Tim Farron debates with Department for Education

There have been 9 exchanges between Tim Farron and Department for Education

Tue 7th July 2020 Support for Left-Behind Children 3 interactions (654 words)
Tue 16th June 2020 Free School Meals: Summer Holidays 11 interactions (255 words)
Wed 26th February 2020 School Exclusions (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (1,336 words)
Wed 29th January 2020 Special Educational Needs and Disability Funding (Westminster Hall) 5 interactions (1,106 words)
Wed 17th July 2019 Small and Village School Funding (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (785 words)
Mon 4th March 2019 School Funding (Westminster Hall) 5 interactions (737 words)
Tue 4th December 2018 Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (850 words)
Mon 12th November 2018 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (76 words)
Wed 24th October 2018 School Funding (Westminster Hall) 7 interactions (192 words)

Support for Left-Behind Children

Tim Farron Excerpts
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Education
Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con) - Hansard

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) on his outstanding opening speech, which set out the breadth of issues involved here. At all times, the Department for Education is about both raising attainment for all children in this country and simultaneously narrowing the gap between rich and poor, but never has that combination been more acutely felt and more important than it is right now, because we know that yawning gaps will have developed in this time between different areas, different schools and different children. We need to get all children back on track and narrow that gap simultaneously.

That starts, of course, with being physically back in school. We need to keep building up public confidence in the next couple of months. It will be really important to explain to parents clearly the bubble approach, including why it is whole year groups in secondary schools, which enables both mixed-ability and setted education, as well as options—we cannot return to a full curriculum without that. I suspect that one of the biggest challenges my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards will face is transport, particularly in secondary school, where children tend to travel longer distances. I am sure that he is working closely with colleagues in the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to use the maximum bus capacity safely.

This has been a very difficult time for headteachers and teachers, who have really stepped up to the plate, converting their programmes of work in double quick time and keeping their schools open. I know that for headteachers in particular, the weight of responsibility has never felt heavier than it has over the last few weeks. They know that the time to come will be difficult, but they want their children back and are looking forward to September. It will start with some important formative assessment, which I know the Minister will be looking to support.

I welcome the fact that we are returning to a full curriculum and the £1 billion package for catch-up support. I know that the Minister will be conscious of the additional issues and requirements of children with education, health and care plans and those in local authority care or with a social worker.

I want in particular to ask about extracurricular activities, which play such a vital role in children’s activity, mental health, interaction and character and resilience development. I welcomed the news at the weekend about the PE premium and the flexibility on leftover moneys from this year. I welcome, too, the continuance of the holiday activities programme. However, I ask the Minister and his colleagues to look closely at the full range of extracurricular activities and maximise the range that children can take part in—not only more sports but debating and public speaking, drama, school orchestras and school choirs, all of which play such an important role.

This has been an ambitious decade in education, with the extensions in early years education, 1 million new school places, the great progress on primary reading, the ongoing major upgrade to technical and vocational education and, of course, the narrowed attainment gap at every stage—in early years, in infant school, in junior school, at GCSE and at university entry.

This new decade is going to be challenging indeed, and the funding is important. I very much welcome the £14 billion over three years, the T-levels funding, the more recent new school capital and of course the billion-pound catch-up fund, but it is people who will make it happen: children, parents, governors, parent-teacher associations, teachers and heads. I know that my right hon. Friend will be behind them all the way.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard

It is most important to put on record how grateful we are to teachers up and down the country, including in my constituency, which is the size of Greater London and has 60-plus educational institutions within it. Let us just remember that it is incredibly hard work and challenging to teach 30 children in one place. Now, teachers have to try to teach 30 children in 30 different places, as they have over the past few months.

Teachers are having to deal with free school meals, often backfilling for the Government scheme not having worked perfectly everywhere, sometimes literally providing food out of their own pocket for needy children in their communities. They are supporting vulnerable children at home and in a school setting. We should bear in mind that teachers have had no break since before Christmas. Many of them, although they would not say so themselves, are utterly shattered. They deserve our thanks and support. They are true heroes of this covid crisis.

Since half-term, headteachers have been making decisions, based on what is in the best interests of their children and the whole school community, about how, when and whether to return. We trust those headteachers and we trust their judgment. They are hampered by a lack of clarity in guidance, some of which is beyond the Government’s control. Nevertheless, the lack of certainty over whether young children can be transmitters of the virus is a cause of great concern for whether and how schools can return.

Despite our teachers, we have nevertheless undoubtedly seen an increase in the gap between those who have opportunities and those who do not. That includes whether a child has parents who are able to support them and whether they have access to wi-fi and equipment. Not everything the Government have done has worked as well as it might. One school in my constituency has 1,000 children, with 180 on free school meals. Twenty laptops turned up after three months. We have to ask ourselves whether that is good enough to support our children in most need.

We are concerned also about the extra burden on teachers who have made assessments on GCSE and A-level grades. We are concerned about what that might mean for some of those young people who are struggling and who are furthest behind, because they will perhaps be hampered by the average rate of previous cohorts, rather than being able to deploy their skills themselves.

We are grateful for funding for development, new buildings and equipment, but more than anything else, schools need revenue funding for teachers and other staff. In Cumbria, we have seen £11 million of cuts to school budgets, representing £237 a head. If we want to help people to catch up and to progress, we need to not be laying off teachers and teaching assistants, as we have been in the past three or four years. We should invest in more teachers and more teaching assistants.

We also need to ensure that we support special educational needs children. At the moment, we have a system—it predates this Government, but nevertheless needs to be changed—where we force schools to fund the first 11 hours of support for an education, health and care plan for special educational needs students. In other words, we penalise those schools who do the right thing by those children who have the most need. That is why we need to ensure that special educational needs support is always funded from the centre, which would advantage those schools and those children who have the greatest need.

Finally, a word about Ofsted and inspection. As schools return in full in September, I want to be sure that Ofsted inspectors will not be adding to pressure and stress for schools, children and governors when they could instead be using their considerable skill to coach, develop and help our teachers in enabling those children who are struggling the most to reach their full potential.

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con) - Hansard
7 Jul 2020, 3:20 p.m.

The variations in school level funding and funding by local authority area have a history in this place that is older than the corn laws, but I commend Ministers in the Department for their progress in making more transparent the national funding formula, represented in these estimates, and bringing about an approach to levelling up the amount of funding that we may see at individual school level. However, the progress that we have seen in the past decade around school standards needs to be set against a legitimate concern about children in those parts of the system who will not be familiar to most mums and dads: those children who are excluded; those who are in alternative provision; those at the more complex end of special educational needs and disabilities; those in alternative education; and, as the Department will know, those who are in unlawfully run schools. These are very small numbers, but they are very important to our society. I urge some consideration for how these funds are distributed and allocated, as this is a crucial issue for the most vulnerable.

We have heard about a school funding crisis, but for the past year for which audited figures are available, the cumulative total of all school deficits in England was £233 million, and the cumulative total of school surpluses in England was in excess of £1.7 billion. The challenge is to ensure that the money that is in the system gets to the children who need it most. That task is done at local level by schools forums—the schools-led bodies that make decisions about the local funding formula. However, there is a tendency, as the Minister will be aware, for the voice of big secondary schools to dominate. I invite him, therefore, to consider how, in the context of schools forum decision making, we might see a stronger voice for early years, alternative provision and SEND schools, particularly as Department for Education figures show that across the country 40% of primary schools, 46% of special schools and 34% of secondary schools have budget surpluses that are deemed to be excessive.

