This week saw an important victory in Parliament for the huge army of Cheltenham teachers, parents and governors who have been fighting for better funding for our secondary schools. Cash for the front-line will now be significantly increased, to help address the rising tide of pension and other costs that local Heads are grappling with.
You’ll know the background: for more than 20 years Gloucestershire pupils have received less funding than pupils in other parts of the country. The old Labour formula has seen children in London’s Tower Hamlets receive nearly double the sum allocated to Cheltenham’s pupils. Just two weeks ago I found myself listening to one London MP complain that average per pupil funding was forecast to rise from £5,400 to £5,500. Here in Cheltenham, the figure is closer to £4,200.
It’s just not acceptable, particularly at a time of local funding pressures. Since 2015 together we’ve been campaigning to change that. We’ve lodged petitions in Parliament, written letters, and I’ve had (sometimes tense) meetings with the PM and Justine Greening to make the case. Just before Christmas, Department for Education officials came up with their first version a new formula. I welcomed the fact that the funding nettle was finally being grasped. But the scheme itself was flawed and not right for Cheltenham. I made clear that it needed radical surgery.
Well, the Government listened. On Monday, the Education Secretary announced that every secondary school in Cheltenham will receive at least £4,800 per pupil. Many will receive thousands more in additional needs funding (for factors such as Low Prior Attainment and Free School Meals).
This is a huge step forward.
Of course there’s much more to do – not least for primary schools, as I said to the Chancellor in a private meeting on Tuesday. But after so many years of being at the back of the funding queue, this really is a positive move for Cheltenham.
In other news, this week I also raised the issue of homelessness in Cheltenham and praised the compassionate work of local groups like Cheltenham Open Door. Let’s be clear: any homelessness in a country like ours is completely unacceptable. I was pleased that Sajid Javid confirmed an additional £1 million in social impact bonds for our county. This funds a personal link worker for every entrenched rough sleeper in Cheltenham. The one-on-one support continues after the person has found accommodation and is off the streets. That is so important, giving vulnerable people the confidence to rebuild their lives.
Whether the issue is homelessness or education, political change is far more difficult to achieve without strong public support. Thank you to all those in Cheltenham who have backed these vital campaigns.