Witney MP lobbies schools minister over national funding plan

Witney MP Robert Courts with Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

Witney’s MP has met the Government’s schools minister to discuss the impact of a proposed national funding change on west Oxfordshire schools, amid criticism and possible revision of the idea.

Robert Courts, Witney MP since October last year following former Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation, met Nick Gibb, the minister for schools, on Monday last week to discuss the impact of the National Funding Formula.

A public consultation on the formula, which the government says will ensure similar schools in different areas are treated in the same way through the redistribution of funding, ends on March 22.

But the plans coincide with schools across the country being asked to find savings of £3bn and The Times reported on Tuesday that ministers were “widely expected” to withdraw the proposals in the face of the protests.

In the meeting, Mr Courts discussed with the minister the need for all west Oxfordshire schools to have the funding they need, particularly those in rural areas which, he said, might be most seriously affected.

One of the problems of the rural nature of west Oxfordshire, which is also a relatively affluent area with low levels of deprivation, is that many of the rural schools are not sufficiently rural to qualify for sparsity funding, the Witney MP added.

After being briefed by the minister as to how the model was produced, Mr Courts has proposed a ‘bottom line’ funding level that will ensure schools have the essential funding they need, he said.

He added: “I fully agree with the principle behind the Government’s proposals, which aims to ensure that every school and local area, regardless of location, are fairly funded according to need.

“However, due to the nature of the area we live in, I am concerned about the impact this will have on west Oxfordshire’s schools.

“I agree that funding should go straight to the frontline, with a single national formula determining how much funding each school is allocated.”

The Conservative MP has written to all headteachers in west Oxfordshire “to reassure heads that he was fighting to ensure that schools in west Oxfordshire are being fully considered at the highest possible level and to ensure that their concerns are heard”.

He added: “I made better education one of my top priorities when I was elected and I fully intend to fulfil this promise, by making positive suggestions as well as fighting for the funds our schools need.”

But concerns have been raised over the impact of the changes to the funding formula and the Government is considering a revision of the plans after protests across the country.

Peter Cansell, chair of the Oxfordshire Primary Headteachers’ Association (OPHTA), told The Oxford Paper that the value and impact of the scheme needs to be questioned and that his main concern is the “gulf between primary and secondary funding”.

He said: “All schools will receive less money per pupil in real terms, because of increased numbers, increased costs and inflation.

“Across the country and county there are likely to be winners and losers from the new formula, but a significant issue which has not been addressed is the gulf between primary and secondary funding.

“Perhaps someone can explain why the intense individual attention given to nursery and primary pupils is less expensive than giving a lecture to a class or year group of older children.”

The Department for Education said the schools budget had been protected since 2010 and funding was at its highest in 2016-17.

But it added the “unfair, opaque and outdated” system for distributing funding was being changed.

Senior Conservative backbencher Sir David Amess, MP for Southend West, compared the proposed national funding formula for schools to the poll tax, and warned ministers he will vote against it.

The survey can be found at tinyurl.com/z9oqu5v

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