(10 months, 3 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I am pleased to be able to speak today in support of the petition. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on putting this important debate before the House, and of course it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.
I believe in investing money wisely in things with a proven record of return, and there can be no greater stock worth investing in than our children’s education. It is true: never has more public money been spent on education, and the Government should be commended for that. The diversion of an extra £1.2 billion is a good start, but, bluntly, I want more cash for schools in my constituency.
I was pleased that more than 1,000 residents from Hazel Grove signed the petition, placing us 14th in the ranking. That reflects not only how strongly local residents feel about the proper funding of their children’s schools, but the fact that they are becoming ever more aware of the unfair imbalances in funding that have left local authorities such as Stockport underfunded for decades.
Yes—it is high time that the resources caught up with that justifiable expectation.
Since being elected as the MP for Hazel Grove, I have sought to build strong professional relationships with the schools and headteachers in my constituency, and I am grateful for their insights on school funding. I am particularly grateful to those who have met me. I will rattle through the schools quickly, because they all deserve a name check. They include: Romiley Primary School, Norbury Hall Primary School, Brookside Primary School, Torkington Primary School, St Stephen’s RC Primary School, Fairway Primary School, Ludworth Primary School, Mellor Primary School, Werneth School, Harrytown Catholic High School and Marple Hall School. I defy other Members to mention as many schools as that. They have all provided me with important facts and financial analyses of what my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) has said is the real impact of the lack of funding.
I, of course, supported the national funding formula, and I and many other colleagues are in the f40 group, which represents the lowest funded local education authorities in the country. We have had many positive meetings with Ministers. However, as time has gone on, and with the implementation of the national funding formula, it has become increasingly clear that, although the Government are still technically honouring their commitment, some schools are set for an increase so slight that it is essentially negligible.
Of the 25 schools in my constituency, four will receive an increase of under 1%, and 10 will receive an increase of under 3%—only four will receive a sizeable increase of 5% under the new formula. We are asking not for the world: merely resources comparable to those of similar schools in different parts of the country. It is inherently unfair to expect schools with similar characteristics to achieve the same results on wildly differing budgets.
It is a timely coincidence that the Education Committee, of which I am a member—I am pleased to see many august members of the Committee present this afternoon —is conducting an inquiry into both school and college funding. The evidence that we have received from across the sector points towards the true figure needed to address the historical imbalances, as the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) indicated earlier. It is not the DFE’s current £1.2 billion, but at least £2.1 billion.
I know that Education Ministers will argue strongly for their budget in the forthcoming spending review, but can the Minister indicate whether that figure is on the cards? The evidence suggests that that is what is really needed to get school funding to where it needs to be, so that schools can stop endlessly worrying about making ends meet and focus on the business of providing great education.
I have a specific question for the Minister. Writing to us in September on pension contributions, the Education Secretary said:
“There will be a consultation and it is the Government’s firm intention to fully fund schools for the additional pressure that the pension contributions place on their budget, ensuring that the core schools budget continues to be protected.”
Can the Minister confirm that this afternoon?
I congratulate all Members on taking part in the debate. I thank the 1,000 of my constituents who signed the petition. I hope that in the spending review we can give good news to our local schools, and give them the cash that they need.