Extra school funding for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire welcomed - but further reform needed
Steps to address an “unfair and out of date” school funding system which leaves each Norfolk, Suffolk and Fenland pupil thousands of pounds worse off than other parts of the country have fallen short of a full overhaul needed, local politicians have said.
The government has announced plans to raise per-pupil funding 3.7pc in Norfolk to £4,494, 7pc in Cambridgeshire to £4,225 and 2.5pc in Suffolk to £4,347 next year following a campaign by MPs.
But councillors have called for a long term overhaul of the funding system, which will still see each student in the county receive around half of the allocation in the City of London, which will get £8,594.55 for each pupil.
But schools minister David Laws, who launched the consultation in the House of Commons, described it as the “first step” in the transition to fairer funding.
He said it would be the first time in a decade that funding had been allocated to local areas on the basis of the actual characteristics of their pupils and schools, rather than simply on the basis on historic levels of spending.
In its annual report schools watchdog Ofsted raised particular concerns over standards in East Anglia - which it said had the worst-performing schools in the country.
The extra money announced yesterday is only the plan for 2015/16, and Mr Laws said that a move to a new “single-funding formula” would not take place until the next spending review, which will be after the next election.
Philip Hodgson, chair of the Cambridgeshire Schools Forum said: “The costs of running a school are virtually the same throughout England and yet huge cash differences exist. It cannot be right that two broadly similar schools, separated only by the authority boundary, can be funded so differently. That is the issue that needs addressing on a permanent basis.
“We all accept the country’s economic difficulties and the challenges these bring, but the school students of today will play a huge role in the support of our nation in the coming years and must be given the funding to provide for a first class education now.”
Mick Castle, cabinet member for education at Norfolk County Council, said the announcement was an acknowledgement from government that Norfolk had not received fair funding in the past, adding that there was no doubt that it had contributed to the difficulties.
He claimed some small rural schools could still cost about £1,000 more per pupil to run, than larger schools.
South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon said: “The unfairness in school funding has come about because of a profoundly flawed belief in Whitehall that a rural county is a wealthy county. Rural MPs have been pushing against this mistaken view for many years.
“However, there is still more to do to address unfairness in the school funding system. The government needs to look more closely at the mechanisms for school funding, because the same funding bias towards urban areas at the expense of rural areas exists within counties such as Norfolk, as well between different parts of the country. This needs to be addressed”.
Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) cabinet member for education David Harty said that while the extra funding was a step in the right direction, there was a long way to go.