Victoria speaks about school funding in Westminster debate

The below account is taken from the House of Commons Hansard for 5 November 2015:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): “Thank you, Mr Walker, for reminding us that school firework displays can be such a good way of raising money. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) and the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) for elegantly making a point that we often hear from our children. After all, children have an even more highly developed sense of fairness than do the rest of us. My three-year-old niece frequently says, “It’s not fair!” My hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman have made their point much better than she could.

I am grateful to you, Mr Walker, for calling me first among new colleagues. We are somewhat jumping on the bandwagon of the huge amount of work that has been done by so many in this room, and we are grateful to them. We are also grateful for the wonderful F40 campaign, which has proposed an approach to schools funding that is, to my mind at least, very sensible. I know that progress has been made, and we in Oxfordshire welcomed the extra money that we received this year. I am grateful to the Minister for his support, not least for the visit that he made earlier this summer to Heyford Park free school. He came to see at first hand how Oxfordshire schools are doing what they can with the resources that are available to them.

Oxford may be a byword for excellence in education—although not necessarily to those of us who went somewhere else. However, such excellence is not, sadly, found in all educational establishments across the county. In Banbury, we still have areas of real deprivation. Worryingly, in an area of almost full employment, many of our children and their parents lack the aspiration to push themselves to the limits of their educational attainment. Our headteachers have many concerns. We have a very public problem with child sexual exploitation, which we are working hard to address. Staff and volunteer governors, and indeed our children, are all working hard but the results are not as good as they could be. I do not want to trade figures with my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who mentioned Tower Hamlets, but we in Oxfordshire receive £2,663.64 less per pupil than do those in Tower Hamlets. That is even worse than his figure.

Yesterday I met two headteachers, one from Bicester and one from Banbury. They gave me some practical examples of the problems caused by lack of funding. One told me that she had been unable to recruit a head of maths because she could not offer a suitable salary to attract good candidates to the role. I should add that house prices in our area are significantly above the national average. The maths department suffered without strong leadership, and the students’ results were quickly affected. A new head of maths has been recruited but has not yet arrived from Jamaica.

The other headteacher told me that after his school gained its best exam results on record, he had had to make staff redundant. He remains six teachers down. Both schools have large key stage 3 classes because there are simply not enough teachers to teach them. That is a particular concern for those in the lower sets in maths and English, who would most benefit from smaller classes at that important stage of their development. F40 has helpfully calculated that were its formula to be introduced, each school in my constituency would receive £125.50 more per pupil. When I mentioned that figure to the headteachers, they said that it would make a real and significant difference. It would amount to three or four extra teachers in my secondary schools.

This morning, I spoke to the reception teacher at one of our strongest primaries, and I asked her how she would spend the extra money. Without hesitating for a moment, she suggested two areas. At the reception stage, she would like a teaching assistant to do targeted work on communication and language skills with small groups of children. She would spend the rest of the money on one-to-one interventions on English and maths in year 5, which would make an immediate difference to results and, much more importantly, would make a difference to the life choices of children who have been helped in such a way.

So much work has been done by the people in this room to find a solution to the funding formula. I hope that this is the moment to make progress.”