Free School Meals: Summer Holidays

Tim Farron Excerpts
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Education
Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey - Hansard

All I will say is that I am happy we have reached the point we have today, although it should not have taken a public campaign from a well-known national hero to push the Government into making this decision. That said, they have made that decision and we take these small wins where we can find them.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. It is really good news that the Government, as we understand it, are changing their position on the provision of free school meal vouchers over the summer, but does she agree that, to date, the system has been far from perfect? The contractor that has taken on this job has failed, for example, to provide children with vouchers for supermarkets in the villages or towns where they live. Does that not need to be fixed before the summer?

Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey - Hansard

The Secretary of State will be well aware of the issues with the Edenred voucher scheme —the fact that many families have arrived at supermarkets and been turned away, that many schools have had to step in when vouchers have not been readily available and fund school meals themselves, and that in many cases they have not received assurances from the Government that they will be recompensed for that monetary expenditure. Perhaps he can provide those assurances today.

Break in Debate

Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey - Hansard

I thank the hon. Member for his comment, but I think he must have been asleep when I outlined the scale of child poverty, particularly the point I made about many children living in working households. A job might be a job, but it is not good enough if that job does not provide enough for people to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. That is what many families are going through across the country at the moment, so let us up our game on this.

Not only is it simply wrong for children to be going to bed hungry, but it is likely to heighten the already substantial gap in attainment between the poorest and their peers. “Newsnight” reported last week that the poorest children usually end up five weeks behind where they were at the end of term because of the usual six-week summer break. With potentially six months away from school, I dread to think what the impact of this period will be on the education of the most disadvantaged children this year, without urgent help.

The Government are said to be planning a big catch-up programme for the summer holidays, which will of course be welcome and I wait to see the detail. However, I would be grateful if the Secretary of State agreed today to ensure that, as part of this, he will develop a national plan for education, where local authorities are funded to make a summer holiday local offer to children and young people; where schools are provided with additional resources, such as an enhanced pupil premium to help disadvantaged children; and where public buildings such as libraries and sports centres are used to expand the space available to schools to ensure safe social distancing.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron - Hansard

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for being so generous in giving way. She makes a really important point. Of course, if there are 30 kids in a class, to do this carefully and safely may mean having to split it three ways. Does she agree with me that it is right that the Government fund not only the additional space that will be needed, but the additional teaching assistants we need to make sure that those children are properly looked after and taught?

Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey - Hansard

Indeed. The hon. Member makes an important point. Certainly, I would like the Government to look at sourcing these additional teachers, and encouraging qualified teachers who have left the profession to return to support pupils is certainly one such avenue.

Break in Debate

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson - Hansard

I can assure my hon. Friend that measures are in place to ensure that the vouchers are not used for things such as alcohol, cigarettes or gambling. That is an important protection. He touches on an important point, because one of the greatest strengths of our free school meals system, where children get a free meal at their school, is ensuring that it is a healthy meal and it is there to support the child.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron - Hansard

I just want to press the Secretary of State on the same point that I asked the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) about. The issue with free school meal vouchers, particularly in rural communities such as mine, is that someone may live in Sedbergh and not have a supermarket for which they have voucher within 10 miles. Can we look again to make sure that this U-turn, which I massively welcome, is valuable to every child, no matter where they live?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson - Hansard

The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that we have already made it clear to schools that they have flexibility on this and that they would be reimbursed any costs if they needed to procure vouchers from a different retailer.

School Exclusions

Tim Farron Excerpts
Wednesday 26th February 2020

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Education
Ms Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab) - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 10:01 a.m.

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone.

Some hon. Members here will know that I have spoken a number of times in the past year about county lines and the difficulties facing many young people in my constituency. In my experience, school exclusions are a significant event in the awful and traumatising experience of county lines exploitation. Far too many of my young constituents in Newham have been subjected to county lines or its consequences. I am therefore very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) for giving us the time and space to talk about this crucial issue.

I think, as my hon. Friend does, that the change of tune that we have heard from the Government about exclusions is truly worrying. I thought that across the House we were moving in the right direction. We had the Timpson review and repeated statements by Home Office Ministers and others with whom I have worked closely on these issues—we often find common ground and agreement—and I really started to believe that the Government were beginning to get it. I was starting to pick up a bit of hope, but that hope was dashed, because the Conservative party manifesto pledged to continue fragmenting the education system with academies and free schools, pledged to

“back heads to use exclusions”

and pledged, as we have heard from my hon. Friend, to expand alternative provision—presumably to cope with the inevitable increase in exclusions that would be the result.

I suspect that the Government know that there is already no way in which local authorities can do their duty and ensure that the local school system is inclusive. They are supposed to ensure that no student is excluded without a genuine route back into mainstream education, but this Minister must know that, often, once young people are excluded from our schools, there is absolutely no way back—none at all—into mainstream education. I am worried that the Government’s apparent direction will make that situation much worse.

I remind the Minister again why this issue is so important to my constituency. Exclusion is clearly linked with the horrifying rise in violence and the deaths of so many of my local children on the streets of Newham. When I have talked to the mums of the children who have been groomed and got caught up in the drug dealing, carrying of knives and violence, they tell me loud and clear—they will tell anyone who wants to listen—that their son’s exclusion from school was a tipping point. It did not create the problem, but it made it worse—it made it completely worse.

I talk to parents and young people and I am clear that the bad behaviour comes as a result of real and unimaginable fear. It comes from seeing things and knowing things that I would not want to see as an adult. They have seen people stabbed or shot, or their friend has been stabbed or shot. The fear that they experience is real and has real causes. The world around them is frightening and hostile—it is terrifying. They do not see the police or other adults around them as able to protect them. They do not think it is possible to protect them, so they have to protect themselves. They have to find coping mechanisms, and sometimes that involves going along with the person who is abusing, manipulating and grooming them, because they see no alternative. If collectively we do not protect them, we do not understand that they are acting out of fear and we simply punish the behaviour rather than dealing with the root causes, we will make things worse. There is no doubt about that. The young person understandably will not trust us, and we will fail them.

As my hon. Friend said, the St Giles Trust found in relation to 100 teenage boys who had become involved in county lines that every single one of them had been excluded from school at some point or had spent time in a pupil referral unit. I have spoken before about the impacts of exclusion. I have talked about how children are cut off from their friends and teachers and plunged into an environment poisoned by gangs and how that makes them accessible to groomers. When a child is excluded, it is not some short sharp shock. It will not enable the young person to rethink their life and behaviour and make a change, because there is no way back. Basically, they are left at the PRU, even more vulnerable to the groomers who are sitting outside the gates. The young person cannot escape, because the people grooming them and using them are sitting there, waiting for them to walk through the gates. The groomers are really clever: I have spoken to mums who told me how the groomers managed to manipulate their child into getting excluded in the first place, because it made access to the child even easier.

If a child is excluded, alarm bells will not ring because of truancy. Teachers who have known them as they have been growing up in the school will not see that their behaviour has massively changed, so an alarm bell about the child’s direction in life just is not rung. There is nobody to notice that they have several mobile phones, which is often a massive indicator that the child is involved in illegal drug dealing.

Let us be clear that the children we are excluding are often really quite able children. They are bright and very articulate, and why? It is because they make great salespeople. When it comes to county lines, they have the nous to know how to deal with the circumstances and situations in which they find themselves, and they can chat to their mate and encourage their mate to join them. As I said, they are good salespeople, but these are the children we are leaving alienated, angry and vulnerable. Then we put these children—they are children—with their challenges and vulnerabilities all together in the same place, and provide easy access to them for the people who want to exploit them.

As we know, pupil referral units do not provide the support that vulnerable children need. They are supervised for only a few hours a day; the rest of the time, the young person is often unsupervised and on their own. There is little mental health support, so the trauma that the kids have gone through just is not worked on in any way. There is little chance of their getting back into mainstream education. The buildings are basically like prisons, but the children we are sending there have not been accused of any crime.

