Schools: Nottingham

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:18 am on 12th July 2017.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 11:18 am, 12th July 2017

I share the hon. Lady’s impatience. We need to find more good school sponsors to take on underperforming schools. It is an iterative process; we are seeing more and more academy chains being formed and more stand-alone academies taking on underperforming schools and helping them to improve. For example, Riverside Primary School in Nottingham was not performing well. In 2016, it was transferred to the NOVA academy trust, which is a strong sponsor operating in the city. We need more strong sponsors in Nottingham and throughout the country to drive up standards. We are seeing that the system of using leaders in the education system—a school-led system—is driving up standards. It has resulted in 1.8 million more pupils in good and outstanding schools than there were seven years ago.

The local examples I have cited demonstrate that the combined effects of targeted funding to the system to drive school improvement and action taken at a local level are continuing to deliver more good and outstanding places for children. However, underpinning all the support we are putting in to the system to help drive school improvement is the need to ensure that we have fair distribution of funding to schools, which properly reflects need.

I listened to the contributions from the hon. Members for Nottingham South and for Nottingham North, as well as the intervention from Mr Leslie, on school funding. I have spent a lot of time in the past few months, during the election and during the extensive consultation, meeting schoolteachers, parents and governors from across the country. From those conversations, I have never been more convinced that our current funding system is broken.

The data that we use to allocate funding to local authorities are more than a decade out of date. For example, over that period the free school meals rate has almost halved in Southwark and more than doubled in Dorset, but the funding each local authority receives has not responded to that change. It is not right that local authorities with similar needs and characteristics receive very different levels of funding from central Government. That unfairness is exacerbated at individual school level, because local authorities make very different decisions in designing their local formulae. For example, a school in Barnsley would have 50% more funding if there were no other change to its circumstances but that it was situated in Hackney instead. The system by which we distribute money to schools is unfair and anachronistic.

That is why the Government have gone further than previous Governments in reforming school funding. Our manifesto committed to making funding fairer and we will do that by introducing a single national funding formula, so that all schools in England are funded on a consistent and transparent basis that properly reflects needs. In March 2016 we launched our first stage of consultation on the formula. We asked for views on the principles that should underpin it and its overall design. The principles included using robust data to ensure that funding is matched to pupil characteristics, such as deprivation, and the importance of transparency in the formula. More than 6,000 people responded and there was widespread support for our proposals.

In December last year we launched the second stage of our consultation on the detailed design of the formula. As part of that consultation, and to ensure maximum transparency, we published detailed illustrative impact data for all schools and local authorities, which enabled us to hold a truly national debate for more than three months. The Government response will address all the issues and concerns raised throughout the consultation and by hon. Members in debates such as this—we have had several over the past few weeks and months. We will respond to the consultation in due course.

Not only do we want the system for distribution to be fair; we also want to ensure that every school has the resources it needs to deliver a world-class education for every child. In order to achieve that, we have protected the schools budget in real terms since 2010, and the Government have committed to increase the school budget further, as well as to continue to protect the pupil premium to support those who need it. The Queen’s Speech was clear that the Government are determined to introduce a fairer distribution of funding for schools. We will set out our plans shortly and, as outlined in our manifesto,

“we will make sure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula.”

We know that how schools use their money is also important in delivering the best outcomes for pupils, so we will continue to provide support to help them use their funding cost-effectively. The Government have produced tools, information and guidance to support improved financial health and efficiency in schools, which is available in one collection on the website.