School Funding Debate

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Department: Department for Education

School Funding
Kerry McCarthy Excerpts
Monday 4th March 2019

(11 months, 4 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Education
Mrs Main Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 6:24 p.m.

No, if she does not mind, because Members on the hon. Lady’s side are waiting to speak. We need those experienced teachers and we must ensure that teachers are not overwhelmed so quickly that they fancy quitting the profession.

I am also worried that we will end up cutting the curriculum to the bone. Gone are the times when there would be the luxury of a peripatetic music teacher coming to schools. There simply is no latitude in schools to pay for anything other than the bare necessities. The statutory obligations on a school have to be paid for first. It also worries me that sometimes there is a reluctance to statement pupils; if a pupil is statemented, that pupil is rightly required to have additional assistance. However, a school might drag its feet in that scenario because it does not wish to be obliged to provide the extra funding.

I went to a public meeting in my constituency. It is not easy to have rocks thrown at us, but sometimes we need a rock to wake us up. It is hard to admit that schools are struggling. Schools have always been struggling; anyone who has worked in a school will say that the roof has always leaked and the windows are always awful. But there comes a point when things have to be tackled—they cannot be put off any longer. As many Members have said, robbing Peter to pay Paul is not the answer. Taking away from one set of schools to give to another set of schools that are very deserving is not the answer.

An hon. Member earlier talked earlier about the results meaning that we must be doing something right. My schools have excellent results, but that does not mean they do not need the resources. At some point, those results will start to crumble. The curriculum has shrunk down to the core topics, so perhaps those results are already sliding. When I was at school, I was passionate about art. Many young people are not academic but value those topics as much as anything; they inspire young people to go into school, and those teachers may inspire them and know how to deal with the complex needs of some youngsters who have been turned off by education.

We cannot just look at results. Value adding to a pupil means that pupil may have benefited far more from being taught in a good school than another pupil who is academically high achieving. I simply cannot accept that by looking at a set of results we can judge how well our schools are doing. We must ensure that every pupil is making the best of whatever they have to offer.

I accept that more money has gone into the system. We can all talk about how much extra there is, but Sian Kilpatrick of Bernards Heath Primary School told me that she had to write to parents to explain why she had to ask them for money: because a lot of things that used to be paid for are no longer paid for. This is the banquet I am referring to: outdoor visit risk assessments, legal and human resources advice, general maintenance costs and staff insurance. When parents send their children to school to get educated they do not expect that a teacher will have to divert money from teaching their pupils to pruning back overgrown trees in the playground that a risk assessment has identified as a problem to the pupils.

It is high time we had the six-hour debate. I do not think that views in here will change, but looking at what has been expected to be done with the money that schools have had is the only way to see whether there is enough money. If there is not, we may have to find some more.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab) - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 6:29 p.m.

The hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) was spot on about so many things in her speech. She spoke from her experience as a teacher and no doubt someone who keeps in close contact with her schools.

In east Bristol, school funding has reduced by 7%, which is about £359 per pupil. Some people have spoken in headline terms about overall spending rising, but that is meaningless. It is the per-pupil spending that matters, and it has gone down by 7%. When the increase in school expenditure—which I am told is around 8%—is factored in, that is a real-time cut of 15% in per-pupil funding. It is pointless to have the debate unless we accept that situation.

Colleagues have spoken about schools having to reduce staff numbers to accommodate that. At one point, teaching assistants were in most classes. They provide such a valuable addition to the classroom, giving extra attention to the pupils who need it. Those might be pupils with SEND, but they might also be pupils who are just shy or for some reason lag behind and need that extra attention, perhaps even just on one particular day. Funding cuts have also meant that things such as reading recovery classes and forest schools have had to be cut. My sister was a TA and a forest school leader; the budget for that school was axed and it could no longer afford her. Kids absolutely thrive on such outdoor experiences.

On what was said about senior teachers, I had a meeting with governors from a number of infant and primary schools in my constituency on Friday, and they made the point that good schools manage to keep their teachers—teachers want to stay there because they love being there—but that means there is a higher wage bill. That puts the school in an invidious situation.

Laura Smith Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 6:30 p.m.

My hon. Friend raises the point I forgot when I intervened on the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main). I remember how much respect I had for the teachers who mentored me when I first entered the profession, and how I was able to develop my teaching practice as a result. I agree with both my hon. Friend and the hon. Lady that that is now going, which is a tragedy.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy - Hansard

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 (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard
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.