Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Nelson Mandela was absolutely right about that. It fosters social mobility, strong economies and decent societies.
So we should be enormously grateful to the teachers, parents and governors whose hard work has built Cheltenham’s excellent reputation in schooling. But their achievements are all the more remarkable given that for more than 20 years Gloucestershire pupils have languished towards the bottom of the national funding pile. The old Labour formula has seen children in London’s Tower Hamlets receive nearly double the sum allocated to our pupils. That’s plain wrong.
So, it’s absolutely right that the Government has grasped the nettle of unfair schools funding. But the formula that officials have come up with needs surgery. Even though Cheltenham gains modestly overall from the proposed formula, the way the pie is divided up is illogical. Of our secondaries, Bournside, Pittville and All Saints’ gain. But Pate’s and Balcarras lose, despite being in an underfunded county. The gain should be spread more evenly.
So earlier this week I hosted a meeting for MPs on behalf of the f40 school funding campaign group where the concerns were set out. The House of Commons meeting room was completely packed with colleagues – Labour and Conservative. f40 believe that there are some key elements of the proposals that need to be reviewed in order to deliver the genuinely fair funding that our schools deserve. First, we need to get rid of the 3% funding floor which helps out schools in London by ‘baking in’ some residual geographical unfairness. Second, we need to increase the proportion of money going to pupils’ ‘basic entitlement’. Third, officials need to recognise the cost pressures, and increase the minimum sum allocated to pupils who don’t qualify for any of the various uplifts.
The Department for Education will be under no illusions about the strength of feeling, and it isn’t the first time I’ve banged heads with them. Last year I clashed with the previous Education Secretary Nicky Morgan MP over plans to force all schools to become academies. I brought her down to Cheltenham to see the wonderful work of local teachers and governors. During her visit I made it clear that I didn’t support a one-size-fits-all approach. To her credit, she listened and thought again. The plans were withdrawn.
The funding formula consultation runs for another month. Do take part!