Anne Main calls for more funding for schools to reflect increasing demand on school budgets

4th March 2019

Anne Main recognises that more money has gone to schools but calls for more funding to reflect the increasing demand on school budgets such as risk assessments, legal and human resources advice, general maintenance costs and staff insurance.

As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), it is about time we had the six-hour debate that this House has been promised. Indeed, 43 Members supported that and I know a lot more who could not sign but wanted that debate, as can be seen in the number of people wanting to speak today. We have only a few minutes, which is nowhere near enough.

We accept that more money has gone in, but if more people are invited to the party, rations have to be spread ever thinner. Many schools are spreading those rations beyond belief. I particularly want to raise a concern that a headteacher told me, which has not been raised yet. She felt guilty about almost heaving a sigh of relief when a very senior member of staff left, because that meant she could take on a more inexperienced junior member of staff and therefore have a bit more give in her budget. I was teacher a long time ago, but I can remember being a probationary teacher, as they were called in those days. We need experienced teachers to lead from the front, to drive schools forward. We cannot expect our schools to constantly rely on a churn of young inexperienced teachers who need to learn on the job, but also make sure they have plenty of time for lesson preparation.

Teachers cannot pay their bills with long holidays, as I used to say to people.

I find myself agreeing with the hon. Lady, probably because we have both been teachers. She is exactly right with regard to—the point has gone from my brain. Sorry!

I was right, and that is all that matters. Every Member will be told the same by other schools. In high-value areas such as mine, we cannot pay bills with holidays. Teachers have to pay bills with their salaries. They are struggling to get on the housing ladder in areas as expensive as St Albans, where the average house price is £600,000. Recruiting members of staff is difficult; retaining members of staff is very difficult, as they find their pounds go a lot further elsewhere.

On recruitment and retention, for the first time in history, as far as I know, more people are leaving the profession than entering it. One of the issues that headteachers bring to my attention is that many young people who do not have those years of experience are promoted too swiftly when they enter the profession. They are given responsibility, but there is burnout just a few years later.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right; there is nothing more demoralising. Teaching is a tough job; anyone who has never tried it should go in front of a classroom and try. I taught in Feltham at an inner London school.

Will the hon. Lady give way?

No, if she does not mind, because Members on the hon. Lady’s side are waiting to speak. We need those experienced teachers and we must ensure that teachers are not overwhelmed so quickly that they fancy quitting the profession.

I am also worried that we will end up cutting the curriculum to the bone. Gone are the times when there would be the luxury of a peripatetic music teacher coming to schools. There simply is no latitude in schools to pay for anything other than the bare necessities. The statutory obligations on a school have to be paid for first. It also worries me that sometimes there is a reluctance to statement pupils; if a pupil is statemented, that pupil is rightly required to have additional assistance. However, a school might drag its feet in that scenario because it does not wish to be obliged to provide the extra funding.

I went to a public meeting in my constituency. It is not easy to have rocks thrown at us, but sometimes we need a rock to wake us up. It is hard to admit that schools are struggling. Schools have always been struggling; anyone who has worked in a school will say that the roof has always leaked and the windows are always awful. But there comes a point when things have to be tackled—they cannot be put off any longer. As many Members have said, robbing Peter to pay Paul is not the answer. Taking away from one set of schools to give to another set of schools that are very deserving is not the answer.

An hon. Member earlier talked earlier about the results meaning that we must be doing something right. My schools have excellent results, but that does not mean they do not need the resources. At some point, those results will start to crumble. The curriculum has shrunk down to the core topics, so perhaps those results are already sliding. When I was at school, I was passionate about art. Many young people are not academic but value those topics as much as anything; they inspire young people to go into school, and those teachers may inspire them and know how to deal with the complex needs of some youngsters who have been turned off by education.

We cannot just look at results. Value adding to a pupil means that pupil may have benefited far more from being taught in a good school than another pupil who is academically high achieving. I simply cannot accept that by looking at a set of results we can judge how well our schools are doing. We must ensure that every pupil is making the best of whatever they have to offer.

I accept that more money has gone into the system. We can all talk about how much extra there is, but Sian Kilpatrick of Bernards Heath Primary School told me that she had to write to parents to explain why she had to ask them for money: because a lot of things that used to be paid for are no longer paid for. This is the banquet I am referring to: outdoor visit risk assessments, legal and human resources advice, general maintenance costs and staff insurance. When parents send their children to school to get educated they do not expect that a teacher will have to divert money from teaching their pupils to pruning back overgrown trees in the playground that a risk assessment has identified as a problem to the pupils.

It is high time we had the six-hour debate. I do not think that views in here will change, but looking at what has been expected to be done with the money that schools have had is the only way to see whether there is enough money. If there is not, we may have to find some more.

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