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House of Commons Hansard
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04 July 2016
Volume 612
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4. What progress her Department is making on ensuring that funding is fairly distributed across schools. [905611]

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11. What progress her Department is making on ensuring that funding is fairly distributed across schools. [905619]

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14. What progress her Department is making on ensuring that funding is fairly distributed across schools. [905622]

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A fairer funding system is crucial to deliver our aim of educational excellence everywhere. It was a proud moment when Her Majesty said in her most recent Gracious Speech:

“There will also be a fairer balance between schools, through the national funding formula.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 May 2016; Vol. 773, c. 2.]

The first stage of our two-part consultation on a national funding formula closed in April, and I thank everybody who responded to it. We are carefully considering the many responses we received.

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As the funding formula consultation progresses, will my right hon. Friend listen carefully to the voices of parents in Staffordshire—a county that has done relatively badly out of former formulas because it has areas of social deprivation—so that schoolchildren from the Kerria and Glascote estates in Tamworth have the same opportunities as those from Wolverhampton?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I know that he is a powerful champion on this issue. Of course we will listen to the views from Staffordshire, and I know that the Schools Minister has met a number of delegations from Staffordshire already. As I said earlier, the intention is that children with the same needs do not attract different amounts of money simply because of where they live. The new formula will ensure that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds receive additional funding. The reforms are significant, so we are determined to get them right, which is why we will consult extensively.

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I am interested in that answer. What steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that the new funding arrangements for high-needs blocks are implemented promptly, and that low-funded counties such as Suffolk do not have to wait many years until they receive the level of funds to allow them to meet the needs of vulnerable learners?

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My hon. Friend demonstrates the desire of Members from all parts of the House and from different counties to ensure that the funding formula is looked at. We are distributing additional high-needs funding. This year, Suffolk will receive an extra £1.2 million. As I have said, we are considering carefully the responses to the first stage of the national funding formula consultation on high needs, because we are determined to ensure that those who have been underfunded in the past benefit as quickly as possible.

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I warmly welcome the announcement that South Gloucestershire and Stroud College has been successful in its application for the SGS Pegasus free school. It will be an 80-place school for autistic pupils, opening in September 2017. Can the Secretary of State assure me that Pegasus and other schools in South Gloucestershire and in my constituency of Thornbury and Yate will receive their fair share of funding following the introduction of the new formula?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My Ministers and I want to ensure that all schools receive their fair share of funding. South Gloucestershire and Stroud College has indeed been successful in applying to open the SGS Pegasus free school. Free schools form an integral part of the Government’s education policy to improve choice and drive up standards in schooling.

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I did not expect to be on the Back Benches today, having resigned from a job that I relished doing over the past few months, but we are where we are.

Yesterday on the television, the Secretary of State again presented the illusion that school budgets have been protected over the course of this Parliament, yet she and I both know that school budgets are facing significant cuts in real terms, which are having a huge impact on the frontline. Given that the Chancellor has all but abandoned his fiscal approach, will she be the first person at his door to ensure that our schools have the real-terms budget protection they need?

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I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, because I could see how much she loved doing her job as shadow Secretary of State for Education. The truth is that we have protected the overall schools budget in real terms. This year, the core schools budget will be over £40 billion, which is the highest amount on record.

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What would the Secretary of State say to Schools NorthEast, which represents 1,000 schools in my region and has said that

“the Government risks fuelling the North-South divide in education by proposing to fund schools with similar characteristics differently, based on their location.”?

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I would completely disagree with that assertion. I ask the hon. Lady to ensure that she and the schools in her area take part in the next stage of the consultation. She should not forget the funding that has already been allocated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor as part of the northern powerhouse fund for schools.

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I am afraid that the Government’s claim that they are providing fair funding is unravelling as fast as the pledge of £350 million for the NHS on the Vote Leave bus. Will the Secretary of State confirm that analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that the new funding settlement will implement an overall cut of at least 8% in school budgets?

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I applaud the hon. Lady’s activity today and her grip on her brief, but the answer is no. In 2016-17, the dedicated schools grant will total £40.68 billion, which is an increase of more than £4 billion since 2011-12 and the biggest amount any Government have ever spent on schools.

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The Secretary of State will know that the Education Committee is very keen to press the Department on fairer funding to ensure that it delivers what it says on the tin. Does she agree that another important element of reform is ensuring that schools can plan ahead, and that it would be good if fairer funding enabled schools to do exactly that?

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I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend and his Select Committee have done on this issue. I know that the Minister for Schools is due to meet Members shortly to discuss it further. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) is absolutely right: not only do we have to get the formula correct and make it much more transparent, I am also very keen that schools are able to plan ahead, like we would ask any other organisation to do, so that they know how they can manage their budgets in the years ahead.

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When the Government redraw the funding formula to make it fairer, as they say they will, they must remember that fair does not necessarily mean equal and that many schools face differing challenges, particularly in respect of teacher training. Will the Secretary of State therefore look at ways in which we can change the funding formula to help areas and schools with a history of low teacher recruitment rates?

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I pay tribute to the work the hon. Gentleman has done to represent schools in Bradford, and I know that other Bradford Members of Parliament are also very committed to raising educational standards in their area. In talking about fairer funding earlier, I spoke very specifically about children with the same needs attracting the same amount of money. It is right that children from disadvantaged backgrounds should receive more money. I would ask him to engage with us on things such as the “achieving excellence areas”, which were outlined in the White Paper that was published earlier this year.

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Order. Progress this afternoon is very slow. I will take a couple of supplementaries, but they must be very brief and so must the replies.

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20. Will the Secretary of State, in reaffirming her commitment to fairer funding, set out the timetable for the consultation process and say when it will eventually be implemented?

[905628]

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I hope to be able to consult extremely shortly. This is complicated and I want to give local authorities time, but my hon. Friend is right that we need to make progress.

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Is there not a danger for the Secretary of State that some schools will risk losing funding and that those that gain from the new funding settlement will not gain nearly enough to offset both the freeze in the education grant and the national insurance increases?

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I do not want to pre-empt the consultation. There are always dangers for Secretaries of State, but there is a danger in inaction, too. We have had an unfair national funding formula for well over a decade, and probably longer. I am not going to go down as the Secretary of State who had the opportunity to try to right that wrong but did not take it.

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21. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that small rural primary schools, which are currently on the margins of financial viability, will be as secure under the new formula with academy status as when maintained by the local authority? [905629]

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We are very aware of the specific demands for rural schools. There will be specific funding to recognise their characteristics, including sparsity in particular. I hope my hon. Friend will take part in the consultation.