Some of the children believe that they are actually involved in an alternative economic model. They have seen their mums and dads going to work and doing two jobs—the lowest quarter of wages in my constituency does not cover the lowest quarter of rents in my constituency. They have seen the adults around them basically with nothing. Then we exclude them from school, and we know that there is no way back into education, so what do they do? They think that there is only one way forward for them, and that is to carry on. We are basically giving the groomers an endless supply of victims. The kids get off-rolled—it happens illegally, but we know it happens—and then they have nothing to do and nowhere to go.

I have heard about that from some courageous women, the mums of the children involved in county lines, who are trying to stand up to the groomers. They have to make hard choices—tough choices—that I could not make about my children’s future. We need to learn from their experience, but too few people listen to the experience of Newham mums. I think that is part of what has gone wrong.

The truth is that exclusions ruin lives, create vulnerability to exploitation by organised criminals and fuel violence in our communities. We desperately need big changes to the school system to achieve a rapid reduction in exclusions. If the Government do not reverse course, and if they do not listen to Newham’s mums and the experts—please listen to the experts and not to the Daily Mail headlines—we will see more lives ruined, more crime, more murdered children and more traumatised communities with wounds that take a very long time to heal.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 10:10 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) for raising this important issue. It is a pleasure to follow the powerful and challenging contributions from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and, in particular, from the hon. Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), who spoke passionately.

The rising number of children excluded from school should trouble us all. Increased pressure to concentrate on students who can achieve top results, to seek prominence in league tables and to avoid students who are resource intensive, along with the increased independence that academy status affords, provide both the temptation and freedom to off-roll and exclude certain students. This is morally unacceptable.

I want to focus on the rising number of students who are effectively excluded: the thousands of students in our schools with special educational needs that are not met. It is clear that because of counterproductive Government spending rules, many children are in school but effectively excluded from the support staff and resources necessary to enable them to get the best from their education.

In my 15 years in this place, I have never seen school budgets under so much pressure. Headteachers are having to cut staff numbers almost every year and teaching assistants working with special needs students are most vulnerable to the cuts. Teachers are overstretched as it is and now they are not equipped with the resources to teach those under their care.

I recently spoke to headteachers in the South Lakes and asked them to tell me about the challenges their schools face. Almost without exception, they said that their biggest challenge was meeting the needs of children with special needs. On top of devastating Government cuts and perverse special needs funding rules, every school with an education, health and care plan must find the money from its own budget to fund the first 11 hours of support. That means the Government are effectively punishing schools that do the right thing by taking children with special needs and rewarding schools that say to parents, “I am sorry, but we cannot really support your child here”—an exclusion in all but name.

Cuts in support staff have left teachers isolated in supporting children’s needs in the classroom. St Martin & St Mary Primary School in Windermere described to me the extremely high criteria set to qualify for an education, health and care plan in the first place. We often see that only those children with the most severe additional needs receive any funding support at all; other children with needs are left with no additional support.

Many schools in my constituency told me that parents must contend with incredibly long waiting lists for a special educational need referral, followed by delayed assessments due to a lack of educational psychologists. Children are then often refused support, irrespective of their evident need. Schools in Cumbria, therefore, have to find the resource to support the significant numbers of children who are in limbo waiting for an assessment, who have needs but do not have an EHCP, and who may never get one while at their current school.

The situation results in exclusion within the classroom. Children fall behind and feel isolated from the rest of the class, because they are not being provided with the adequate support to learn and develop. As the attainment gap grows, children can become frustrated and despondent, fostering negative attitudes to school. There is a real danger that they will disengage entirely, exacerbating the problem further. Those are often the children who end up being off-rolled and formally excluded later in their school career.

This week I have been supporting the parents of a child in my constituency, whose school was unable to support them. The school lacked the funding to meet the evident needs of this child. The waiting list for an EHCP meant that resources were so far from becoming available that the school has had to say that it cannot do what it knows it needs to. The parents’ distress is immense. I am angry on their behalf. Their child is effectively excluded from school because of stupid penny-pinching rules. This is unacceptable. Teachers and the children they are so desperate to care for are being failed.

Many children also face exclusion before they even get to the classroom. Many children with special educational needs bring vibrant and valuable contributions to the whole school, their classes and their peer groups. That should be valued and encouraged, but in reality the system makes catering to their needs feel like a pressure and burden on schools. That is completely at odds with society’s claim to champion diversity and value individuals regardless of their ability.

The Government are effectively demoralising our teachers and letting down our children, because schools must foot the bill for those first hours of provision for children with an education, health and care plan. Schools are massively disincentivised from enrolling them. We see national, systematic exclusion of special educational needs children. The headteacher of one of the larger high schools in the South Lakes told me of the real financial pressure of being expected fund those first 11 hours of an education, health and care plan out of their school’s general annual grant funding. That, on top of the Government cuts to the school’s overall per-pupil funding, means that it has no reserves or slack from which to provide this support. It is not alone. This is a pattern right across south Cumbria and beyond. I see it every week as I visit schools and listen to our teachers.

The special educational needs co-ordinator at Cartmel Primary School told me that the local authority recommends it as a school suitable for children with an EHCP. Around 5% of children at the school have one. That is significantly above the national average. While the school expresses its immense pride in its reputation for special educational needs provision and its inclusive nature, through which it earned that reputation, it is in danger of buckling under the financial pressure that falls on its shoulders alongside the usual strains on a small school’s budget.

Cumbria is as vast as it is beautiful. In rural communities such as ours, the alternative options, which a child in a more densely populated part of the world might enjoy, do not exist. The head of Langdale Primary School described how for many pupils the available special schools require travelling extreme distances. She wrote in some distress that, despite the incredible hard work and enthusiasm of her excellent team, their ethos—to be centred wholeheartedly on individual children—was coming under significant strain.

I am grateful to all the headteachers who contacted me—many more than I have had time to reference today. They are all hard-working, enthusiastic and caring, and so are their staff. I am incredibly proud of them, but they are desperate. They are outstanding professionals who love their jobs and schools, but Government funding has put them in an impossible position.

When we talk about exclusion, the finger is often pointed at school leaders. However, those are people driven to make a difference. In the lives of the children of Cumbria, whom they serve, the school leaders are the most heartbroken and outraged by how they have been stripped of the ability to meet the needs they know they should and to support those children in the way they know they should. I stand here on their behalf to say that it is not good enough. That must change for our children, our teachers and parents.

In effect, the Government are excluding children with special educational needs from having the best education, while systematically penalising the schools that do the right thing. That must change. I challenge the Minister to ensure that all funding to support children with EHCPs is delivered centrally and does not come from the school’s own budget; that there will be a speeding up of referrals for EHCPs and their delivery; and that children with additional needs are not excluded before they even start.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab) - Hansard
26 Feb 2020, 10:19 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) for securing this important debate and for the important work she has done as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime. Since 2012, the number of school pupils being permanently excluded has increased by 70%. Temporary exclusions, where a child is suspended for a fixed period, affect almost half a million children, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of children have been unofficially moved from schools, or off-rolled, because the school is failing to meet their needs. A YouGov survey, published by Ofsted, found that children were being off-rolled particularly when close to their GCSEs. In essence, children are being failed. We do not even know how many children have been off-rolled by schools across the country.

There is no question and no doubt that school exclusions are a social justice issue. It is no coincidence that there is a correlation between child poverty rates and exclusion rates. They are too high and they are in sync. According to research carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research, excluded children are twice as likely to be in care and four times more likely to be brought up in poverty. Despite what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) said, exclusions disproportionately impact on black Caribbean boys, who are nearly 40 times more likely to be permanently excluded from schools than other pupils.

