The consultation on the Government’s proposed schools’ Fair Funding Formula ended on 22nd March.
The highest profile way any MP can raise an issue in the Commons is by raising it direct with the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s Questions. I used PMQs on Wednesday, 15th November – the last before the closing date for the Consultation - to raise school funding.
This is part of a long campaign which started, literally, the week I was first elected and has involved numerous interventions in Parliament and meetings with Ministers and officials: both direct and involving local Heads.
The Government is right to bring forward a fair funding formula: the effective funding going to each child should reflect that child’s needs on the same basis wherever they attend school. I have not met a single headteacher who does not believe that schools need more money if they have a large number of pupils who don’t speak English as a first language or whose progress is held back by a poor educational starting point. To provide equal opportunity and to ensure our country can prosper, fair funding is the right approach.
Getting the best possible formula is however critical and I am most grateful to the many Heads and Governors who have spared the time to run through individual school budgets line by line. As I put it in the Budget debate in the Commons,
“Education is key. I have literally studied line by line the financial projections of some of the schools in my Horsham constituency, so I can assure the Chancellor that, after years of being relatively underfunded, they run an extremely efficient and tight ship, with staffing costs often accounting for 85% of total spend. Schools in historically well-funded areas have much to learn from schools such as those in West Sussex and could potentially do more than is currently being asked of them. I am grateful for the Secretary of State for Education’s commitment to look carefully, as part of the fair funding consultation, at the minimum funding required by schools to deliver the standards and curriculum that students, and we, have every right to expect.”
Some local schools I have visited could, from our discussions, continue to provide in the immediate term a great education without significant concerns. In addition in virtually every school there are opportunities to make small efficiencies – even after years of doing so there almost always are! However I fully recognise that after a long period of effective resource management there are real worries in many schools about how taut budgets have become and the risk posed by the additional costs already absorbed last year and anticipated over the next two.
Co-ordinating with other West Sussex MPs I advocated in our joint submission to the Consultation a minimum guaranteed cash underpinning for every school, regardless of their pupils’ “additional needs”. This should be determined “bottom-up” as to what is needed for schools to succeed. This in my mind is both fair and the best way to enhance our local school funding.
The approach is consistent with that discussed at the meeting we arranged between the Schools’ Minister and West Sussex Heads. It is also consistent with questions I have asked not only to the PM but also in Education Questions – I received assurances in both that the proposal would be looked into as part of the consultation review.
Our Consultation response (which is attached) also makes other detailed observations regarding the proposal. I have also published here a letter sent to my colleague the Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames MP by the Education Secretary.
In my view the Fair Funding Formula as currently proposed is better than the current system and on average improves the level of pre-cost funding for local schools but it could certainly be improved, that is our objective.