Full text of Henry Smith MP's speech in the Westminster Hall Debate on School Funding on 4th March 2019.
Henry Smith MP (Crawley) (Con)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on opening the debate. I also thank my fellow West Sussex MP, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), for his speech; I endorse his comments about the pressure on school budgets in our county.
Last week, I was privileged to take part in a Westminster Hall debate on global education. It is absolutely right that this country does all it can to ensure that education is improved in developing countries, because that is important for the future prosperity and security of us all. We should never forget that children and young people in this country have a very privileged education in comparison, but there have been extraordinary pressures on our school system.
Historically, West Sussex has been very underfunded. I see many Labour Members present; I am pleased that the debate is well subscribed, but when I was leader of West Sussex County Council—a local education authority —between 2003 and 2010, I saw schools in my county being significantly underfunded. During the Administrations of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, per-pupil funding in metropolitan areas such as London was almost double what it was for my local schools, and I certainly did not hear complaints from Labour Members.
I welcome the important £28 million funding increase for West Sussex schools under the new national funding formula. I also welcome the increase to 200 places at Manor Green School, a special school in my constituency, but we need to go further still. The historical underfunding of West Sussex schools under the Blair and Brown years has left a lot to make up for. The additional funding under the national funding formula is very welcome, but the pressures that have been described today need to be better addressed by the Department for Education.
Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman’s constituency’s schools are getting more funding. If more money is being spent in some schools, that is great, but how does he justify the fact that schools in areas such as North Tyneside are losing 3% funding per pupil? It does not make the balance any better. Surely he cannot rejoice that his schools are doing better when other schools are losing funding.
I certainly would not advocate that schools in one part of the country should lose to benefit schools in other parts, which is what happened under the last Labour Government: schools in my constituency of Crawley were given about half the funding of their equivalents in metropolitan areas, particularly here in the capital. I believe that funding for pupils should be made available across the whole country. The historical underfunding needs to be addressed; it is beginning to be addressed, but if we are to properly equip our young people and support teachers to ensure that our young people have the best education, we will need more still.
I should have declared an interest at the beginning of my speech: when I was leader of West Sussex County Council, I was chair of the West Sussex learning disability partnership; I am also currently a vice-president of the British Dyslexia Association. I will end with a plea to the Department for special needs to receive extra attention. Those children and young people deserve our support so that they can have a start in life equal to that of all other pupils up and down the country.