Matthew raises Hendon schools funding in Parliament

During a debate in Parliament, Matthew raised concerns about school funding. Matthew stated that despite rising standards and more children in good and outstanding schools, more may need to be done to address recent cost pressures.

The full text of Matthew's contribution is below. 

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) on securing this debate. It is not the first time she has persisted in raising this issue. I intended to make some of these points during the debate on school funding on 4 March, but I was delayed and could not attend the opening speeches in Westminster Hall. Once I arrived I found that no seats were available and I could not even get in to sit down. The attendance of so many Members at that debate, and indeed on a Thursday afternoon, is testament to the concern that the issue of school funding is causing to so many of us and our communities.

I have raised this point with the Department before but it is worth repeating. More money has been invested in schools to promote standards, but the amount per pupil has declined because of the increased number of pupils on roll. In England, school block allocations per pupil have declined. In 2013-14 that allocation was £4,934 per pupil, but by 2018-19 that had declined to £4,694. As has been said, a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies stated that real-terms funding for schools will have fallen by 6.5% between 2015 and 2020—the biggest fall in the past 30 years. In the London Borough of Barnet, in which the Hendon constituency is located, school block allocations per pupil have declined each year from £5,355 in 2013-14 to £4,887 in the last financial year.

Recently, I visited Copthall School for girls in Mill Hill. Three years ago it was a failing school, but with the introduction of a new headteacher and many new staff it has achieved a rapid transformation and been judged as good by Ofsted. Copthall is a science, technology, engineering, and maths—STEM—school. Very recently, year 11 pupils took part in a live operating theatre event where the girls were able to treat artificial cadavers and even operated on pigs’ hearts and other organs to gain a lifelike experience of surgery, with a view to a medical career. That greatly impressed me. In some schools, such an ​event may be of little significance, but it was of huge significance for this school considering the social background of the pupils. More than half receive free school meals, English is the second language for 70% of the girls, and 80% are from an ethnic minority background.

However, the school faces difficult financial challenges. Copthall School’s per pupil premium grant was £362,780 two years ago, but that was reduced to £359,957 last year. That is a real-terms decrease and a real problem for the finance committee. Total funding in 2018 was £6,309,710, but that is down £264,500 from the previous year. The school needs a new roof and a new heating system. The combined cost would be over £1 million. The school applied to Barnet Council for a funding grant, but was not successful. Even though it is a STEM school, its science laboratories are “woefully out of date”, its IT equipment is dated and its library is passed its best. It is not the only school in my constituency having problems, but I raise the particular issues it is experiencing having recently spoken to Evelyn Forde, the headteacher, and Julia Blackman, the chairman of governors.

In the “Improving Education Standards” debate on 29 November, I acknowledged that the Government have increased the amount of money put into our nation’s schools, but I also raised the issue of the increasing numbers of pupils being taught. That brings me back to the point being made by headteachers in my constituency that in real terms per pupil funding has fallen. Planned savings by Barnet council have led to concerns from many headteachers in the Hendon constituency about the sustainability of their schools. Pressures include: increased pension and insurance costs, along with a pay rise for teachers; and cuts to special needs support, including therapy or inclusion services. That has led to some schools having to take various measures, including cutting staff, reducing the curriculum, increasing class sizes and not replacing equipment. And of course, the high cost of living in the borough makes it hard to attract staff. I have pointed that out repeatedly to the Department and have asked for the formula to be changed in relation to inner and outer London boroughs.

In conclusion, I repeat the request from my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) for Ministers to use the forthcoming comprehensive spending review to make strong representations to the Chancellor and the Treasury. At the general election, much heat was created in constituencies such as Hendon in relation to education funding. I hope that we can address this concern before it becomes untenable to teach children in our schools.