Schools funding challenge in West Sussex

This week I took part in a Commons debate on schools funding, which has been an issue of concern to local parents, governors and teachers.

There were big increases in schools funding under successive governments over a fifteen year period to 2015, when it reached its peak.  Funding per pupil in primary and secondary schools is now 60 per cent higher than it was in 2000.

In fact, the UK’s schools are the best funded in the richest G7 countries.  And the schools budget was protected by the Coalition Government after the economic downturn when others had to be cut sharply to balance the books.  Any debate about schools funding needs to keep a sense of proportion.

But while the national schools budget still rose after 2015, school costs rose faster.  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.

While this is not apocalyptic, West Sussex schools have particularly felt the pressure because our funding per pupil was already the lowest of any county and the third lowest of any education authority.  So it has been especially hard for them to find savings.

West Sussex MPs pressed hard for fairer funding, and we were pleased when a new National Funding Formula was introduced in 2017.  West Sussex schools gained by some £30 million, going more than half way towards closing the fairness ‘gap’.

The Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, said in the debate that the funding increase in West Sussex from 2017-18 to 2019-20 is 4.9 per cent per pupil.  But despite this extra help, costs have continued to rise faster than income, and some of our schools are struggling to balance the books.  

Of course, schools in areas of great deprivation are likely to need more funding.  But as I said in the debate, the gap between the highest and lowest funded is still huge, with the best funded receiving some 50-70 per cent more funding per pupil.

So, while the National Funding Formula was a good start, school budgets should be protected, and a basic income should be provided for every school. 

Our schools deserve fair funding.  This is the message that I and my fellow West Sussex MPs will be feeding in to the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review this year.

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