MP highlights school funding issues in West Sussex
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for schools in West Sussex to receive a “basic minimum” level of funding, and for schools budgets to be protected in future.
Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate on Monday (4 March), the MP welcomed increases in schools funding and the new National Funding Formula which had made funding fairer and delivered extra resources for West Sussex schools. But he warned that some schools in his constituency were nevertheless “struggling to make ends meet” as costs had risen faster than their funding.
Mr Herbert noted that in his time as an MP “overall funding per pupil rose considerably … reaching a peak in 2015, when it was 60 per cent higher than in 2000 …. But from then on, although overall funding for schools was increased, costs … rose faster”.
The MP also drew attention to the unfairness of funding, pointing out that West Sussex was one of the worst funded education authorities in the country. He said: “Spending per pupil in some other areas of the country is between 50 per cent and 70 per cent 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 per cent—which went more than halfway towards what the f40 campaign estimated we needed to redress the funding gap”.
However, Mr Herbert said that despite this extra funding, some schools in his constituency were struggling to balance their budgets as their costs were rising faster than their incomes.
He said: “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 ….”
“In the last Budget, a number of public service areas benefited considerably from big increases in spending—notably the NHS, 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.”
“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.”
The MPs for East Worthing & Shoreham, Tim Loughton, and Crawley, Henry Smith, also raised concerns about schools funding in the debate.
Replying to the debate, the Schools Minister and MP for Bognor Regis & Littlehampton, Nick Gibb, said that the Government had prioritised school spending while having to take difficult decisions in other areas of public spending. A balanced approach to the public finances and to stewardship of the economy had reduced the unsustainable deficit, resulting in unemployment being at its lowest level since the 1970s and giving young people leaving school more opportunities.
The Minister said that core funding for schools and high needs would rise from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion in 2019-20. An extra £1.3 billion for schools and high needs had been allocated over and above previous plans.
He said that funding disparities between schools with similar characteristics had existed with little or no justification for far too long, as West Sussex MPs had pointed out, “leaving some schools trying to achieve with fewer resources the same as other, better-funded schools in similar situations. That is why we committed to reform the system, and I am proud to say that our introduction of the National Funding Formula delivers that commitment”.
Mr Gibb added that “funding in West Sussex will increase from £425.8 million in 2017-18 to £459.3 million by 2019-20. That is an increase of £33.5 million or 7.9 per cent. It is an increase of 4.9 per cent per pupil. The argument is made that there are more pupils, but we are also increasing funding on a per-pupil basis.”
1. Nick’s speech can be viewed on his website at this link: https://www.nickherbert.com/news/2019/3/5/school-funding-in-west-sussex
2. For the full Hansard transcript of the debate see: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2019-03-04/debates/2EB33517-190D-4882-8682-4953D09C5CB0/SchoolFunding
3. To read Nick’s article following the debate see: https://www.nickherbert.com/news/schools-funding-challenge-in-west-sussex.
4. To see a list of Nick’s actions on school funding see: https://www.nickherbert.com/schools-funding.
5. According to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies there has been an overall real terms reduction in per pupil spending in primary and secondary schools of 4 per cent since 2015 (see https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/13306).