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School Funding

Volume 603: debated on Monday 30 November 2015

The Government are firmly committed to implementing our manifesto pledge to make school funding fairer. In the spending review last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced our intention to introduce a national funding formula for schools, high needs and early years in 2017. This will mean that, for the first time ever, funding is transparently and fairly matched to pupils’ and schools’ needs, and we will set out our detailed plans in the new year.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response; it is welcome that this is finally going to happen. May I urge her to introduce a full national funding formula for all schools as soon as possible? The longer we leave it, the worse the problem is going to get and the more difficult it will be to put it right. We need to ensure that children in Gloucestershire no longer lose out in the way they have been doing for far too long.

My hon. Friend is right; we need to move as quickly as possible to ensure that low-funded areas such as his constituency of Tewkesbury are funded fairly and transparently. We have taken the first step by increasing Gloucestershire’s schools budget by £12 million and protecting that amount, and we will now go further by introducing a national funding formula while ensuring that the pace of change provides security for schools and local authorities.

As Suffolk’s schools have suffered from underfunding for many years, last week’s announcement was extremely welcome. Time is of the essence in addressing this iniquity. The Secretary of State has said she will start work straight after Christmas, but I would be grateful if she went into a little more detail about the first steps she will be taking.

I wish to thank my hon. Friend, who made a very valuable contribution to the recent petition to the Prime Minister calling for urgent action on fairer funding. I intend to consult in the new year, but I assure my hon. Friend that much work has been going on already, led by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), to unpick the funding formula so that all schools are funded fairly and all pupils have access to a good education.

Schools in my constituency have suffered greatly under the current formula. For example, funding in Glossop is almost £300 per pupil less than in neighbouring Tameside, so for the sake of just a few miles the funding is about 6% less than it is elsewhere. Will the Secretary of State therefore ensure that the new funding formula she is going to work on—I am pleased to hear that she has started so quickly—will at last remedy this anomaly, which has been going on for far too long?

My hon. Friend puts into words just one of the differentials between areas. It shows exactly why we need to tackle this unfairness in the funding formula—it is a matter of social justice that drives our determination to solve it—and why the Government are committed to introducing a funding formula to ensure that funding is transparently matched to need.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Purbrook Park school, Havant academy and Crookhorn college, which have all recently received good ratings from Ofsted and all stand to benefit from this new fair funding formula?

I, of course, take great pleasure in congratulating all the staff and pupils at Purbrook Park school, Havant academy and Crookhorn college on their hard work and their excellent Ofsted rating—I know how much hard work goes into getting that. As I said, we will consult in the new year and set out the schools benefiting in the detailed plans for a national funding formula.

I am glad the Chancellor announced that we would fulfil our manifesto commitment of creating a fairer funding system for schools during the spending review last week. Will the Secretary of State confirm when we will have a formula that is fair for all schools across the country? There are winners and losers now, as there have always been. Will it be any different in the future?

My hon. Friend is right to say that there is patent unfairness in the system now. Some £16 million extra was allocated to schools in Derbyshire in 2015-16, and we will work with her and other stakeholders to make sure that the funding is based on the characteristics of pupils, rather than on unfair historical calculations.

As my right hon. Friend will be well aware, Leicestershire is second from bottom of the current funding formula league. Despite my constituency having some of the most deprived areas in the county, its children receive almost £500 per pupil less than those in the city of Leicester and a staggering £1,000 per year per pupil less than those in Birmingham, which is only 22 miles away. Will she assure the House that the new funding formula will correct this for our county of Leicestershire?

I thank my hon. Friend very much for that. He will not be surprised to know that I am very well aware of the position of Leicestershire, having talked to parents, school governors and of course local councillors. In 2015-16, we made an additional £20 million available to Leicestershire and the county will continue to receive that funding in 2016-17, but he is absolutely right to say that we will be introducing a national funding formula to end the grossly unfair variations he highlighted in his question.

The principle of fair funding is clearly right, but the devil will be in the detail. Will the right hon. Lady reassure the House that in areas of high poverty such as my constituency in Liverpool this will not result in significant cuts in spending on schools?

I am pleased that we have got to questions from other Members of the House, and the hon. Gentleman rightly says that the principle is of course right. We will be looking in detail at the needs of the disadvantaged pupils. I should point out that we have also introduced the pupil premium—we did so after the funding formula was first introduced—at a cost of more than £2.5 billion a year. We want to make sure that there will be full consultation, and all Members and others will have an opportunity to have their say.

White working-class boys are three times less likely to go on to university than their counterparts from wealthier families, so should this review not be about closing that gap and addressing the social mobility crisis that exists in our country, instead of being about some sort of crude, one-size-fits-all, national standard, which is what the Members behind the Secretary of State are clearly urging her to introduce?

As I have said, there will be a full consultation, but I think that the hon. Gentleman has got the wrong end of the stick. The funding formula to be consulted on will absolutely take into account the needs of disadvantaged pupils. If he wants to talk about working-class boys, let me say that it cannot be right that there are schools in Knowsley that are receiving hundreds of pounds less than schools in Wandsworth, and that is just one such example. We must end that inequity, and this Government have taken the difficult decision to do that.

I echo the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). Cambridgeshire schools, like Suffolk schools, have suffered historical underfunding. As 2017 is some way away, will the Secretary of State tell us what happens between now and then?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will not be surprised to hear that I have also been lobbied by Cambridgeshire MPs, as well as by many other MPs from across the country. The £390 million extra that was announced for 2015-16 will continue to 2016-17. That amount of money will continue into the baseline for the rest of this Parliament. We must strike a balance between ensuring that we make swift progress on something that is demanded by MPs from across the House and getting it right, so that we do not end up having to untangle things again in a decade’s time.

What assurances can the Secretary of State give the parents of pupils at Tadcaster grammar school, who were alarmed and surprised to receive a letter from the school recently consulting on potential financial contributions from them?

Schools are able to ask for voluntary contributions, but they must make it clear to parents that the contributions are voluntary and that there is absolutely no obligation for them to pay. I understand that the Tadcaster grammar school consultation has been published on the website and that it does clearly state that children of parents who do not contribute will not be treated differently and that there is no obligation on parents to contribute. I am happy to clarify that message for my hon. Friend.

We support moves towards fairer funding. Can the Secretary of State reassure head teachers who are worried about how the changed funding formula will impact on their schools that transition from the old to the new formula will be achieved in a way that ensures that no school will lose out in cash terms if their pupil numbers remain the same?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I know that, in the past, he has been an influential member of the f40 group of local authorities. We will have a full consultation. We absolutely realise that we will not solve the problem by making schools’ lives more difficult. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed that core schools funding is protected in real terms per pupil until the end of this Parliament.