LAST week on the 13th March the Schools Minister David Laws announced the Government’s new proposals to deliver fair funding for schools in England. The Government announced a proposed £350m boost to the most underfunded local authorities.
No local authority or school will lose from this proposal, but around 40 per cent of areas will gain. I am delighted to report that as part of this announcement schools in Devon will receive £16.2m extra funding in 2015/16 to address a historic unfairness in the way school funding is allocated, an increase of £189 per pupil.
This is very welcome news. I have been campaigning for fairer funding for Devon’s schools for many years now and it was one of the main objectives that I mentioned in my Maiden Speech to the House of Commons where listed a number of areas that I hoped to focus on as the MP for Tiverton and Honiton.
This is not the first step that this Government has taken in rebalancing the unfair and inconsistent school funding formula. The Education Secretary Michael Gove set out his intention to introduce a fairer, more transparent funding formula for schools in 2012. The first steps came in 2013 when the Government changed the way children with educational needs were funded which has resulted in at least 80 per cent of funding now allocated on the basis of the need of each pupil within a school.
However, these changes did not address the issue of unfair funding allocations which have led to Devon being the 6th worst funded council and similar schools just miles apart having very different funding levels because they just happen to be in different local authority areas. Devon’s funding gap is £41m a year compared to the average Guaranteed Unit of Fund per pupil in England. This means that on average each child in Devon received £480 less from central government for their education.
This is why the Government’s announcement that Devon will receive extra funding for 2015/16 is not just welcome but very necessary. However, a step in the right direction this money might be, it will not solve the fundamental unfairness of the school funding formula.
During his statement, on the 13th the Schools Minister also announced the launch of a “Consultation on Fairer Schools Funding in 2015”. This consultation will give stakeholders in education the chance to submit their views on a number of proposals that the Government are putting forward – to set a minimum funding level for every pupil and every school, including the basic amount that all pupils should attract and a minimum funding level for deprived pupils.
Setting a minimum level of funding that all schools should attract will help with fixed costs such as employing a head teacher. Importantly for areas like Devon the Government plan to set a minimum level of additional funding that schools in sparsely populated areas which are vital to serving rural communities should attract.
I believe that this consultation, more than the funding already announced, has the chance to put school funding in Devon on a sustainable footing. I will be working with Devon County Council, local schools and my fellow Devon Parliamentarians to ensure the children of this county are not disadvantaged because of their postcode and that they are given the same educational opportunities as the rest of England. Last December I wrote to every school in the constituency to offer to come and visit and speak to the children. I hope that this will also be an opportunity to speak to the head teachers and staff to get their views on how we best allocate education funding.