Perhaps most striking is the rate of exclusions for children and young people with special educational needs and disability. As a disabled woman myself, I benefited greatly from the special educational needs provision that I had growing up going to primary and secondary school, so what is now taking place for those children is a scandal. More than 418,000 children with SEND were excluded in the last academic year; the majority have been diagnosed with speech and language needs and are unable to communicate with their teachers and support networks in their schools. What is happening is tragic and clearly a result of funding cuts, despite what the Government may say. Schools are being fundamentally let down and are fundamentally not able to provide support for those children with special education needs.

The National Education Union estimates that there is a £1 billion funding gap in SEND provision for our mainstream schools. Despite what the Government claim they are putting in, there is still a shortfall. In the London Borough of Wandsworth, where my constituency is located, a recent Ofsted and Care Quality Commission inspection concluded that SEND provision is in need of significant improvement. It revealed that there are currently 170 outstanding education, health and care plan assessments, and that is echoed across the country, where children are being failed and are not receiving their EHCP plans to ensure that the support they need in school is being implemented.

Inadequate support and provision for disabled children and those with special educational needs means they are excluded from education altogether. That is happening to my constituent, whom I will refer to as Jacob. He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at age 10. When he arrived at his secondary school, his parents were told that he risked being permanently excluded if he failed to sit up straight or turned around in his seat. Those behaviours are unavoidable for someone with ADHD, and Jacob was soon forced into a reflection room, where he was forced to sit in silence for large chunks of the day. The refusal to make any reasonable adjustments for Jacob’s behaviour in school has resulted in extreme anxiety for both Jacob and his parents. How is it acceptable that a young child is being put through that and being treated in that way?

Jacob’s parents are terrified by the prospect of a permanent exclusion and are worried that he will never get the chance of a decent education. A decent education is a human right. Does the Minister agree that it is unacceptable that children who are registered with special educational needs are not given the support they need? Someone with those needs is five times more likely to be permanently excluded. Does he agree that it is time for us to adequately fund SEND provision?

We know that the story does not end there. Once a child is off-rolled or excluded from school, they face exclusion from their communities, from society and from their friends. Many are placed in what are called pupil referral units or, as many would call them, prison referral units. The published Ministry of Justice figures show that 42% of prisoners have been permanently excluded from school, so it is no coincidence that the soaring rise in school exclusions is coupled together with the rise in crime and knife crime in my constituency and constituencies like it across the country.

Special Educational Needs and Disability Funding

Tim Farron Excerpts
Wednesday 29th January 2020

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate
Department for Education
Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk - Hansard
29 Jan 2020, 3:04 p.m.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to tread carefully. The central point is that we need the data. It is critical that we make these important public policy decisions on the basis of the strongest evidence. We have to go where the evidence takes us, even if it is not always comfortable to do so.

I pay tribute to the Government for the additional funding. Of course, we all want more, but it is important to recognise how significant that additional sum has been. It is something in the order of £700 million. Taken in isolation, such figures are meaningless. We have to look at the context of the overall high-needs pot of around £6 billion. The Government investment is a significant sum of money set against that. In Gloucestershire, that means that the budget has gone from about £60 million up to £66 million. I take on board the points made by the hon. Member for Twickenham about ongoing needs and the fact that some local authorities have found themselves overspending and viring money from the mainstream block to fund the shortfall, but we should not lose sight of the fact that is none the less a significant sum of money.

Of course, although it is a critical factor, it is not all about money. I pay tribute to the headteachers in Cheltenham, and Gloucestershire more widely, who have addressed the point made by the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) about off-rolling. We did have a big problem with off-rolling in Gloucestershire, but the headteachers have worked closely together and they have reduced the number of exclusions by 19% in 2018 and 42% since September 2019. That is a fantastic piece of work because, at the risk of stating the obvious, if they do not do that schools decline to manage children with SEND in mainstream education, who might then go to schools with moderate learning difficulties; those schools cannot cope, and they then shunt people on to schools with severe learning difficulties, and as I indicated earlier, they often end up in independent provision. We have to break the cycle and break that domino effect. Headteachers working together are doing so, and I commend them on that.

I have a number of asks of the Government. Will the Government look again at the expectation that mainstream schools such as, for example, Pittville School or Balcarras School in my constituency should pay for the cost of SEN support up to £6,000? That places a financial burden on schools. Although they are living up to their obligations, we should recognise the strain that that places on them. Secondly, I have indicated that we need to progress work on identifying causes. Thirdly, we need to look again at the code of practice and, in particular, the threshold for education, health and care plans. We simply cannot duck that. Finally, is now the time that we ought to look at whether clinical commissioning groups should bear some of the burden, particularly where there is increasing medical intervention? As a society, we have to grapple with those issues. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Twickenham for raising the debate and I pay tribute to the teachers who deliver so much in Gloucestershire.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard
29 Jan 2020, 3:07 p.m.

It is a massive honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), who made an outstanding speech. I am grateful to her for leading the debate.

In the run-up to the debate, I contacted all the headteachers in my constituency to ask what they wanted me to tell the Minister about special educational needs funding and provision. The collective message that came back is one of desperation. In rural communities such as ours in Cumbria, small local schools simply do not have the financial resilience to cope with the ludicrous cuts they have to face from the Government, but it is especially tough when it comes to SEN funding.

My constituency has eight secondary schools, two of which have fewer than 200 pupils; 35 primary schools, 10 of which have fewer than 30 pupils; and three primary schools smaller even than that. They are all fantastic schools. They are small because they serve sparsely populated areas that are significant distances away from one another, and small schools are the most vulnerable. One of our larger secondaries, Kendal’s Queen Katherine School, spoke for all the heads when it revealed the real financial pressure in being expected to fund the first 11 hours of education, health and care plans out of the school’s own budget. Because of the cuts that the Government have made to overall per-pupil funding, they have no reserves to provide that support.

The head of Storth Primary School sent me a copy of the letter that he had written to the county. He described the school’s reputation for being a caring and nurturing setting and how that has resulted in the school attracting more children with special educational needs. That should be celebrated, commended and rewarded. Instead, the lack of funding has made it a burden. In recent years the school has had children needing full-time 2:1 or 1:1 support, but no funding has been provided. They have been under a deficit recovery plan for five years. The head speaks of the pressure and anxiety that the staff are under and the frustration and pain of trying to provide the best possible care and education for all pupils on a budget that simply will not allow it.

A similar picture was painted by the special educational needs co-ordinator at Cartmel Primary School. The local authority recommends the school as suitable for children with an EHCP and 4.3% of its children have one, significantly above the national average. Although the school expresses its pride in its reputation, it is in danger of buckling under the funding pressure that falls on its shoulders alongside the usual strains that fall on small school budgets.

Cumbria is as vast as it is beautiful. Often in rural communities such as ours there simply is not the alternative provision available in reachable distances. The head of Langdale Primary School described how for many pupils the available special schools would require travelling extreme distances, and therefore they are effectively unavailable. She wrote with some distress that, despite the incredible hard work and enthusiasm of her excellent team, its ethos—to be wholeheartedly centred on individual children—was coming under increasing strain.

Heads in south Cumbria say that they are challenged by the lack of staffing, and in my experience that is the case. Cuts in support staff have left teachers isolated in supporting children’s needs in the classroom. St Martin & St Mary Church of England Primary School in Windermere described the extremely high criteria set to qualify for an EHCP, so only children with the most severe needs receive any funding at all. On top of that, many schools have to contend with long waiting lists for SEN referrals, followed by delayed assessments. Children are often then refused support, despite their evident need, and that leaves schools in Cumbria also having to find the resources to support the significant number of children who are in limbo, waiting for an assessment. They have needs but do not have an EHCP, and indeed they may never get one.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD) - Hansard
29 Jan 2020, 3:17 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is completely unacceptable that families have to wait for far too long? He mentions the delays and assessment refusals, and how people have to wait a long time once assessments are granted. The statutory timescale is 20 weeks: four and a half months to wait to get an assessment. Even in my area of Hertfordshire County Council, one in five of the families do not get their assessment within the statutory period, so does he agree that the timescale should be shortened?

