Catherine West MP in Parliament
Catherine West MP in Parliament

I took part in a Westminster Hall debate on equality of funding post 16 education where I publicly backed the raise the rate campaign, called for a return of the Educational Maintenance Allowance and urged this Government to invest in our school buildings.

Watch my speech here.

Read the full Hansard transcript here:

“It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to follow the excellent speech from my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), who represents so many young people in Newham—one of the youngest parts of the country. I want my voice to join those across the Chamber. It is great to speak last in the debate, because everyone is saying the same thing. We all support the call for per head funding to go up from £4,000 to £4,760 per student and I am pleased that the campaign enjoys the support of the Education Committee, Ofsted inspectors and the Social Mobility Commission. It has always struck me as perverse that, while the apprenticeship levy cannot seem to be spent locally and is being given back to the Treasury because of that, FE has experienced a 50% cut. Surely that needs swapping over.

I am a strong supporter of the campaign and want to bring three new points to the debate. The first is capital spend, which is perhaps not included in the £4,760 figure. Many Members will have visited facilities for 16 to 19-year-olds in their constituencies. I was recently in Highgate Wood School in my constituency where PE is taught at GCSE and A-level to such a high specification, with excellent teaching staff, supportive parents and fantastic families, that the young people are inspired to take up careers in sport. Tragically, however, the bathrooms and changing facilities are Dickensian, with almost no running water, rusty taps and toilets that girls do not like to use at certain times of the month. All those basics really put people off choosing PE.

I beg for an improvement in the capital budget because everyone has the right to learn in a high-quality facility. It is not just sport; other Members have mentioned science and technology, where we are seriously behind in terms of the hardware we need. In languages, we need not just teaching staff but up-to-date learning facilities—computers and so on. We need to see an improvement in our music. Tragically, while we have wonderful universal provision in the Haringey music service up to about year 8, suddenly there is a cliff edge. This year, despite being one of the most populous boroughs in London, with a lot of young people, only about a dozen are learning music at A-level. That is a real pity. At university level, music is the subject with the lowest proportion of state school students achieving admission into university. We have seen some progress in Cambridge and Oxford on the basic subjects—philosophy, politics and economics, and so on—but not music, because music teachers have to be paid properly, and it can cost up to £40 an hour to learn the saxophone or a particular instrument. That cannot be left only to certain parts of society; it must be provided to every single child who is gifted musically.

We have had many debates about education maintenance allowance since I became an MP in 2015. I want the Minister to look at that as well. Is EMA coming back? We know what a crucial lifeline it was for students, and particularly those in households with two or three teenagers who needed help getting to college. My hon. Friend talked about Leigh, and asked how do students get to college if they have not got money to get on a bus? We also need education maintenance allowance for things such as books—the cost of textbooks has gone up. We also need it for food, so young people can buy lunch at college.

Please can we have a response from the Minister on education maintenance allowance, capital funding and, finally, pay rates? Some other Members mentioned that, but at a recent lobby here in the last Parliament, an English as a second or foreign language teacher said that if she worked in one setting, she would have been paid £33,000, but because she is so committed to social justice and serving her community, she wants to work in a college, where she is paid £26,000. Please can we look at parity of esteem for teachers and lecturers within the college sector and this issue a key driver of social mobility for all our communities?”

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