Schools funding in West Sussex

Nick Herbert

I have been a Member of this House for 14 years. Interestingly, for the first decade school funding was not especially an issue in my constituency. The debates that we had with the local education authority and West Sussex County Council were more about standards. That is perhaps not surprising, because overall funding per pupil in this country rose considerably over that period, reaching a peak in 2015, when it was 60% higher than in 2000. Overall, until 2015, there was a very big increase in spending per pupil, but from then on, although overall funding for schools was increased, costs—some of which have been alluded to—rose faster. That drew the attention of schools in my constituency to the fact that our county is the worst-funded county education authority and the third-worst funded education authority in the whole country. It is therefore no surprise that three Members from West Sussex have contributed to this debate.

We all accept that needs are considerably higher in other areas of the country. I represent an affluent rural constituency and I have hon. Friends in West Sussex who have urban areas in their constituencies whose needs are much higher than mine. Nevertheless, the inequity—the gap—is very large. Spending per pupil in some other areas of the country is between 50% and 70% higher than it is in West Sussex. We were therefore strong supporters of a national fair funding formula, and we benefited from the change. In 2017, West Sussex received an extra £28 million through the national funding formula—an increase of 6.5% in its provision—which went more than halfway towards what the F40 campaign estimated we needed to redress the funding gap

Nevertheless, the rising costs continued to outstrip the income that was provided. The county council adjusted the formula to give more help to primary schools, some of which actually lost under it, and less help to secondaries. Some of the secondary schools in my constituency face deficit budgets and are very concerned. There is a question about whether the formula recognises the basic costs that every school must meet to run.

Chi Onwurah

I thank the hon. Gentleman for emphasising the importance of per-pupil funding. In Newcastle, per-pupil funding has gone down by £240 since 2010. I grew up getting free school meals at a state school. Does he recognise that people on lower incomes have less capacity to do well when funding cuts are made? The pressure put on parents to make up for the funding cuts is higher and cannot be met.

Nick Herbert

Yes, I have already said so. We all recognise that there are areas of the country where needs, and therefore spending needs, are much greater. My point is that all schools need a basic minimum. In the last couple of years, West Sussex schools and some in my constituency have struggled to make ends meet because that minimum has not been reached. Given that their funding was at the lowest level per pupil anyway across the whole country, it is much harder for them to make savings.

When we argued for the national funding formula, we never sought to take money away from other schools; we wanted fair funding for our area. It is much harder to introduce a national funding formula in an environment in which spending is not rising sharply. In the last Budget, a number of public service areas benefited considerably from big increases in spending—notably the national health service, defence and social care. Resources are finite, and every Government must choose how to allocate them. That is exactly what the spending review will be about. There is a case to be made for ensuring that the education budget does not fall in real terms, even if the falls are not quite as catastrophic as has been made out. Spending per pupil in the UK is the highest of any G7 country for primary and secondary schools. If adjustments are allowed to happen and budgets that are already tight receive less money, the only way a lot of schools will make savings is by losing people, and that is not something we want.

To read the full debate in Hansard, please click here.