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron - Hansard
29 Jan 2020, 3:11 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The situation is the same in Cumbria. The point was made earlier by the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who is no longer in her place, regarding the lack of educational psychologists. The Government are not funding the support needed to get people to have their EHCP in the first place, and therefore schools are picking up the tab for assessments that have not been made. Nevertheless, the needs are absolutely still there.

The head of Dallam School in Milnthorpe expressed concern on another matter: the lack of resources available to access quality training and training providers to equip staff to support pupils’ mental health needs. Many of the other heads shared the concern that it damaged their schools’ ability to do the job that they are so desperate to do. The Government can talk a good game on mental health, but they are utterly failing to invest in preventive mental health with the staff and training necessary in schools to keep our children mentally well. Indeed, across the whole of Cumbria only 75p is spent per child per year on preventive mental health work, which is an outrage.

The Government are demoralising our teachers and letting down our children, because schools have to fund those first hours of provision for children with EHCPs. We therefore have a system that punishes schools that have a deserved reputation for being nurturing and for caring for their children’s needs. The Government are systematically penalising the schools that do the right thing, and that must change. I challenge the Minister today to ensure that all funding to support children with EHCPs is delivered centrally and does not come from the school’s own budget.

I am grateful to all the headteachers who contacted me—many more than I have had time to refer to here. They are all hard-working, enthusiastic and caring, and so are their staff. I am incredibly proud of all of them, but they are desperate because Government funding has put them in an impossible position. They are outstanding professionals who love their jobs, love their schools, and are driven to make a difference in the lives of the children of Cumbria, whom they serve. Imagine how unbearable it is for them to know that they cannot do what they know they should; cannot meet the needs that they know they should; cannot support the children in the way that they know they should. It is as heartbreaking as it is outrageous. Let us have no more excuses. The Government must act.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con) - Hansard
29 Jan 2020, 3:14 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I hope that Members will forgive me if I speak for slightly less than the allotted time, but that is because Members before me have said a great deal of what I believe, and I understand the passion and feeling about the issue. I thank the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) for securing the debate. She has set the bar very high for the new intake of MPs. I suspect that my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and I will all pay great attention to her career, and to how we can match her skills.

My hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) and for East Devon (Simon Jupp) have asked me to say some words on this topic. Given that across Devon we have 6,500 young children in EHCPs, 794 of whom are looked after, with 94,000 pupils and 369 schools, the issue is hugely impactful and it is necessary that we address it. I welcome the Government’s actions over the past few years, including the recent £780 million; the 2014 reforms to extend eligibility for support for 16 to 25-year-olds; delivering a further 50,000 teaching assistants; and, as has been mentioned, the further commitment to £31.6 million to train more than 600 educational psychologists. That is welcome news and should be applauded.

However, I am not here to be a mouthpiece for the Government. Although I recognise their successes, there is more work to be done. For all the positive action that has been taken over the past few years, there have also been some serious negative impacts. Within my constituency of Totnes there is undoubtedly a considerable challenge for the local authorities that have to subsidise the dedicated schools grant high needs block. The continued demand for EHCPs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) mentioned, obviously takes up a huge amount of time, and it is difficult to get through them. That difficulty is also reflected in school transport and how that can be taken on by local authorities.

In my efforts to be brief, I shall put a few questions to the Minister. What action will the Government take to ensure that schools receive further funding for SEND children in future? Will they recognise the requirement of mixed provision and the benefit of it? Do they understand that mainstream settings can often be as beneficial as those in special schools? Lastly, does the Minister agree that providing long-term support allows for improved school budgeting and consideration for how to effectively provide for SEND children?

I have one last point about the families of those who travel abroad in the service of a Government Department and who then return and have to reapply through the EHCP programme, which is incredibly difficult. Will the Government look at how those who serve this country abroad with their families can go forward in that process when they return?

Small and Village School Funding

Tim Farron Excerpts
Wednesday 17th July 2019

(1 year ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Education
Sir David Amess Portrait Sir David Amess (in the Chair) - Hansard

Order. The winding-up speeches will start at 5.15 pm, so there is about five or six minutes per person.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 4:41 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) on securing this important debate. My constituency has two secondary schools with fewer than 200 pupils, 10 primary schools with fewer than 50 and, by my reckoning, three primary schools with fewer than 30 pupils. They are all really good schools. They are small because the area that they serve is sparsely populated and we live huge distances away from one another. However, small schools are enormously vulnerable.

If a school with a decent-sized population to serve has a bad Ofsted report or a difficult period of leadership, or if there is a dip in the birth rate, that does not kill it, but if a small village school that is absolutely vital experiences any one of those things, that could be the end of it, and the damage to the community is immense. Just two summers ago, we lost Heversham Primary School, which had once had 60 kids. It had a period of difficulty, went down to 11 or 12 kids and was closed. The ongoing damage to that village and its community is huge. Small schools are vulnerable, yet utterly vital.

In my time in Parliament, and in my time as a parent, a local school governor and what have you, and as somebody who worked in education, in teacher education, for many years, I have never known schools’ budgets to be as tight as they are today, particularly for small schools, because they do not have the wherewithal to get through difficult periods. I think that what happens is that because headteachers keep quiet, the Government take advantage. Headteachers keep quiet for two reasons. First, teachers do not like to get overly political by talking about the level or lack of funding that their school has to cope with.

Also, headteachers do not want to risk any competitive advantage that they have. If I, as a headteacher, say that I have had to sack three teaching assistants this year, pupils or parents looking at my school will think, “Well, I’ll go somewhere else instead.” I think that all of us, but particularly the Government, take advantage of headteachers’ perfectly understandable reticence about talking about the state of play at the schools they serve so admirably.

I therefore want to pick out what was said by the 16 schools in the Kendal area that wrote a collective letter to all of us. They said that Westmorland and Lonsdale had seen school funding cuts of £2.4 million, which was equal to a cut of £190 per pupil per year, and that that had led them collectively to reduce the numbers of teaching and non-teaching staff and support for the most vulnerable pupils; to make reductions in small group work for children who need additional support, reductions in teaching resources and equipment, reductions in subject choices in secondary schools and reductions in the range of activities at primary schools; and to cut back on repairs to school buildings and so on.

One head of a small school told me that his school income had gone down by £204,000 since 2014. Staffing costs had gone up by £232,000 in the same period. He had got rid of teaching assistants and reduced administrative support time and had had to increase charges for school meals, the breakfast club, music tuition and so on. There were reductions in catering hours and in midday hours. Anecdotally, another head brings her husband in at the weekend, outside his own job, to do all the maintenance and janitor work for the school, because it cannot afford anybody to do that full time.

Underpinning all the problems is the ongoing issue of special educational needs funding, which hits schools of all sizes, but particularly the smaller schools, because proportionally it is a bigger blow. The Government make schools provide and pay for the first 11 hours of special educational needs support. That means that they hit and they hurt and they punish those schools that do the right thing and they reward those schools that do not take children with special educational needs. That is wrong and it needs to be changed.

The quality of experience of a young person at a small school is so obviously so wonderful and so treasured and something that parents will travel out of area to take advantage of. The quality of teaching and leadership and the diversity of skills that are needed to teach in and to run a small school are that much greater, but the failure to fund schools properly across the board hits smaller schools the worst, even though smaller schools, especially in Westmorland and Lonsdale, are the best.

