Below is the text of the speech made by Angela Rayner, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, in the House of Commons on 14 January 2020.
Let me welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. I also welcome the new Members to the Chamber for today’s debate. We look forward to hearing some fantastic maiden speeches, so I will keep my speech relatively brief. That will be easy because, quite frankly, there is so little actual substance in this Queen’s Speech for us to respond to.
Today, the Secretary of State made his first speech since November. Education was the issue that the Conservatives did not want to talk about in the election. When they did, they had a lot more to say about our policies than their own. I am glad they paid particular attention to an area that gets little attention in these debates: the care of the most vulnerable children. Our manifesto committed to a wholesale review of the care system and a replacement for the troubled families programme. A week later, their manifesto promised a review of the care system and an improvement to the troubled families programme—to think that Ministers once promised to crack down on plagiarism!
I hope that that was not simply a cheap imitation. Will the Secretary of State confirm that their review will include kinship care, and consider the need for national standards for fostering and proper regulation of semi-supported housing? When will the review begin? What will its terms be? Who will undertake it, and precisely what does he want it to achieve? Can he tell us what improving the troubled families programme means, and whether any successor programme will not just fall victim to yet more local government cuts?
Let me offer this in a genuinely constructive spirit. I proposed a simple policy that could transform the lives of children who have experienced care. Many do not have a permanent home address and going to university with only term-time accommodation available is a challenge. Barely more than a tenth of children leaving care go to university and 40% drop out—the highest among all groups of students. Yet those who stay on are as likely to attain the best grades as any other. Providing free all-year-round accommodation for those students would transform their lives. The cost is tiny and would be repaid many times over, not just economically but with something more than money: human potential realised.
The Conservatives made another election promise to the most vulnerable children. Their manifesto pledged to:
“grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution”,
yet last week, just two weeks into the parliamentary Session, they rejected an amendment protecting the right of unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with their family after Brexit. Surely, it is our most basic moral duty to ensure that children can be reunited with their families? If we judge the Government on how they treat the powerless and penniless, then the judgment on this must be damning. It is a betrayal not just of those children, but of the best traditions of this country. Frankly, I hope that Members—even Conservative Members—will urge the other place to overturn it.
The Prime Minister described the Queen’s Speech as a blueprint for the future of Britain, so it is telling that education is missing from the blueprint. I have now responded to three Queen’s Speeches by three Education Secretaries in three years. Between them, there has not been one single piece of primary legislation. The only education bills produced by the Government are the ones being handed to parents by headteachers desperate for donations for their school gates to stay open. Despite the Education Secretary’s boast, the Government will not even reverse the school cuts they have imposed since 2010. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies found, even in the financial year 2022-23, when the new money that was promised is due finally to appear, schools will still be hundreds of millions of pounds worse off than they were in 2010. Capital funding for education, which has already been cut by 40% since they came to power over nine years ago, will continue to fall even further. The money that they are slowly putting in has been deliberately taken away from the schools and the pupils who need it most. They call it “levelling up”, Mr Deputy Speaker. What I call it is an absolute joke.
The Government are not targeting help at the most disadvantaged; they are keeping them in their place. As the Education Policy Institute found, under these plans a child on free school meals will get less than half the funding of a child who does not. What of the previous Conservative Government’s totemic policy, the pupil premium? The past two Tory manifestos promised to protect it. The past two Tory Governments went on to cut it. This Prime Minister has solved that problem: he has given up even making the promise in the first place. The Conservatives’ manifesto contained not a word or a penny for it, so the Minister has the chance to make his intentions plain today. Will they keep the pupil premium, and will they finally increase it in real terms, rather than continue to see it fall year on year?
Another set of pupils deserve more support but are not getting it. By the financial year 2020-21, local councils face a spending shortfall of over £1 billion for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Despite what the Education Secretary said, his Department is not offering to make up that shortfall—and, even then, there is only a one-year deal. Councils and schools have no idea how much more funding, if any, they will get to support pupils with high needs in the years ahead. They cannot plan their provision and ensure that every child gets the support that they need. When will the review of high-needs funding be completed, and will the Government guarantee that local government will not simply be handed yet more responsibilities without resources?
What of the parents struggling with the basic costs of school thanks to the stagnating wages, axed tax credits and years of cuts that the Government have overseen? How many times have we heard Ministers pledge action on the cost of school uniforms and equipment? They first did so in November 2015. We are four years and four Education Secretaries on. Just before Dissolution, the Minister for School Standards told the House that the Government were waiting for a “suitable legislative opportunity”. Perhaps the Education Secretary can answer this: if the Queen’s Speech is not a suitable opportunity for legislation, what on earth is? In the previous Session, the then hon. Member for Peterborough tabled a private Member’s Bill that would have addressed the issue—frankly, she managed more legislation in six months as an Opposition Back Bencher than the Government managed in four years in office. Labour’s Welsh Assembly Government have done the same, using existing powers to regulate. I have yet to hear why this Government cannot also do the same, so perhaps the Minister will tell us whether, if they will not act, they will at least support a private Member’s Bill from an Opposition Member who will.
While we are on the subject of Bills that are missing in action, perhaps the Government can tell us what has happened to their legislation to regulate home education. The right approach would have cross-party support, but we cannot scrutinise what does not exist, so where is it? The same goes for their school-level funding formula, which they said needs primary legislation. There was also no detail on the expansion of childcare, maintained nurseries, or Sure Start funding. The Secretary of State must be aware that the funding for early years that was announced in the spending review does not even begin to meet the cost of inflation.
The story is the same in further and higher education. The Augar review went from being a flagship to a ghost ship. The last Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), promised when it was published that the Government
“will come forward with the conclusion of the review at the end of the year, at the spending review.” —[Official Report, 4 June 2019; Vol. 661, c. 58.]
Both have gone by and we have had just vague words. Further education is meant to be the Education Secretary’s passion, but since 2010 the Government have cut funding for this vital area each and every year. In real terms, funding has been cut by over £3 billion. In adult education, with over £1 billion cut from annual funding, the national skills fund will embed hundreds of millions of pounds in annual cuts.
My hon. Friend is talking about areas that the Government failed to address and Bills that they should perhaps support. In the last Parliament, I introduced a Bill on youth work, which the Government have cut by £1 billion annually. They have proposed a fund of £500 million for estate rebuilding but there is none for youth workers, the people who interact with young people. Is that not another area in which the Government have let down education and young people?
I commend my hon. Friend for the work he has done since coming into the House to ensure that we have a great universal youth service. What the Government have done to our youth services is an absolute scandal, not only plunging our youth into lives where they do not reach their full potential, but failing to address many of our young people’s concerns.
The funding that the Secretary of State boasted about does not even come close to reversing the extent of the cuts that his Government have delivered. When it comes to Ofsted, instead of weaponising the inspectorate, they should adopt another of our promises: to produce an independent Her Majesty’s inspectorate that has the faith of teachers, school leaders and parents and that is resourced effectively so that it can do the job.
The Secretary of State said that education is a mirror on society, and sadly that is true. Our education system today reflects the society that 10 years of Tory Government have left. There is a simple lesson that we have learned: education and austerity simply do not mix.