13. What progress her Department is making on providing fairer funding for schools. (901098)
It is deeply unfair that we have a schools funding formula based on historic allocation rather than on actual need of schools and pupils. That is why the manifesto confirmed extra financial support for the least well-funded authorities for 2015-16, protected the schools budget in real terms and committed to making the system fairer. I can confirm that we will be putting proposals before the House for funding reform in due course.
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend’s answer and hope that he can continue to make progress for the students in my constituency. Will he comment on the recent National Audit Office report that recommended a fairer formula so that pupils receive funding that is related
“more closely to their needs, and less affected by where they live”?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is unfair that a primary pupil eligible for free school meals in Richmond receives £472 extra funding while a similar student in another part of Yorkshire receives almost £300 more. That is why we recently announced that the schools block funding rates for 2016-17 have been baked in the extra funding that we distributed in the last financial year to make funding fairer.
I know the f40 group, of which my hon. Friend is a member, has been campaigning for 19 years for a fairer funding formula, so I can understand his impatience. He is right to highlight the financial pressures that schools are under, especially those in underfunded parts of the country; this is one of the reasons why we are committed to fairer funding. As I said, we have protected per pupil funding in each authority from 2015-16, meeting the commitment to protect the national schools budget.
The Minister will be aware that Blackpool has among the lowest educational attainment in the country. What more, besides the hugely valuable pupil premium and the extra funding for nursery schools, can the Government do to increase attainment among white working-class children in seaside resorts—currently the weakest demographic in the country?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know he has a record of successful campaigning for schools funding. He is right to mention the pupil premium, which is designed to remove the barriers to learning faced by children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The pupil premium will provide almost £5 million in additional funding for more than 4,000 disadvantaged pupils—that is all disadvantaged children, not just white children—in Blackpool North and Cleveleys, and will help them to fulfil their potential.
Following on from the previous question, 3,000 disadvantaged children in my Banbury constituency also benefit from the pupil premium. What other measures has the Minister thought about to promote targeted spending, to help to increase fairness in education?
I welcome my hon. Friend to her place. She may know that her father, Lord Boswell, was extremely generous in his support to me in my early political career— indeed, he helped me to meet my wife—[Interruption.] Too much information. My hon. Friend rightly mentions targeted support. Some £3.5 million has been allocated to Banbury schools specifically to help to narrow the education gap.
I think we are clear that the noble Lord is a great man. He is also, famously, the author of the advice: don’t let the best be the enemy of the good. You can put a monkey on a typewriter and end up with the collected works of Shakespeare, but we will all be dead by then.
The Minister will know that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has previously raised concerns about the potential impact of a national funding formula on poorer, more disadvantaged parts of England. Although a new formula will certainly help schools in the Stockport part of my constituency, which are disadvantaged by the current arrangements, can the Minister guarantee that there will be no inadvertent impact on schools in the Tameside part of my constituency, which is a poorer borough overall?
Let me be clear: our commitment is to a fairer funding formula for schools. It is not right that schools in Tower Hamlets receive 63% more funding than schools in Barnsley with the same demographic profile. We have to do something about that, but we must take our time to get it right. We will consult widely, and I hope that Opposition Front Benchers will support us in this effort.
Figures from the Department show that per pupil funding for St Helens will be more than £150 less than the average across England this year. In addition, our local authority is being asked to take a further £23 million from its budget in the same period. Will the Minister listen to the concerns of staff in schools in my constituency, who tell me that their ability to teach and support children is being hindered and not helped by this Government and their policies?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have protected schools funding in real terms. If schools in his area are getting less funding, perhaps he should be speaking to the local authority, in particular the schools forums, to understand what exactly is going on.
This is a key issue, which is one of the reasons why the Education Committee will also be conducting an inquiry on the subject, but does the Minister agree that if we reform funding, we will answer the National Audit Office’s firm criticism of the system that it does not make sense for the pupil premium in some areas?
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee. The point he makes is, I believe, that some areas are receiving, in effect, double deprivation funding: they are receiving it both through the schools formula and through the pupil premium. We will look at the funding formula in the round to address all those issues.