Gillian Keegan Portrait Gillian Keegan (Chichester) (Con) - Hansard
17 Jul 2019, 4:46 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) on securing this important debate. Access to a high-quality, fulfilling education should not be based on geography. Children do not choose where they live and grow up, so it should never be a barrier to their fulfilling all their ambitions.

The Government have taken important steps to level the playing field through the national funding formula. I recognise that. It moves us towards rebalancing some of the disparities in the old system. We are moving away from more than 100 different funding models across the country, which meant that there was little fairness and no transparency whatsoever. The national funding formula allocates an increase in funding for every pupil in 2018-19; and for the historically underfunded schools, such as those in West Sussex, increases could not have come sooner.

The changes to the funding model will ensure that funding is provided in a more balanced way across the country, not least because for the first time the money that schools receive is comparable across counties and local authorities. However, a key challenge for rural schools, both in West Sussex and across the country, is pupil numbers. This is a more precarious funding model for rural small schools, as there can be significant annual variation in the number of children coming into each year. Some schools have become very worried when just one family are moving out of the area, as they rely on every single child for income.

School Funding

Tim Farron Excerpts
Monday 4th March 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Education
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 Portrait 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.

Thelma Walker Hansard
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 - Hansard
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) - Hansard
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.

Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools

Tim Farron Excerpts
Tuesday 4th December 2018

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Education
Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op) Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 3:17 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on securing this vital debate. The speed at which Members are speaking this afternoon and the interest shows that we could have spoken for at least three hours and still had more time and more interest. If it was not for what was going on in the other Chamber, even more colleagues would be here with us this afternoon.

There is much that I could reflect upon, but I particularly want to reflect on the Government’s Green Paper—their strategy, and their actual plan for young people’s mental health between now and 2030. The Green Paper was called “Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision”. That is the key intervention in which the Government set out their plans. It is important that we consider it in the context of this afternoon’s debate.

I agree with the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon when she says that—let us not mince our words—we see a mental health crisis in our young people. I do not use those words lightly. We have only to reflect on the prevalence study that came out the other week, a repetition of the study that tells us how many young people are affected by one or more mental health conditions. We saw in that repeat of the study—last done in 2004—that there has been a 28% increase in the number of children affected. We used to use the statistic one in 10, or three in every classroom. It is now one in eight children, which for me is a very serious consideration. The Government need to urgently reflect upon and revisit their Green Paper, which was predicated on data that is now 14 years old. We now have the results that give us a reason to see the Government come forward with revised plans. Unfortunately, I do not believe that it is good enough.

I am a member of the Health and Social Care Committee; together with the Education Committee we produced a report on the Green Paper. We heard from expert witnesses, students in schools, and teachers. Many points reflected on the Government’s plans and set out what was missing, and what needs to be addressed to make a real difference. There are many points that I could reflect on, but I want to focus my remarks on the most salient points. I urge Members, but particularly the Minister, to reflect on the joint Select Committee report, because it contains many recommendations. It is fair to say that we were disappointed by the Government’s response, which did not adequately respond to serious concerns raised by many people throughout the country.

When I reflect on the experience of young people in my constituency, I am aware that a previously exemplary service in which young people were seen within three weeks—from referral to assessment and then treatment—now has hundreds waiting 24 weeks just for an assessment. That is not good enough. A special educational needs teacher, who wrote to me previously, came to my constituency surgery on Friday and said that the threshold to get access to services is now even further out of reach, even for children under 11. There are children aged four who cannot get access to any services. That is not peculiar to Liverpool; it is replicated across the country. We had a 43% cut to our service, and not in just one year—it was repeated in the second year; that was the main service for young people. Thresholds for access to care are rising, and I reiterate the point that children have had to self-harm or attempt suicide to get in. That is not good enough.

Colleagues have touched on the issue of resources. It is not just about money, but let us be honest: some resources are needed to ensure that children are properly supported. Schools are an important place. I want to reiterate what I said when I asked the Minister a question in the Select Committee. It is an important point, and gets to the crux of the matter. My greatest concern about the Green Paper and the Government’s plans for now until 2030 is that they will only replace what has already been lost, because the Government have no idea—no assessment has been done—how many peer mentors, counsellors, educational psychologists, pastoral care workers and school nurses have been lost from the country’s schools. Those are just some of the roles—vital services—that schools that are passionate about students’ mental health no longer have the funds to invest in. Schools in my constituency had access to a service called Seedlings. It was pulled from all those schools. The only ones that could afford it were those that met a threshold of a certain number of children on free school meals, in relation to pupil premium. Those just below the threshold could no longer afford it.

Those cuts have combined with other cuts, not just in schools but in local authorities. They affect children’s centres, the educational psychologists previously funded by local authorities, Sure Start centres and youth centres—because it is not only what happens in school that is relevant, but what happens afterwards. Many young people would turn to youth workers as a trusted adult if their mental health was suffering. The combination of all those things is the toxic situation we are in. Young people are now seen only when they are in a crisis; the system is geared only to what we do then. We need proper early intervention and prevention, to keep young people well. Schools cannot be expected to do it all.

From the teachers’ representations that we heard in evidence, it was clear that they want to do everything possible to support students in the classroom, but many demands are made on them and the current academic system adds many pressures, not only for students but for teachers. A staggering 81% of teachers say that they have considered leaving teaching in the past year because of the pressures of their workload. The combination of those factors means that there is every reason to think it is not good enough to expect every school to have just one designated mental health lead—one teacher who is trained for two days—when the Government accept, in their own evaluation, that that arrangement has an opportunity cost, in taking those teachers away from other activities that they are expected to do in school.

The social media issue is something that the Government definitely need to address, but even if we removed all the challenges of social media we would not solve the problem because, judging by the evidence that we heard, there are so many other challenges, but particularly issues to do with the social determinants of health and poverty.

I shall draw my remarks to a close because other Members want to speak. We cannot expect our schools to do it all. Young people are really suffering; this is a crisis, with a 28% increase in the figures, even going by those that came out the other week. I urgently request that the Government look again at the Green Paper strategy, because it is simply not good enough.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 3:24 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on securing this vital debate.

Early intervention and preventive work on mental health are massively important and schools play a colossal part in it. Fifty per cent. of mental health problems in adult life take root before the age of 14; 10% of schoolchildren today have a diagnosable mental illness, which means that in an average class of 30 young people three will be living with a mental health condition. That is three children in every class. Stress about exams, fear of failure, concern about body image, bullying, and the crushing weight of the aspirations and expectations of materialism have a huge impact on people’s mental health. Unchecked, those concerns can spiral into acute long-term mental illnesses that will lead to serious problems all the way through adulthood.

The Prime Minister characterised the colossal failure to treat mental health conditions as a “burning injustice”, but that is an injustice that the Government have failed to fight in practice. There are few things more frustrating than a Government who speak the right political language in a debate but fail to deliver. Investment in preventive measures and early intervention has only got worse in recent years. Councils’ public health budgets, which include funding for school nurses and tier 1 mental health services, have been reduced by £600 million between 2015 and the present. In my constituency central Government cuts to the public health budget mean that the NHS in Cumbria currently spends only £75,000 a year on tier 1 mental health preventive care. That is just 75p per child per year. In 2015 the coalition Government agreed to allocate Cumbria £25 million a year in public health money. Now it gets only £18 million a year. That is a £7 million cut—a huge proportion. It is not just unacceptable; it is an insult. As a direct result, we no longer have any school nurses directly attached to schools anywhere in the county.

