Multibillion-pound investment in schools ‘desperately’ needed, say MPs

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Schools “desperately need” a multibillion-pound cash injection and the Government should draw up a 10-year funding plan, a cross-party group of MPs has said.

A report by the Education Select Committee found that funding for schools and colleges had failed to keep pace with the extra demands being placed on institutions, such as providing mental health support and disabilities provision.

This, coupled with growing pupil numbers and rising costs, meant the sector had been put under “significant strain” over the past 10 years, the MPs found.

Robert Halfon, chairman of the committee, called for a “bottom-up national assessment” of what it costs to ensure the education system is “fit for the 21st century”.

Robert Halfon
Robert Halfon is chairman of the Education Select Committee (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

“Education is crucial to our nation’s future,” he said. “It is the driver of future prosperity and provides the ladder of opportunity to transform the life chances of millions of our young people.

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The report noted that the Institute for Fiscal Studies had estimated £3.8 billion would be needed to fill the 8% funding gap.

Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow, added: “There is a crisis of confidence in the ability of mainstream schools to provide adequate SEND (special educational needs and disability) support.

“This needs to be tackled through increased school funding to support better early intervention.

“The Government must also spend an extra £1 billion to address the projected high needs deficit.

“Given the march of the robots and the rise of automation, it is extraordinary that further education has for so long been starved of cash. Funding further education properly must sit at the heart of a 10-year plan.”

The committee made a number of recommendations to the Government, including improvements to the pupil premium, a grant given to schools to improve the attainment of disadvantaged children.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We welcome this detailed and considered report from the Education Select Committee and will respond in full in due course.

“While it is accurate to say that school funding is at its highest level, we do recognise that there are budgeting challenges. This Government is investing more than ever before in early education and childcare, and since 2010 the overall core schools budget for five to 16-year-olds has been protected in real terms.

“We have also protected the base rate of funding for 16 to 19-year-olds until 2020 and are providing additional funding for the delivery of the new gold standard T Levels, rising to an additional £500 million every year once they are fully rolled out.

“We are glad to see that school and further education funding is being highlighted as an important issue ahead of the next Spending Review, where the Education Secretary will back the sector to have the resources they need to deliver world-class standards across the board.”

But Halfron said:

“If it is right that the NHS can have a 10-year plan and a five-year funding settlement, then surely education, perhaps the most important public service, should also have a 10-year plan and a long-term funding settlement.”

Total school spending per pupil fell by 8% in real terms between 2009 and 2018, the MPs found, with further education the hardest hit as per-student funding for post-16 provision dropped by 16% over the past decade.

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