Schools funding formula still a proposal

Date: Tuesday 16th May 2017

Sir,Thankyoutotheauthorsoftheletteroneducation(Herald, 6th May). We owe our teachers so much. They have worked unbelievably hard to meet the testing new academic standards, in a challenging environment. And they are achieving amazing results.

Thanks in large part to their hard work, we now have one and a half million more children in good and outstanding schools than was the case seven years ago. And this constituency in particular has some of the best schools in the country.

But of course we want every child to go to a good or outstanding school. This is why so much recent focus has been on standards, on maths, and on apprenticeships (even taking into account inflation, the Government is now spending more on schools — £42 billion a year — than at any time in history).

The letter-writers are quite right to point out that schools — like all public services — face financial pressures, including covering the national living wage, increased teachers’ salaries, pension contributions and employers’ national insurance.

The finances of individual schools in Cumbria depend on many factors, including their class sizes, location, social composition and whether or not they are an academy. Overall, Cumbria, which has traditionally been underfunded, will do better from the new national funding formula than other parts of the country. In particular, it would increase funding for Cumbrian schools by 1.7 per cent. from £274,355,697 a year to £278,900,455 — an increase of more than £4 million. Seven out of 10 schools in Penrith and the Border would see an increase in funding.

That does not mean schools will not continue to face difficult choices, because the increased funding will have to cover some of the increased costs I outlined above.

And we have chosen in Cumbria to protect our very smallest rural schools, including a school which has less than 10 pupils. This is vital for the survival of our rural communities, but it means that the larger schools in towns receive comparatively less funding, so as to support those smaller schools. Some schools will, therefore, face a reduction in spending. Others will be unaffected. And a small minority will see very large increases when the formula is fully implemented.

Because of the very stark differences, it is really important not to generalise and, of course, to prioritise not the seven out of 10 schools which will see an increase in funding, but those which will not.

This involves looking very carefully at individual budgets, and in cases of genuine unfairness making a very detailed proposal to address the financial problems. I have been fortunate enough to do so successfully with individual schools in the past.

The national funding formula is still a proposal, and has not yet been enacted into law. In the meantime, I have been visiting schools, sitting down with headteachers, parents and staff to talk through the individual cases.

I helped arrange a meeting in London between the head of the Cumbrian National Association of Headteachers and the minister of state for schools, Nick Gibb, which I feel was a very useful and detailed analysis of our schools.

Some of this has now been superseded by the election and understandably other political parties are keen to make this an election issue. But as soon as the election is over I have invited Nick Gibb to come up to Cumbria, to sit down not just with headteachers, but also with teachers and parents, to hear all individual concerns in detail, and see what we can do to address them.

Thank you again for raising this vital issue: education is absolutely crucial to our children, to our society, and to our future. In the meantime, I would be delighted to see personally anyone who has concerns about an individual school. Please e-mail me at roryrorystewart.co.uk. Yours etc,

RORY STEWART

(Conservative parliamentary candidate for Penrith and the Border)

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