Alongside the situation I have described, there are additional pressures. Many young people with special and additional needs are at greater risk of acquiring mental health difficulties. We have a special educational needs funding system that punishes schools that take children with additional needs and rewards those that do not fulfil their responsibility; so the system compounds the difficulties. Like the rest of the hon. Members present, I get letters in my postbag about many issues of great emotional significance. They weigh heavily on all MPs as we seek to help people out of difficult situations. However, nothing keeps me awake at night like the plight of young people with mental health conditions. I have noticed in recent years that the volume of my case load taken up by that issue has rocketed. We are clearly a society that breeds poor mental health.

I am proud of the young people in Cumbria with whom I have worked and who are determined to fight for better mental health provision for themselves and their friends. In my constituency, for example, CAMHS was not available at the weekend or after school hours in south Cumbria until our community ran a campaign and forced local health bosses to change that. What an outrage that we had to fight for those changes. Alongside a focus on the provision of timely, top-quality treatment, there needs to be a focus on preventive care. That is why 2,500 mostly young people in my constituency signed the petition that I shall soon present to the House, calling for a mental health worker to be allocated to every school in Cumbria, so that we can manage to prevent problems before they arise and get out of control.

Perhaps the biggest single issue affecting young people’s mental health is eating disorders. In South Lakeland, three quarters of children reporting with an eating disorder are not seen within the target time of a month. Not a single one of those children presenting with an urgent need is seen within the target time of one week. The most appalling aspect of the situation is not just those statistics but the fact that the number of children they represent is 15 in a year. That is utter nonsense. I deal with at least one new eating disorder case among young people every single week in my constituency. Children are clearly slipping through the loopholes and are not being pushed into the system. As the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said, they are told that they have to come back when they are more sick as they have not yet lost sufficient weight to enter the system. That is an outrage. In 2016, the Government promised Cumbria a specialist one-to-one eating disorder service, and it has failed to materialise. Wonderful people work in CAMHS, but they do not have the support that they desperately need. As others have said, young people’s mental health is the crisis of our age. It needs more than platitudes; it needs real action, and it needs it now.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP) - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 3:30 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on securing this very important debate. I will not run through all hon. Members’ contributions because we are running very short of time, but I have a few words to say. The hon. Lady’s knowledge and breadth of experience shone through her contribution, and her clinical dissection of the high stakes in the school system was informative and chilling.

As a member of the Education Committee, I am aware that the UK Government are not responsible for education matters in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but that does not mean that I or anybody else in the House have no desire to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children right across the UK. Schools are on the frontline of supporting children and young people’s mental wellbeing. We can shift the focus on to preventing mental health problems and building resilience through simple methods. In one of my granddaughter’s schools, children are being taught to think not, “I can’t do this,” but, “I cannot do this yet.” That is a huge step forward. It was never done in schools in my and my children’s time.

Increasing the availability of learning tools and experiences in health and wellbeing ensures that children and young develop knowledge about mental health and understand the skills, capabilities and attributes that they need for mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing now and in the future. The Scottish Government’s mental health strategy focuses on early intervention and prevention, which feeds into this issue.

Over the course of their education, children spend more than 7,800 hours in school. Emotional wellbeing is a clear indicator of academic achievement, success and satisfaction in later life. Combining mental health awareness and coping mechanisms is critical for prolonged resilience. The Scottish Government have spent quite a bit of money recently. I spoke to Clare Haughey MSP, the Minister for Mental Health, who had recently taken on the recommendations of the “Children and young people’s mental health audit” report, which was produced by the Auditor General and given to the Public Audit Committee on 22 September.

It is important that we do not just throw money at these problems. There has to be a change in attitude. Money helps by making counselling available. In Scotland, our hope is that £20 million will provide 250 additional school nurses, and that £60 million will provide 350 counsellors. There will be other counsellors in further and higher education.

In Scotland, we are also doing mental health first aid programmes for teachers so that the early signs of mental health problems are spotted and children can be moved forward into services. In the package of money given by the Scottish Government, there is also provision for community support. The Scottish Government have set up a Mental Health Youth Commission, which is working with the Scottish Association for Mental Health and Young Scot to put young people’s issues front and centre. The Scottish National party Government are committed to meeting their commitments to ensure all children are given the tools they need to achieve a happy and prosperous life.

The UK has signed up to the UN convention on the rights of the child, but has stopped short of making it part of its legislation. That has been done in Wales, and the First Minister of Scotland is committed to making it part of domestic law in Scotland. Article 19 of the UNCRC says:

“State Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence”.

The First Minister’s commitment will better enable positive mental health and wellbeing practice in Scottish schools.

Will the updated guidance, which is intended to come into force in September 2020, apply in academies and free schools, as well as local authority-maintained schools? It is my understanding that those types of school do not have to follow national school curriculums.

Oral Answers to Questions

Tim Farron Excerpts
Monday 12th November 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Education
Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Nov 2018, 2:47 p.m.

We believe that any young person who has the potential to benefit from university should be able to do so, and the existing system helps to facilitate exactly that. More than £800 million is being spent on access encouragement from universities. We need to make sure that that is spent as well as it can be, to make sure that any young person from any background has an equal opportunity to benefit.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Nov 2018, 2:48 p.m.

A huge block to social mobility is the Government’s policy of forcing schools to pay the first £6,000 of costs to support children with special needs. Does the Secretary of State accept that that penalises schools for taking students with additional needs, incentivises doing the wrong thing, impoverishes those schools that do the right thing and, most of all, hurts children with special needs and their families? Will he agree fully to fund education healthcare plans?

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Nov 2018, 2:48 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman is right to look at things such as the incentives that are inherent in the system. Of course, schools have a notional special educational needs budget, which is what the first £6,000 is supposed to be linked to, but we keep all these matters under review right across the system—in mainstream schools and special schools.

School Funding

Tim Farron Excerpts
Wednesday 24th October 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Education
Mrs Main Hansard
24 Oct 2018, 9:31 a.m.

My teachers did not exactly raise class sizes, although it was covered in the round that that was a problem. They raised the problem of not being able to refurbish toilets, pay for much-needed decoration or replace outdated PCs in their IT suites.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that the picture varies, but the signs indicate that schools are not benefiting universally, as we would wish them to, from the new funding formula. Many schools I have spoken to have reiterated that the national funding formula must cover the funding needed for schools, not just the pupil-led aspect. Pupils and parents expect those schools to be fit for purpose as well as to provide lessons. We must address the concerns raised by teachers; we must not hide behind any basic facts of a rise in per-pupil funding. We must look at this issue in the round.

The Minister said that he is in listening mode. I hope that the Government will look carefully at parents’ requests to direct money to special educational needs, as the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) outlined. The Department for Education reports that we have upwards of 1 million pupils with special educational needs in our school— a number that has risen significantly in recent years and is 14% of school pupils. I welcome the news that the Government have committed to improve funding for SEN pupils and that a further £1 billion has been put into this fund since 2013. Those are good things, but we must look at whether they are sufficient.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) - Hansard
24 Oct 2018, 9:31 a.m.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. There is an anomaly that schools that accept pupils from poorer backgrounds are rewarded and encouraged by the pupil premium that those schools attract for taking those children, but for children with additional or special needs the first 11 hours of the education, health and care plans are funded by the local school, which often places a financial burden on it. There is therefore a disincentive for schools to take on children from those backgrounds who have additional special needs.

Mrs Main Hansard
24 Oct 2018, 9:31 a.m.

I completely agree. I will touch on that issue later in my speech. Links Academy in St Albans says that it is mopping up the very pupils that the hon. Gentleman says are being cold shouldered or refused positions elsewhere.

