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School Funding: Chelmsford

Volume 623: debated on Monday 20 March 2017

1. If she will make an assessment of the potential effect of the proposed new national funding formula on schools in Chelmsford. (909319)

For Chelmsford, a shift to fairer funding would mean an overall increase in schools funding of 1.9%. We want schools and local areas to receive a consistent and fair share of the schools budget so that they can give every child the opportunity to reach their full potential. These are important reforms, and we must make sure we get them right. We want to hear a wide range of views through our consultation, which closes later this week.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is to be warmly welcomed that 31 out of 35 schools in Chelmsford will get increased funding as a result of the fairer funding programme? Of the four schools that will have modest decreases in funding, two are grammar schools, the funding of which will decrease owing to their relatively low number of pupils. Can anything be done to rectify that problem for two centres of academic excellence?

My right hon. Friend is right that Chelmsford schools overwhelmingly gain from the shift to fairer funding. Our approach essentially sees money follow the child, with extra money for those pupils with extra needs. In our “Schools that work for everyone” consultation we set out our desire to see grammars take more young people from disadvantaged and lower family income backgrounds. If they do so, selective schools will also be able to benefit financially from that approach.

The terms of the Secretary of State’s initial reply to the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns), perfectly properly, went somewhat beyond Chelmsford. I make no criticism of that at all, but it simply widens the field to colleagues who do not represent Chelmsford.

Thanks to increased investment and the work of teachers, other teaching staff, supportive parents and the local community, standards in our schools in Southwark have massively increased, but our schools are not overfunded. Surely it cannot be right that, per pupil, we will see a cut of £1,000 per year as a result of this so-called fair funding formula. It is not fair. Whatever levelling up the Secretary of State needs to do in other parts of the country, she should please go ahead and do so, but do not cut schools funding for the poorest children.

Our approach will operate consistently for young people and children, wherever they are growing up. We cannot have an accountability system with similar expectations for all schools that ends up funding children differently. I simply reflect to the right hon. and learned Lady that, even after the changes we are making to introduce a fair and consistent funding formula for the first time, London’s schools, because of the many challenges and factors they face, will still receive 30% more than other schools on average.

I understand that the Secretary of State has an incredibly hard job to do and that money does not grow on trees. When she reviews the consultation findings, however, I urge her to look at the core funding a school needs even to be able to open its doors, because I fear that deprivation has been overweighted in the formula.

One thing we have seen as a result of launching the second phase consultation is the first properly informed debate on how we should be funding schools and what the relative balance of investment should be for different children with different challenges. The consultation finishes later this week, and I thank the House and colleagues for their engagement with it. We will respond to the points that people have made in due course.

Vera Lynn was a pupil at Brampton Primary School in my constituency and, along with every other school in my constituency, its budget is going to be cut under the Secretary of State’s proposals. Ministers often tell us that the schools budget as a whole is not being cut. Should not that guarantee apply to individual schools such as Brampton Primary School as well as to the system as a whole?

I pay tribute to Dame Vera Lynn, who has been an iconic and amazing figure. She is a fantastic female role model for many young girls and women growing up in our country.

We need to make sure that, for the first time, our country sees consistent funding for all children, wherever they are growing up. We have seen significant rises in the overall schools budget over the years. Indeed, this Government have not only protected the overall schools budget in line with inflation but have made sure that the cash amount per pupil is protected, too. That is important, but we now have to make sure that we fund children in our schools fairly, wherever they are.

Torbay’s schools have done a great job in teaching pupils despite being among some of the most historically underfunded. Although the figure for Torbay goes up by 2.3% overall, the proposed formula hits the grammar schools quite badly, so will the Secretary of State assure me that we are still seeking a solution for those schools?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. As I have said, it is important that we reflect the fact that our funding needs to follow children who have additional needs. In particular, we know there is an attainment gap for children from lower-income and more disadvantaged areas and families. We also know that many children will start both primary and secondary school already behind, so we need to give an uplift for those pupils to enable their teachers to help them to catch up. These are important parts of the formula but, as he set out, we need to look carefully at other aspects of it, and we will do so.

I have to say to the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) that he is not seeing the wood for the trees. The Minister for School Standards recently wrote to the Chelmsford Weekly News about the uplift of 1.9%, which the Secretary of State mentioned, but there is a denial of the wider picture that £66 million is being withdrawn from funding in Essex overall. Will she explain how Chelmsford County High School for Girls, which is estimated to lose £300,000, will make its cuts?

I think I have answered the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns), but the bottom line is that the only budget that would go up under Labour is debt interest, which would lead to fewer teachers and less investment in education, not more.