School Funding

James Cartlidge Excerpts
Monday 4th March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Education
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.

Break in Debate

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse - Hansard

I too am a board member of one of my local academy trusts. The oversight provided through the local education authority, the overview and scrutiny committee in the council and the direct accountability of local councillors. was better than what the boards can do.

Bath now has 10 multi-academy trusts. That is 10 management structures, 10 chief executives on similar pay to the LEA director of education and 10 lots of support staff. Additionally, we have the new regional schools commissioner and their staff, which is another chunk of overheads.

Education funding in Bath has dropped by 8.8%, or £414 a pupil, over the past seven years. The Education Secretary said that good teachers, not management structures, create good teaching, but in our 2019 education system, where national trusts and commissioners support regional trusts and commissioners, far too little funding reaches individual schools, let alone individual teachers and students. Here in Parliament we must ask how such management structures enrich and add value to our children’s education. If money is paying for management at the expense of teachers, we should know about it.

We should have transparency about where education money goes in Bath and elsewhere. Ten years ago there was, with schools under the oversight of the local authority and councillors on the governing bodies; there were local overview and scrutiny committees and councillors were answerable to the community and parents. That is no longer the case. Local accountability has been replaced by multi-academy trusts accountable to Whitehall. Often they operate over several local authority areas, and that is a problem.

Multi-academy trusts provide excellent education, but so do local authority schools. If academies cost more to provide the same education, we should know about it. Where are the comparative figures? I have tried to find out how we can compare what happened in 2010 with what happens now, but that is difficult because we do not have local figures anymore and multi-academy trusts can keep the figures to themselves. If they cost more, we should know about it. Our children’s education matters. If the changes introduced over the past 10 years cost extra in management and overheads at the same time as per pupil funding has fallen by 8.8% in Bath, let us be open and talk about it. Let us have fair comparisons and find solutions to ensure that funding goes to the frontline and to our young people, not to the management of a fragmented system.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con) - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:19 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on a fine speech. Obviously, we all sympathise with the points she made because there are concerns in our schools. I have just had a letter from the Stour Valley Trust in my constituency, and I have forwarded it to the Minister. There are significant concerns: capital is the one that schools in Suffolk mention the most. However, there is a positive picture to paint, particularly in relation to standards.

On Friday, I had an inspirational visit to a primary school in my constituency. I have 42 primaries, most of which are tiny and in very small rural areas. Hadleigh Community Primary School, which I went to on Friday, is exceptional because it has 500 pupils. I went to Edgware Primary School in north London, which has 680 pupils, but in South Suffolk Hadleigh primary is very large. It has just gone from “requires improvement” to “good”. Its excellent headteacher, Gary Pilkington, asked me to give the Minister a message: that the funding situation is improving significantly because of the change in the formula.

It is all well and good people denying the point about how the cake is divided, but on the Government side of the House, where many of us represent rural constituencies, we have disadvantage, too. We have poverty in rural areas. When a child has special needs there should be no difference in the amount they receive, wherever they are in the country, and we have campaigned for such principles. From the evidence that I am getting, that is now leading to more funding getting through.

Sandy Martin (Ipswich) (Lab) Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:21 p.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:21 p.m.

I am delighted to give way to my neighbour.

Sandy Martin Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:21 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the so-called fair funding formula has disadvantaged Ipswich and Lowestoft far more than the rest of Suffolk? Those are the places where there are the largest problems with SEN provision and the lowest levels of attainment. Does he not accept that it does not necessarily make sense to provide exactly the same resources for every child?

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:22 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but, if we were disadvantaging the other schools in Suffolk, standards in Suffolk would not be improving. The statistics show very strong improvement in Suffolk. In March this year, just under 90% of Suffolk schools held Ofsted ratings of “good” or “outstanding” compared with 72% in December 2013. We have seen significant improvements in GCSEs: 64% of students in Suffolk now achieve the expected standard in English and maths, putting Suffolk in the top third of local authorities. The county has risen from 67th to 42nd out of 151 local authorities ranked on Progress 8 schools, which is a significant improvement. If Lowestoft and Ipswich, our biggest towns, were struggling to badly, we would not be attaining such improvements.

I have only one minute left, so I will make my key point. Yes, spending is important, but, with respect, Opposition Members focus relentlessly on that when standards and outcomes are what ultimately matter. What matters is the education our children achieve, the grades they get, how our country performs, and how they will be able to compete in a global marketplace.

Dr Wollaston Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:23 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that wellbeing and mental health are also important? Would he support the campaign being run by YoungMinds, who are in Parliament today to tell Ofsted to count in mental health and wellbeing in our schools?

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:23 p.m.

With the extra time belatedly allocated, I can say that I see a role for that. It is timely because a report on SEND in Suffolk was published today, and I am afraid Suffolk is still struggling. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) said earlier in his intervention, there is a growing awareness of the problems that we see in special needs children who are on the spectrum, and of the extra funding that that requires, so I agree that mental health and so on should be included.

On the point about standards, in the modern labour market our children might go out to compete globally, working abroad or competing with people coming here from other countries that have rigorous and high quality education systems. Our children have to be able to compete. If we look at international comparisons, not only do we have the highest funding in the G7 on state primary and secondary—something to be proud of—but our international progress on all the key markers is also improving. We must be doing something right. We are now in joint 8th place internationally on phonics: the best position we have had since the test started in 2001. That is in large part down to my right hon. Friend the Minister.

For me, this is the most important statistic: compared with 2009, the last year when the Opposition were in power, 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are now 50% more likely to go to university. That is social mobility. We have to pay for it and find the money, but we have to see the positives. Significant improvements are being made, but we need to continue to find a fairer formula that benefits constituencies such as South Suffolk.

Kate Osamor Portrait Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
4 Mar 2019, 5:25 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate Andrew Ramanandi, the headteacher of St Joseph’s Primary School in Blaydon, for starting the e-petition. Without his hard work on the petition, we would not be here today discussing this very important issue. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on speaking so eloquently and on taking so many interventions in opening this fantastic debate.

I want to focus on how the Government’s policy of austerity in education is harming the wellbeing and life chances of my constituents in Edmonton, especially children with special educational needs. Austerity has created an £8.5 million annual funding shortfall in Edmonton. Every single school in my constituency has had its funding cut since 2015. Furthermore, Edmonton, ranked the 50th most deprived constituency in England in 2015, has suffered some of the worst cuts in funding per pupil in the country.

Since 2010, owing to pernicious funding cuts from central Government, Enfield Council has been forced to find £178 million of savings, but further cuts mean that the council has to find £18 million to draw out of essential services by 2020. That £18 million is more than Enfield’s current net spending on housing services, leisure, culture, libraries, parks and open spaces combined. In an already struggling community, the education and overall life chances of every single pupil in Edmonton is being systematically undermined by the Government.