School Funding

Royston Smith Excerpts
Monday 4th March 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Education
Ian Mearns Portrait Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab) - Hansard

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.

Royston Smith (Southampton, Itchen) (Con) - Hansard

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. At the start, I pay tribute to the many teachers and teaching assistants in my constituency; I do not often get to publicly pay tribute to them, and this is a timely moment to do so. They are some of the best public servants that we have, along with all of the others who we routinely talk about. However, in the context of what has become such a toxic debate, it has to be remembered that MPs are public servants too, and that MPs on all sides of the House are trying to do the best that they can. Some of these debates have become so unpleasant that we are slowing down progress that might put some of these things right for our constituents, our schools, and our teachers and teaching assistants.

During debates on this subject, we routinely hear two sides of the story: the Opposition side and the Government side. The Government have a good tale to tell on schools. I know as I say that that some people will laugh and make comments, but it is not right to say that there is only one side of the story.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab) - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:10 p.m.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies talks about real-terms cuts of 8%. When Members go through the Division Lobby and vote for such policies, people—teachers, parents and the community—will remember.

Royston Smith - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:10 p.m.

This is the very point I am trying to make. If we are to make progress, we need to listen to Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who are talking about how politicised the debate has become,. We know that more needs to be done. We know that schools need more money. I know that schools in my constituency are struggling with their budgets, but it does not do to constantly—[Interruption.] That is the point I am trying to make. Every time someone tries to make a point, it becomes a political argument. We do not make progress by saying one side is right and the other side is wrong. Many of the increases to school budgets we have seen in recent years have been in no small part due to the lobbying skills of people like my hon. Friend. Those increases have come about because of such people, not because they have always been playing the political game.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con) - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:11 p.m.

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.

Royston Smith - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:13 p.m.

That is exactly the point, and it should be what we talk about. We should be talking about our children, their outcomes and their future and not constantly make it a political battle.

School budgets have increased, but I concede they have not increased enough. [Interruption.] If Members could just allow me to get on to the points they might agree with, we might make some progress. The teacher and teaching assistant to pupil ratio in my Southampton constituency is around 10 children to one adult. When I went to school—I concede it was a long time ago—it was 30 kids in a class, sat in rows with one teacher and a blackboard. I know we do not want to go back to those days, but more recently, when my daughter went to school about 10 years ago, and now what we see has changed beyond all recognition. We never seem to do anything to acknowledge that, and we should, because otherwise we sound like we are moaning and whining and nothing is ever good enough.

I concede—this is important, because this is what people say, and they are right to say it—that pension contributions and national insurance are increasing. The national living wage has increased. Pupil numbers are rising. Inflation has not stood still. Pay has been held down and is quite rightly starting to rise. They are additional pressures, and they need to be funded.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con) - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:13 p.m.

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.

Royston Smith - Hansard

I absolutely agree. How schools deal with children who have significant and complex special educational needs or disabilities has changed beyond all recognition from how things used to be. We are doing so much better. [Interruption.] Members shake their heads, but things are so much better than when I went to school and when my daughter went to school. The reality is that it could be better still. If all we ever do is refuse to acknowledge what is happening, we will never make the progress we all want.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab) - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:14 p.m.

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.

Royston Smith - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:14 p.m.

That is exactly what I just said, but the hon. Lady decided to interpret what I said as not thinking that children with special educational needs and complex educational needs were being looked after in schools far better than they used to be. There is nothing wrong with putting the case for extra funding from Government, and I expect everyone to do that, but it has to be done within the envelope of public spending. Everyone is asking for money for everything.

Karen Lee (Lincoln) (Lab) Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:14 p.m.

In the last Budget, the Chancellor talked about giving “little extras”. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what we need is proper funding, not “little extras”?

Royston Smith - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:15 p.m.

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady, but what we are getting is far more than we did. What we need is even more than we have got.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD) - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:16 p.m.

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.