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Education Funding: West Sussex

Volume 621: debated on Monday 6 February 2017

We are replacing the historical postcode lottery in school funding with a proper, transparent national funding formula that is fair whereby funding will be allocated to schools based on the needs of pupils. Compared with the alternative of the current postcode-lottery approach, the fairer funding proposals on which we are consulting would mean a £14.6 million annual increase in funding to local West Sussex schools.

I am sorry, Mr Speaker; you caught me without my wig.

Almost all the 286 schools in West Sussex find their budgets under extreme strain, so they welcome these new developments, but as West Sussex is already one of the lowest funded of all the shire counties, will my right hon. Friend look very carefully in particular at the budgets of small rural schools, which find themselves unfortunately and unfavourably treated?

Of course, my right hon. Friend will be aware that we are in the second phase of the consultation on the introduction of the national funding formula. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to finally reach a settlement on fair funding that really works. I know that he and many other colleagues will have their views about how they want the formula to work, and he is right to raise them.

Order. I listened carefully to the response from the Secretary of State, who has not broadened the matter, and therefore the question appertains exclusively to West Sussex.

Order. The hon. Gentleman’s Chester constituency is a considerable distance from West Sussex, but if, and only if, his question focuses exclusively upon West Sussex—

West Sussex’s education funding has increased by 1.9%—I am very pleased to hear that—but other areas close to West Sussex will have received cuts of up to 1.3%, so why is West Sussex being treated so much more generously?

The hon. Gentleman is a very fine man, but I am not sure that he would triumph if he appeared on “Just a Minute”.

I recognise that the funding formula means that schools will receive different settlements from the ones that they have had in the past. We are trying to ensure that every single child, wherever they are growing up in England, gets the same amount of funding, but that there is then a top-up in relation to additional needs, such as in respect of deprivation, which has been based on out-of-date data up until now, or indeed additional funding for low prior attainment.

Will the impact of the new formula in West Sussex dis-proportionately disadvantage rural primary schools in the way that it will elsewhere?

The introduction of the formula leads to different effects in different parts of the country. Obviously, we are putting in place a fair funding formula, but it has to work for all schools. We are having the second phase of the consultation to try to ensure that we get this right. We have particularly focused on helping small rural schools by relating an element of the formula to sparsity. There is also a lump-sum element. I am interested to hear all colleagues’ views in the consultation.

The Secretary of State’s answers so far will give no comfort to schools in West Sussex, which will have had an 8% reduction by 2019, or anywhere else that is facing real-terms funding cuts. Does she stand by her party’s manifesto pledge that every school in Britain, including every school in West Sussex, will receive a real-terms spending increase per pupil during this Parliament?

As ever, the hon. Lady is not clear about whether she even supports the concept of fair funding. I would have thought that all MPs would want to see all children getting fair schools funding across the board. A record amount of money is going into our schools budget and we have protected the core schools budget in real terms. There is record funding, but it is important that we ensure, through the fair funding formula, that it is distributed fairly.