Speech on school funding

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

On the Wednesday before the recess, I submitted a petition to the House that had been signed by just under 1,000 residents of Henley. I will not read it out, but I hope the Minister will agree that it is a friendly petition. I am concerned about the gap between the enormous figures that are increasingly being put into education and what is actually happening on the ground in schools. The petition asked for a review in advance of the comprehensive spending review to settle once and for all what it costs to run education and how we can get that money to schools.

We have tackled a number of issues separately—we have tackled teachers' pay and pensions, and agreed to fund them—but we need to know in what other areas funding is falling short in the squeeze that has occurred between keeping the budgets more or less as they are and inflation. Every year, the Minister makes the honest claim that we are spending more on the revenue budget for schools than we were the previous year. That is a very laudable thing to have done, provided the money actually gets to the schools themselves.

One of the things that will help is to bring out the difference between a soft formula and a hard formula. We have a soft formula at the moment, and local authorities have a role in distributing and, indeed, top-slicing the funds before they get to the school. It might be thought that they do not top-slice very much, but they do, and it can make a big difference to the schools. That also applies to schools that are part of multi-academy trusts. We must ensure that, in creating such trusts, we are not just creating another local authority equivalent that is able to top-slice more and more funds, resulting in schools getting less and less. A review and a move to a hard funding formula would be a very good way forward.

I will finish on a completely different matter. Apprenticeships form a large part of further education colleges' income. In the Henley constituency, I am organising an evening to bring together schools and businesses in order to see what apprenticeships they want to fund and how they can be funded.