Fiona calls again for increased school funding

Speaking in Parliament, Fiona Bruce said:

“Primary and secondary schools across my constituency provide a commendably high standard of education. In the Cheshire East local authority area, 87% of children now attend schools rated good or outstanding, compared with 73% in 2010. Of course, much of the credit for that goes to dedicated staff in schools and strong leadership by headteachers, but as Education Ministers will know from a dialogue we have been having for some years, those same headteachers say that that is in spite of acute funding pressures.

To be fair, I want to thank Education Ministers and the Minister for School Standards in particular for having listening ears. Two years ago, they raised per-pupil funding in senior schools to £4,800, which was the exact amount that headteachers in my constituency requested. Total funding for Cheshire East schools is rising by £10.4 million over 2018-20, but that figure factors in increased pupil numbers, which are disproportionately ​high, due to the high number of new house builds. Yes, an additional £1.6 million of high needs funding has been added for the same two years, but this is woefully insufficient to meet current additional needs, causing distress, as I have seen in my surgeries, to parents, pupils and teachers. Yes, an additional £3.8 million of funding has been added through the growth, premises and mobility factors of the national funding formula in 2019-20, and an additional £10.4 million of pupil premium funding will be received by schools as a result of that having been introduced, as we have heard, by the coalition Government. I recognise all this, but headteachers repeatedly tell me that they simply cannot provide the level of education they aspire to due to funding pressures. One wrote to me: “The parlous funding situation which envelops us is a depressingly serious threat to the breadth, range and quality of education that we are able to offer.”

I want to thank the Secretary of State for Education for writing to me just last week, acknowledging that “I very much recognise the financial constraints that schools face.” He added that “there is clearly much more still to do.” I hope Ministers will take away from this debate the points raised by colleagues across the House. If the spending review is the key determinant of spending for the Government, I hope this debate will strengthen Education Ministers’ arms—because I do believe that they have listening ears—in setting out a strong case for much improved education funding, and will open the Treasury’s eyes and ears to what is being said in this Chamber today. In one of the debates on this subject in which I spoke not long ago—it was about eight weeks ago in Westminster Hall—I said, very politely and courteously, that we actually had the wrong Minister in front of us, and I still think that that is the case today. We need a Treasury Minister in front of us, and perhaps we need to think about a creative title for a debate on school funding that will ensure that happens.

In closing, may I raise the three points that headteacher Ed O’Neill of Eaton Bank Academy wrote to me about? Following another debate—a Westminster Hall debate—I spoke in, he wanted to comment on three issues arising from the Minister’s response to that debate. First, he said the Minister made “no mention of the ludicrous situation of ‘short termism’ in financial planning.”

We have heard about this already in the Chamber today. He went on: “This position is untenable for schools. As school leaders we need to have a greater degree of certainty over the longer term health of school finances so that we can budget and plan accordingly.”

Secondly, he said: “No matter what the over-arching increase that is quoted from the DfE, the funding is not good enough. From a secondary school perspective, the variance between KS3 and KS4…weightings needs changing. It is no less challenging to provide for a student aged 11-14 than…for a student aged 14-16” and “the allocation to KS3 pupils…needs to be significantly improved.”

Thirdly, he said: “The poor funding for post 16 students is crippling provision and opportunity.”

He also said that “post 16 education is desperately underfunded. Added to the additional and historic financial underfunding pressures schools in Cheshire East face, school Sixth Forms are struggling to ​maintain viability. It is a very real possibility that schools across the…Borough will fairly quickly be forced to start closing down their Sixth Form provision.”