School Funding: North Northumberland

Part of Petition - Warwick Road, Carlisle – in the House of Commons at 1:04 am on 11th September 2017.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Department for Education) 1:04 am, 11th September 2017

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Trevelyan on securing this important debate. I know she cares passionately about education in general and the schools in her constituency in particular, so it is a pleasure to be discussing these issues with her this morning—as I realise it now is.

This Government want to ensure that all children, regardless of where they live, receive a world-class education. Over the past seven years, we have made significant progress. There are now 1.8 million more children in schools that are rated as good or outstanding than in 2010, and the attainment gap is beginning to close. Since 2011, the attainment gap at secondary school has closed by 7%, and at primary school the gap has closed by 9.3% over the same period. This is important progress, but there is more to do to ensure that every child receives the education they deserve to fulfil their potential.

Thanks to a curriculum that ensures that all children are taught the core knowledge they need to be successful, the promotion of the evidence-based teaching practices such as Asian-style maths mastery and synthetic, systematic phonics, and the hard work of hundreds of thousands of teachers, standards across England are on the rise. According to the latest international figures, secondary pupils in England outperform pupils in the other nations of the United Kingdom. However, despite nearly nine in 10 schools being rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted, there are still more than 1 million pupils attending schools that are not yet good enough. While much has been achieved over the past seven years, there is a lot more to do.

One of the obstacles to providing a good school place for every child is the current anachronistic and unfair funding system, which sees different schools in different parts of the country receiving very different sums of money for pupils with similar characteristics. The data used to allocate funding to local authorities are over a decade out of date. Over that period, for example, the free school meals rate has fallen by around a third in Blackburn and has more than doubled in Lincolnshire, but the funding each local authority receives has not responded to these changes. That is why this Government are determined to reform the funding system, and we are well on the way to making that a reality.

In March 2016, we launched our first stage of consultation on a national funding formula. We asked for views on the principles that should underpin it and its overall design. Subsequently, in December last year we launched the second stage of our consultation, on the detailed design of the formula. As part of the second stage, to ensure maximum transparency we published detailed illustrative impact data for all schools and local authorities. This enabled us to hold a truly national debate during the three-month consultation.

Under those proposals, schools in Northumberland would have gained 1.2% more funding on average, and schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency would have gained 2.2% on average. Since publishing those proposals, we have been able to identify additional funding for all schools.

Throughout the consultation period on the national funding formula, the Secretary of State and I met headteachers, governors and many hon. Members from across the House, and I want to thank all those who contributed to the more than 25,000 consultation responses we received. Informed by that feedback, we will introduce a national funding formula from April 2018, as planned. This will put an end to the unfair postcode lottery system by ensuring that all schools in England are funded on a consistent and transparent basis.

I agree with my hon. Friend, however, that funding, while important, is only part of the issue, and what also matters is how local solutions are created and drive improvement in pupil outcomes; my hon. Friend has raised a number of important points regarding school transport, academy sponsorship, and teacher recruitment and career development.

On school transport, local authorities have responsibility for the provision of home to school transport. In consultation with schools, they are best placed to determine the specific needs of a particular local community. They already commission a range of free and subsidised transport services, spending around £1 billion each year on home to school transport. The existing home to school transport framework allows local authorities the flexibility and freedom to make transport arrangements which best suit the needs of pupils and offer value for money for their local communities.