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School Funding

Volume 597: debated on Monday 15 June 2015

Before I begin, Mr Speaker, I welcome you back to your Chair. I also congratulate one of the Clerks of the House of Commons, Jacqueline Sharpe, who was awarded a CBE in the honours list at the weekend for her service to Parliament. It is a pleasure to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) to his place in this House.

It is clearly unfair that a school in one part of the country can attract over 50% more funding than an identical school elsewhere. That is why the Conservative party committed to making school funding fairer in our manifesto, and we will come forward with our proposals in due course.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. She will recall from our discussions when she visited Mellor primary school in April that the school receives £1,000 less than the national average per pupil per year. What assurances can she give to parents and schools in my constituency that she will do all she can to address this unfairness and bring about greater fairness to school funding arrangements?

I was delighted to be able to visit Mellor primary school in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I particularly welcome his contribution, as a former primary school teacher himself, to debates on education in this House. It was a very enjoyable visit, and I am glad that perhaps it played a little part in his overall victory. I went to see the work that was going on to paint brand-new classrooms, the larger school hall, and the new library. As I said, I am committed to fairer funding for schools so that schools such as Mellor primary have the right resources to allow all their children to achieve their potential.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the down-payment of £319 million on fair funding achieved in the previous Parliament. Does she agree that for my constituents who see similar schools nearby in other authorities with much higher rates of funding, this is a matter of transparency and fairness?

I am well aware that my hon. Friend and his colleagues in Staffordshire have long campaigned for fairer school funding. They have made a strong argument, and we will continue to listen to them. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools looks forward to meeting them shortly. I am committed to making funding fairer, as set out in our manifesto. These are complex issues that we have to get right, so we will consult extensively the sector, the public and hon. Members in all parts of the House, and set out the detail of our plans in due course.

I am very pleased with the progress that the previous coalition Government made in this regard, and we in Shropshire are benefiting from £10 million extra as a result of the changes. However, as she has already heard, there are significant differences in funding between areas, and I hope that she will give us the assurances requested that more will be done during this Parliament to redress that.

As my hon. Friend rightly points out, Shropshire received over £10 million of additional funding from the reforms made in the previous Parliament. I particularly pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) for his work on fairer funding. I have absolutely no doubt that he will continue that work admirably in his new role. Pupils, parents and teachers in Shrewsbury will see the big difference that the £10 million funding will make, but I am committed to building on this first step and, as I have said, making the funding system fairer.

Good value for public money is arguably as important as the funding formula. Does the Secretary of State accept that earlier this year the Public Accounts Committee produced a damning report on the deficiencies in the oversight and accountability system in our schools, made much worse by the headlong rush to academies? What steps are there in her Education and Adoption Bill to deal with the long list of flaws in the system?

We do not accept the conclusions of the Public Accounts Committee, as we made clear in the evidence that was given to it at the time. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we should put to one side the issue of fairer school funding. It cannot be right that children in one part of the country are receiving less per head than those in other parts of the country. That is not fair on schools. The formula has been flawed for a long time, and this Government have committed to ensuring that funding is fairer.

Mossbrook primary school, a special educational needs school in my constituency, cannot put drawing pins in its walls for fear of disturbing asbestos, and it cannot access the condition improvement fund because it is not an academy. Will the Secretary of State consider opening up that fund to non-academy schools?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and welcome her to the House. Before the last Parliament was dissolved, the Government published a report on asbestos. There are other programmes available to schools in relation to school building improvement funds, but, if the hon. Lady wants to write to make the case for that particular school, we will, of course, look at it.

Trafford is a relatively wealthy local authority, but there are areas of serious deprivation, and schools in my local authority are funded to a much lower level per head than those in neighbouring authorities. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that schools with high levels of deprivation among their intake are covered by a fair funding formula?

As I have said, we will consult extensively among not only Members but members of the public and schools in relation to a fair funding formula. The hon. Lady is right to say that there are inequities of funding right across the country. The last Government introduced the pupil premium, spending billions of pounds on the most disadvantaged pupils, and this Government have made a commitment to continue that funding at the same level.

21. Will my right hon. Friend agree to receive a delegation from West Sussex, a county that has been significantly badly treated in local settlements? Is she aware that, during the general election, a number of headteachers asked to see Members in Mid Sussex, and it is clear that, unless there is a move towards a national funding formula, schools in Mid Sussex and West Sussex will continue to be significantly badly treated? (900315)

I am, of course, always pleased to discuss those issues with my right hon. Friend and his fellow Sussex MPs. He captures very well the reason we can no longer afford to sit back and allow the formula to work as originally designed—the inequities in funding across the country. We have made a clear commitment to tackle the issue and I look forward to working on it with my right hon. Friend and other Members.

Even within an area there can be inequalities of funding. May I use this opportunity to draw the right hon. Lady’s attention to a letter written by a number of north Staffordshire Members requesting a meeting so that we can discuss urgently our concerns about funding for local schools?

I shall certainly look out for that letter; it has not crossed my desk yet, but I will ask officials to look out for it. Whether the meeting is with me or with the Minister for Schools, who is working on the detail, I think that the hon. Gentleman and hon. Members on both sides of the House will continue over the next few months to set out why this inexorable funding cannot continue.