David Burrowes calls for more funding to support the education national funding formula

29th March 2017

Speaking in a debate on education funding in London, David Burrowes supports the principle of the national funding formula but calls for more funding to support it to ensure that no schools are facing cuts.

It is a pleasure to take part in this vital debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) on securing it. Members from both sides of the House are present. That is important, because this is a cross-party issue that cannot be monopolised by any one party. It matters to us all because it matters to children in our constituencies and their life chances.

I am grateful to the Minister. He is one of the most patient Ministers and, indeed, one of the longest-standing Education Ministers. No one can preach to him about schools. He has been out there visiting schools across the country. He may be patient, but he is intolerant in the sense that he does not tolerate educational failure, wherever it comes from, particularly for disadvantaged pupils. He has been a Minister on a mission, both in the Department and on his sabbatical—we could not do without him, so he came back. The Minister’s mission, which is shared by the Department for Education, is:

“to deliver educational excellence everywhere, so that every child and young person can access world class provision, achieving to the best of his or her ability regardless of location, prior attainment and background.”

We all want to achieve that aim. That is what the debate about the national funding formula and schools’ overall budgets is about. That is what we want to achieve. Like other hon. Members, I am a governor, at two schools. I am also a parent and I care passionately about the Government achieving what is very much this Minister’s mission.

London is a success story as a result of that mission. The Government should be proud, along with the previous Government in terms of funding, of what they have achieved. They have ensured that 92% of schools across London are good or outstanding. We pay tribute to the teachers, governors, parents and pupils for being very much part of that success story. Particularly relevant is the fact that disadvantaged pupils are progressing better in London than elsewhere in the country. We want to ensure that others are lifted up to that standard. That means being lifted up in funding as well, and that is what the national funding formula is about.

I recognise that the Government have a position. We can spend our time—I do not want to spend too much time, Mr Hanson—defending manifesto commitments, and we can dance on the head of a pin about how much extra money there is per pupil, or we can make the point, as I am sure the Minister will, that more is being spent than ever before, in cash terms. The figure is £40 billion a year. We also have to recognise the context, which is our national debt; interestingly, that is £40 billion a year as well. That is important context for the restraint that all public services are facing.

I have been ready to defend the reality that the Department for Education budget and the schools budgets are not immune from that restraint. They have already had to make significant decisions and cuts in school budgets. However, we are in a position in which schools have already been vulnerable. Before the national funding formula, we could have had a debate about school funding and cuts in my local schools and others. However, we now have the national funding formula. Many of us, particularly in outer London, were hopeful that that would lead to a significant rebalancing of funding. For those of us in outer London, there has been an impact not just in relation to school funding. Local government has historically been underfunded. There is a need to recognise the demographics—the population increases—in outer London. Mental health funding is also relevant. The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) will join me in making this point. There has been 25% less funding compared to inner parts of London such as Camden. All of that impacts on schools, so we were looking to the national funding formula in particular to see us through these difficult and challenging times.

I recognise that the Government are right on the principle. This is perhaps where this funding formula debate will differ from others to which the Minister has patiently listened. We need to retain recognition of deprivation. That needs to be reflected, and it is: 18.1% of the schools budget is for additional needs, based on low attainment, deprivation and English as an additional language. That is so important and it must stay. It must not in any way be diluted or reduced; in fact, some of us say that it should be increased. It should be good news for Enfield and other parts of London that are particularly impacted by those additional costs. It is also right there is flexibility; that is good news as well.

There is an issue about deprivation. I ask the Minister to reflect on the concerns in that regard. I am thinking of free school meals and the income deprivation affecting children index. Is what is happening truly reflective of the challenges facing children in families who may well be on universal credit and who may be in work, but who could well still be in poverty and in challenging situations? There is concern that the drop-off in free school meals is impacted by the benefit changes and that that is not leading to a proper settlement, a proper reflection of people’s needs.

Enfield does better than other parts of London, and it should do, but it does not do well enough—the Minister may have been expecting me to say that. My constituency may get £400,000 more in cash terms, but the reality is that 15 out of 22 schools will lose out. The reality as far as budgets and the real costs are concerned is that there will be £3 million of cuts in Enfield, Southgate by 2018-19. There is also an impact from the apprenticeship levy, national insurance contributions, pensions and pay.

That matters greatly to schools such as West Gove Primary School, which have significant additional needs. Just over the weekend, I got another 280 petition letters, all of which I have here. Never before has there been such interest and concern among parents. At West Grove, they are concerned about a cut of £276,572 over the next four years. Hazelwood Infant and Junior School faces a cut of £150,000 over that period. It says that that equates to eight teachers. We have dealt with challenging budgets before, but there is now an impact on the budgets for teachers. That is affecting particularly primary schools. A particular issue is the high cost of recruitment and retention.

The principle behind the national funding formula is sound. I do not want us to go backwards. We need to be bold and continue with that, but we need to recognise that eventually it has to mean adequate provision, proper provision, for additional costs. I will defend the principle, but I will not defend the reality of the cuts that will come through for the budgets of my local schools. In fact, I join the Minister in this intolerance: I will not tolerate that, because it will impact particularly on disadvantaged pupils. When we get to the autumn Budget, I will want to see, to help the Minister, a bigger pot so that we can help schools in other areas and ensure that there is fairer funding, and ensure that London continues to be the success that it deserves to be and is not a victim of its success.

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Easter Newsletter

Apart from Cadbury's most people recognise Easter, particularly Christians as we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A dedicated holiday on Good Friday highlights our enduring Christian heritage. As for me I will have contrasting experiences of Easter. On Good Friday I will attend the Greek Orthodox service at St Demetrios Church and join with many hundred in procession around the church. On Saturday 22nd April at 7.30pm I will be taking part in a dramatic presentation at my church in Enfield (www.eefc.net) donning a wig and gown as a Defence Counsel in a case about the evidence for the Resurrection entitled 'Who moved the stone?'

I recognise my Jewish constituents are also celebrating a most significant time in their calendar remembering the Passover. For others it is simply a time to be with the family and eat lots of chocolate! However you will be celebrating Easter, I send you my best wishes.

David Burrowes MP

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