Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Newspaper column 15 February 2017 - Fair funding for our schools

In the past week I have spoken with or had letters from a number of parents with concerns about the funding for our Cornish schools, after they received a request for them to contact me from the head teacher of their children’s school.

Fair funding for our schools is something I take very seriously.

Our Cornish schools have been underfunded for decades when compared to other parts of the country, and people have been calling for this inequality to be addressed for years. I am pleased to be part of the government that is at last doing something about this issue. A new education funding formula was part of the Conservative Manifesto that I stood on last year and we are delivering on our promise.

Shortly after my election I joined the fair funding campaign group, f40, which has campaigned for over 20 years for a fairer, more equitable funding formula for rural areas. I was honoured last year to be appointed as a Vice Chairman of the group and have been actively lobbying Ministers to get a better deal for our school children.

While the devil is in the detail, I believe the basic fair funding element announced in December 2016 meets what I have been demanding, which is a recognition that the existing funding model has no rationale and is clearly unfair, of the challenges of running schools in rural areas and that our rural communities in Cornwall are some of the poorest in the country.

Turning to figures released by the National Union of Teachers and other organisations that claim funding will be cut, this is because the figures they are using take into account their estimates of inflation during the years covered. As these are purely estimates I do not think it is accurate to compare them with the actual funding formula consultation figures that have been announced by the Government.

The Government’s consultation on the NFF gives some illustrative figures for the impact on schools if the proposals were introduced this financial year with current aggregate levels of funding, current school and pupil numbers and characteristics used to calculate total funding for each school.

In order to inform my understanding of this situation, I have taken data from the House of Commons Library which is a highly respected source of accurate and objective information.

The data from the Department for Education illustrates two scenarios, If the NFF were implemented in full this year and if the NFF were implemented with transitional arrangements. Under scenario 1 the average increase in school budgets in Mid-Cornwall is 1.8%. Under scenario 2 the average increase is 1.1%. In both cases 29 of the 37 schools in Mid Cornwall would see an increase in funding.

Whilst I respect the fact that there will inevitably be individual ‘winners and losers’ in any change in the funding formula, it is clear that overall the changes as proposed will significantly increase the level of funding for education in Cornwall. This has to be good news for Cornish children and families. I have also been keen to raise this issue with senior management at Cornwall Council during my regular meetings with them. My understanding is that Cornwall Council, as the affected local authority, believe the proposed NFF figures are good news for Cornwall, albeit the first step in a long process to address historical underfunding in Cornwall.

All in all, I am pleased that the Government has listened to the arguments put forward by me and many of my colleagues and is now taking the first of many steps to put this historic unfairness right. I will continue to work with colleagues both locally and in Westminster to push for the best outcome for Cornish children.

Finally, it is also worth noting that this is the 2nd stage in the consultation process. No decisions have yet been taken and I will continue to listen to the case local schools put to me to ensure that we get the very best deal possible for education in Cornwall.