioned to the Minister on numerous occasions that he needs to look again at his school accountability measures. However, the simple fact is that children with special educational needs and disabilities are expensive to teach. It has already been mentioned that schools are welcoming it when older, more experienced teachers leave, because that can save money; it is not difficult to conclude that some schools may also welcome it when an expensive child with special educational needs is leaving—or the school may choose to develop ways to encourage the parents to send that child to the school down the road, rather than to their school. They know that they simply do not have the money needed to give that child the education they need.

The Minister will be pleased that, as a good Methodist, I will not for one moment suggest gambling or placing a bet with him, but the comment made by the Minister for Academies—that he would bet schools “a bottle of champagne” that he could find them savings—was a real slap in the face for many headteachers. In my quest to be helpful, I have a few suggestions for the Minister about how he could save money.

First, £4.3 million has been spent on the troops to teachers programme, which so far has resulted in 69 teachers and apparently has £10 million waiting to be spent. LocatED has been set up to acquire land and buildings across England, as part of plans set out in the spring Budget to build 500 new free schools by 2020, and it has a budget of £2 billion. The regional schools commissioners programme originally had £4 million spent on it in 2014, but that has now risen to £31 million. The Department for Education spent £833 million on 175 sites for free schools. Twenty-four of those sites cost £10 million, and four of them cost £30 million.