The Committee was keen to be part of creating a public debate around the need for more funding for education, and asked how much funding education needed over the next five years. Gibb and Milton declined to give a figure, saying it was part of their negotiation with the Treasury in the coming comprehensive spending review.
Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, asked Gibb if he agreed with the recent ‘IFS figure that suggested that overall between 2009-10 and 2017-18, total spending per pupil in England fell by about 8% in real terms?’. Gibb agreed that the figure was correct, but also said that the IFS has calculated that if you go back to 2000 real terms spending in this financial year per-pupil is now 50% higher.
Gibb acknowledged the need for more funding for post-16 and high needs education, saying that school funding had been protected while post-16 had not, and more funding for high needs education was needed because of the new requirement for local authorities to provide education up to 25 for young people with special educational needs.
Lucy Powell MP challenged Gibb on his ability to be an effective advocate for school funding:
'Today is the first time you have recognised that there are also increasing pupil numbers that are increasing demands. How can we build this public case when the main people who are here to advocate for school funding have spent the last two years completely in denial, and denying there is a problem?'
We are concerned that the wider picture of funding for children and young people is not being considered by the Department for Education. The ecosystem schools find themselves in, compared to 2009, is significantly leaner. Funding has been stripped out for a whole range of local authority services for children and young people including youth services, early years, special educational needs and health, which schools now have to provide if they are to support young people to reach their potential.
A 10 year plan for Education
Halfon queried why education does not have a five-year funding plan and 10-year strategic plan like the NHS, given the obvious similarities. Both Gibb and Milton agreed this was something they are considering and that there are good reasons to have a plan. Milton said that Damian Hinds, Secretary of State for Education, was looking at the case for a plan:
‘That is something the Secretary of State is looking at at the moment. If you look at the correlation between education and health, which is very strong, there is a very good case to be made.’
4th Industrial Revolution and narrow curriculums
The Committee asked the Ministers if they believe our current education system is fit for purpose to prepare young people for the future, with Halfon asking:
‘How future-proof is the current approach in terms of the march of the robots, the rise of automation and artificial intelligence? How confident are you that people will develop the cognitive functions they need for the fourth industrial revolution by adopting just a knowledge-based curriculum?’
The Committee members made it very clear they are very concerned about our school system and a lack of breadth in content of what children are learning, with a focus on mechanics of English and maths rather than exciting children with a range of subjects, including arts.
‘I fully accept that the system does not force people to narrow the curriculum, but every school that I have been to tells me that that is the inadvertent consequent of pressure in terms of testing. Whether it is primary schools in terms of things like year 1 phonics testing, where at my own son’s primary school they are not doing as much sport and art and creativity anymore because they are focused on year 1 phonics testing.’
Ben Bradley MP
They asked about the evidence base for the current focus on knowledge. Gibb was criticised for focus on academic thinking rather than providing evidence and data of outcomes and impact of the knowledge-based approach.
‘What I am trying to find out is what data and evidence you are using, apart from quotes. Quotations in books are different from hard evidence from the Department, analysis on future-proofing the education system for the 21st century.’
Robert Halfon MP, Chair Education Select Committee
EBacc and Accountability
There followed a debate about the basis for a focus on knowledge rather than skills and English and maths rather than a broad curriculum, and if reform of the English Baccalaureate would be considered ‘to reflect technical and creative subjects?’. Gibb pushed back against this and said no changes would be made to the EBacc.
Gibb was very clear he believes there is no conflict between the current accountability system, the focus on maths and reading at primary and ensuing that every child has a rich and wide education. He also said that learning about the history of music and art and works of art would make children more likely to be creative:
‘Do you just teach creativity, or do you introduce young people to all the wonderful music of our country and the world, to the great artists, to the great canon of literature that children should be reading? If they have been exposed to all those things, they are more likely to be creative than if you have a simple lesson in creativity.’