Supporting successful rural schools is an important principle of our funding reforms. My Department has just concluded a review of funding arrangements for 2013-14, which included visits to North Yorkshire and several other rural authorities.
Does the Minister accept that the pupil premium has not worked its way through to rural schools in perhaps the way he had hoped, and will he join me in helping North Yorkshire council to put in place fairer funding for rural schools, particularly those with many service children?
The pupil premium has to be passed down properly to all schools, and before it existed, many young disadvantaged people were not getting any proper additional funding in many rural areas. My hon. Friend may wish to know that we also recently widened entitlement to the pupil premium to include pupils in families who had been entitled to free school meals at any time in the past six years. She will be pleased to know that as part of our recent funding review, we have introduced a sparsity factor of up to £100,000 that will allow local authorities to give extra money to schools in rural areas, and one of the big gaining authorities will be North Yorkshire.
Given that the Secretary of State has had meetings with devolved Education Ministers in Northern Ireland and Wales about other examination matters, will the Minister confirm whether the Secretary of State had discussions with them about the potential for rural schools, their potential closure and the need for them to be sustained?
Last week, the chief inspector of schools said that Ofsted’s report on unseen children painted
“a striking new picture of disadvantage and educational underachievement”.
In his speech, he said that we needed new policies and approaches to deal with underachievement in rural and coastal areas. If those policies are to succeed, they will need to be financed. Will the Minister commit today to a redistribution to rural areas, so that allocations are fairer and more equal?
We are committed to introducing a fairer national funding formula, and we hope to be able to say more about that once we are clear about the spending review announcements later this week. We also intend to ensure, through Ofsted and the accountability measures we publish, that schools in rural, coastal and other areas that may have small proportions of young people on free school meals or entitled to the pupil premium are still under intense pressure to narrow these gaps, which are as unacceptable in rural and coastal areas as they are in our inner cities.
A small village primary school near Melksham in my constituency has grown over several years to serve more than 200 pupils in seven classes, five of them in temporary buildings. Will the Minister ensure that through the targeted basic need programme rural councils such as Wilshire’s will get the help they need to meet the growing primary school pupil population?
We will certainly do that. The Government are spending more than double what the previous Government spent on capital to support new school places, and as my hon. Friend indicated, before too long we hope to announce the results of the targeted basic need programme, which will enable new schools to be established in areas of basic need, as well as the expansion of existing good and outstanding schools.