The National Association of Head Teachers carried out a survey on SEN funding, and a mere 2% of those surveyed said that the top-up funding received was sufficient to meet the growing needs of SEN pupils. That was recognised by both teachers and parents in St Albans. Inevitably, that will have an impact on the way that schools look after SEN pupils. Department for Education figures say we have 2,800 fewer teaching assistants and 2,600 fewer support staff in our schools. That puts even more pressure on teachers and can be especially challenging for teachers dealing with SEN pupils. The increased amount of money paid to some of those who are lower paid and work as assistants or support staff was welcome, but it puts an additional pressure on school resources. We welcome the additional funds for people paid lower wages but we must recognise the true impact.

To return to the remarks of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), I have been in contact with David Allen, headmaster of Links Academy, which I recently visited, and he welcomes pupils with special needs. He described his despair at the rising number of SEN pupils being permanently excluded from mainstream schools. In fact, I was due to meet him there on Thursday with parents and the SEN group, but as soon as the SEN group heard that I was coming, it said it would pull out. Unfortunately, I have had to pull out in order to ensure a fair hearing for the pupil in that school. I was concerned to hear that SEN children are regularly subjected to bullying at school and have resorted to either drugs or knife crime as a result—that is anecdotal and not in my schools in St Albans, but the teacher has backed that up.

Break in Debate

Mrs Main Hansard
24 Oct 2018, 9:46 a.m.

As a former teacher, I know that there are teachers who argue vociferously for universal pay standards across the country and dispute the need for pay to reflect local house prices and so on. That is a debate for another day. However, teachers in my area say—this is awful, but I accept it—that when a valued, top-of-the-range headteacher or head of department goes, there can be a small, collective sigh of relief in the budget department because that means the school can take on a younger, less experienced teacher on a lower pay scale and the budget suddenly becomes a little looser.

It is demoralising for a school not to be able to reward and keep high-value staff because it simply does not have the money to pay them. I am experiencing that cycle in St Albans, where staff are hard to retain. Although it is great to have bright young things—I was one of those once—coming through the door, with all the enthusiasm they bring to teaching, there is nothing like an experienced head of department.

There is widespread unhappiness about the handling of the recent teacher pay rise announcement. The key problem is that schools themselves have to fund the first 1% of that pay rise, which we so generously allocated them but did not provide additional funding to support them with. Declan Linnane, the head of Nichols Breakspear School in St Albans, told me that that 1% alone will cost his school £30,000—money it will have to find from yet further efficiency savings or another member of staff in already difficult times.

With rising national insurance contributions and an impending increase in employer pension contributions, schools are under huge pressure to find more savings at the cost of our pupils’ education. Increasing staffing costs have a huge impact on schools’ budgets. Removing the need for schools to fund the first 1% of pay increases themselves would be welcome. I wonder whether the Minister is in a generous mood and would like to make a grab on the Chancellor’s Budget.

Schools are interested in the Government’s proposal to create a central staffing database to reduce agency fees. Agency staff are a big issue for many schools, which often cannot retain staff and are obliged to use agency staff as cover, or run their staff so tightly that there is no slack in the system if a staff member goes ill, for example. I would be grateful if the Minister updated me on that database and when headteachers should expect it to be available.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, which reported last month on education funding in England, found that per-pupil school spending has fallen by 8% in real terms since 2010. That must be considered alongside the fact that, according to the DFE’s own figures, half a million more pupils are in our schools now than in 2010. The IFS also reported that school sixth forms have endured a 21% reduction in per-pupil spending since 2011, and it estimates that by 2019-20 spending per sixth-form pupil will be lower than at any point since 2002.

Those are worrying statistics, which address many of the real concerns of teachers and parents in St Albans. We must aim for funding that meets the needs of schools across the country—as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena) said, certain parts of the country are really struggling—and allows them to deliver excellent teaching that inspires pupils to succeed in life.

Worryingly, we have also heard reports of schools having to use the pupil premium to fund their core budget. A recent poll of headteachers found that 70% had dipped into the pupil premium to prop up their core budget. That is borne out in St Albans, where we are aware that happens. It should be of real concern that a fund designed to help students from the most disadvantaged families has to be used for overall school spending. That cannot be right.

Schools are also concerned about their lack of ability to plan their finances. With the NFF being introduced over a number of years and uncertainty about how it will affect individual schools, headteachers are unwilling to commit to long-term planning. That was reflected in a poll of headteachers, which found that 90% feel the NFF has given them no long-term financial certainty and has resulted in no “meaningful financial planning” being carried out beyond year 1.

I do not just take things at face value. Trading statistics is never good, as I said at the public meeting I mentioned. I believe in listening to what teachers say, and they say they are struggling to do long-term planning under the current system. They need longer-term certainty about their budgets.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron - Hansard
24 Oct 2018, 9:48 a.m.

Does the hon. Lady agree that the problem with long-term planning and wriggle room in budgets is even greater for smaller schools? In constituencies such as mine there are lots of very small, very good schools of 30 children or even fewer. If a large school has a bad period in which it has an issue with leadership, a poor Ofsted report or whatever, it can absorb the effect of getting fewer pupils as a consequence and still be able to plan ahead. However, that could be curtains for a small school, which would mean a community losing its school for good.

Mrs Main Hansard
24 Oct 2018, 9:49 a.m.

I do not have experience of that, but I recognise the picture the hon. Gentleman paints. It is vital that we address those concerns about funding.

The UK tax burden is at a 50-year high, so the Minister will be pleased to hear that I do not propose additional tax rises. We are at the limit of how much tax we can reasonably ask ordinary people to pay. Working families have felt the squeeze since 2010 as the Government have tried to tackle the enormous financial burden we found ourselves with. It is good that we have made progress. Far be it from me to tell the Chancellor how to do his job, but the Budget is looming, so I am going to put my thoughts on the record. I am certain that the Government can find the money if we prioritise our spending appropriately.

We had a manifesto commitment—the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale will probably profoundly disagree with me about this—to scrap universal free school meals for reception, year 1 and year 2 pupils, but it was dropped. That was misguided. I and some of the teachers who were at the meeting I mentioned think we should have investigated that further. Thankfully, in St Albans only around 6% of pupils are entitled to free school meals. In Hertfordshire overall that figure is about 8%. Perversely, that means we subsidise between 90% and 94% of parents in Hertfordshire who could pay for their own children to be fed. Just as I do not want budgets that should be used for pupils at the poorest margin to be taken away, I do not want wealthier parents to be cross-subsidised when they do not need it. Such largesse is costing my local authority £6 million, and it is money that should be spent on teaching. I would rather St Albans pupils received a universal quality of teaching than that those with more affluent parents should receive a gratuitous free lunch they are not entitled to.

I am a great supporter of the good aid projects that have been carried out around the world, but, again, it seems crazy to me that we ring-fence huge sums of money for foreign aid when vital public services such as the education budget lack funding. The aid budget should be under the same scrutiny and pressures as other Departments’ budgets. We are effectively shovelling money out the door to meet an arbitrary target set in law. That misplaced policy should be brought before the House so we can decide whether to look at that ring-fencing.

I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to the issues raised in the debate, including some of the experiences recounted by teachers and parents. There is a funding problem in schools and it does not seem right that more and more schools have to go cap in hand to parents for even the most basic of provisions, such as textbooks. Alan Gray started the public meeting I attended by asking “What price education?” He did not ask the price for pruning trees, painting the classrooms or replacing some broken paving slabs, but the price of education. Of course it is entirely reasonable for parents to be asked for contributions for bonus offerings such as trips, but when they are asked to contribute for vital reading materials, the central funding formula needs to be addressed.

Teachers in my constituency do not tell me that the NFF is bad policy; they want it to be funded correctly. The aim of ending the so-called postcode lottery for school funding under the NFF is sensible, but the lack of overall funding means that it is difficult to deliver. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response, and I hope to see some movement on the issue in the Budget. We must answer the call: what price do we put on our children’s education?