Rural Schools — [Mr Mike Weir in the Chair]
Nick Gibb (The Minister for Schools; Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, Conservative)
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who are part of the f40 group to discuss their concerns about the funding. We
do want to address these disparities in our funding system. That is why proposals in the “Consultation on School Funding Reform: Proposals for a Fairer System,” which we undertook in 2011, looked at how small schools could be better protected, as well as at the underlying discrepancies and unfairness that are in the current system. We would like to address the disparities in the rural schools either through a sparsity weighting or, in the case of primary schools, through a lump sum figure. The lump sum suggested in the consultation—I emphasise that it is only a consultation at this stage—is £95,000.
We have published a summary of responses that we are considering and we will make a further announcement in the spring. We had better arrange this meeting with my hon. Friend and other hon. Members before that response; otherwise, the meeting might seem a little superfluous.
In the interim, for 2011-12 and 2012-13, we have set a cash floor of minus 2%, which means that, in practice, no local authority will see a drop in its dedicated schools grant allocation of more than 2% regardless of pupil numbers. That is to protect local authorities that have falling pupil numbers.
I understand the local community’s passion for Captain Shaw’s school in the constituency of the hon. Member for Copeland. I can see why it is the “beating heart” of the community and why it is supported by an “indomitable community spirit.” As my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed pointed out, people prefer to see village children attending their local school, being heard at playtime and being seen walking home instead of arriving home half an hour or an hour later on a school bus. I understand that the local authority in Cumbria has provided small school support through its funding formula and that the school has received a one-off schools in financial difficulty allocation to protect its budget concerns.