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Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): Does my hon. Friend find it perverse that at a time when the Government are providing more funds to build a new classroom at a school, the very same school finds itself without the funds to employ a teacher to go in that classroom?

Mr. Taylor: Not only do I find it perverse, but it makes me angry to see the problems that schools suffer. Schools in my constituency face similar problems and those

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problems will get worse as the demographics mean that a declining number of children will go into small schools. That will mean a loss of funds and a loss of teachers.

I am not using the debate as an opportunity to lambast the Government. The disaster was caused by the Conservative funding formula, but the disappointment lies in the problems that have been caused by the lack of early action by this Government. We are more than three years into the Parliament and we still have not seen a solution to a problem that Ministers themselves acknowledge. Indeed, the last time we debated this issue, more than a year ago, the Minister for School Standards acknowledged that the funding formula was not fair, adding that with a bit of determination and

The problem is that there has been no improvement.

Indeed, the standard spending assessments for education for Cornwall mean that spending for primary school pupils has fallen behind the national average by £105 for every pupil and for secondary school pupils by £117. That is substantially worse than the position that the Labour Government inherited. It is an average underfund of £111 for every pupil in Cornwall. That has directly impacted on the quality of service. The number of pupils has risen by 1,107 since 1997, but the number of teachers has dropped by 13 since then. No wonder there have been increasing class sizes.

The Liberal Democrat team in the county decided to contact every head teacher to allow them to express their views. Those views make worrying reading. The policy to reduce infant class sizes that has been pursued by Labour has meant larger class sizes for older pupils. Head teachers predict rises in both junior and secondary class sizes over the next three years, despite a falling birth rate in the county.

More than two out of three head teachers have had to cut spending on books and classroom equipment since 1997, when Labour was elected. Three out of five made cuts last year and fewer than two out of five feel that they can afford sufficient materials to guarantee the quality of the education that they provide. Two thirds of head teachers say that their schools do not have sufficient funds for building maintenance.

The impact of that is perhaps most disturbing when one considers the response that head teachers gave to questions about how they felt about their own profession. They universally talked about the importance that they attached to teaching and about how they cared about the service that they could give their pupils, but fewer than two in five said that they would recommend teaching as a profession to a member of their family. Fewer than a third said that they would recommend head teaching, and seven out of 10 head teachers are considering early retirement. No wonder that 95 per cent. supported our argument that more resources were needed. Every teacher surveyed endorsed our campaign to secure equality of funding with the rest of England and a fair funding system across the country.

Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): Is my hon. Friend prepared to comment on the fact that in my constituency a survey identified that nearly four out of five schools had experienced cuts in staff since 1997? Despite the welcome

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resources made available by the Government, there are clearly pressures on staff. As we have heard today, they have resulted in the fact that 10 per cent. of head teachers have taken leave owing to stress.

Mr. Taylor: The figures are alarming and they are reflected across the county. Four in five schools have cut staff since Labour was elected. More than half have had to reduce teacher non-contact time and more than half say that they are employing younger teachers when vacancies occur as a way of saving funds.

That is the reality behind Labour's claims substantially to have increased spending. First, the county has fallen further behind the average because of a funding formula invented by the Conservatives which Labour has not yet changed. Secondly, although in the earlier debate the Minister for School Standards claimed that the previous comprehensive spending review made £19 billion available for education, Labour has since been forced to acknowledge that its figures were misleading and inflated, as we argued at the time.

One reason why I am so pleased to have secured this debate, despite the late hour, is that the second comprehensive spending review will be announced tomorrow, and it will be time to correct the exaggeration of last time, when the Government did not deliver the money that the Chancellor claimed they would. Teachers have suffered as a result, not least because much of that money was taken up not only by inflation and double and triple counting, but by non-funded salary increases for teachers, which the schools have found to be a burden in distributing resources and which have forced them to lose staff.

Lack of resources has meant that over two thirds of head teachers have had to cut spending on classroom equipment; over 60 per cent. have had to make cuts in equipment; and over one third have had to find other forms of fundraising to meet the shortfall. Indeed, 77 per cent. said that they relied on fundraising by parent-teacher associations and others not only for extracurricular activities, but for books, equipment, computers and educational trips. Reliance on fundraising for basic essentials has increased in 53 per cent. of schools.

The survey is at its most telling when one reads what teachers have to say about that. One said:

Another said:

Another said:

Another said:

Another teacher said:

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In other words, the school is a teacher short. Another said:

Yet another said:

Finally, one teacher said:

I know that these problems are inherited from the Conservatives. They created a funding system that discriminated against rural counties such as Cornwall and left our schools underfunded. It played a major part in the general election campaign, when we fought on the argument that the Conservative party was underfunding Cornish schoolchildren by an average of £100 a head. I do not believe that, on the election of the new Government, anybody in the county believed that that would get worse, but it has done, both in the absolute problems of schools having to cut staff, as I have said, and, perhaps worse for our county, in that discrimination against us has widened that gap, even as the Government have sought to put extra funding into education.

The comprehensive spending review to be announced tomorrow provides a double opportunity, first, to release those resources from the war chest that could and should have been spent in the past three years and to release extra spending to schools. All the signs are that that will happen, and if it does, it will be welcome. We will see where the money is spent and criticise where we think it spent wrongly. Secondly, I press the Minister to take the opportunity to sort out this discriminatory, unfair funding system that she has inherited from the Conservative party and which has left Cornwall, Devon and other rural counties so badly served.

It is difficult for Governments to create new funding formulae to redress the balance when it means having to take from some areas to give to others. However, there is an opportunity in the context of extra spending in the comprehensive spending review, which I hope and believe will be realised tomorrow, to redress the effects of the funding system by investing extra money into counties such as Cornwall without snatching it off others. We are talking not about cuts but about a fair funding formula for those who so richly deserve it--those who work in our schools and deliver good results but do so with big classes and under-resourcing, having to rely on parents in the poorest county in the country to provide essentials.

Schools are left thousands of pounds a year worse off because of a funding formula that Labour has so far failed to change. There is an opportunity to redress that; I hope that the Minister can provide some reassurance that that opportunity will be taken before we have to fight another general election. If the formula has not been changed by then, people will ask,"What was the point of a Labour Government when they could not deliver?" I do not believe that the Minister wants to have to answer that question from angry Cornish parents. The Conservative

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party has nothing to say on the issue because it was responsible for the formula in the first place. Ministers must take action if they are to justify their position.

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