Column: Oppose schools funding plans

Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg
Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg
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The case to transform the way our schools are funded, is obvious. The current system is woefully unfair.

There are many smaller, rural or suburban schools that have consistently lost out and received far less funding than other schools over a long period of time.

For example, Bradfield School, in my constituency, and Penistone Grammar (Grammar in name only) just outside the constituency are amongst the worst funded schools in per pupil terms in the entire country.

During my time in government, we looked exhaustively at the way schools are funded, but we concluded that introducing a National Funding Formula without significant amounts of new money would be the worst of all worlds.

Schools which deserve more money would get less than expected, while schools which would lose out would lose even more than feared.

In 2010, in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, money was tight. Irresponsible spending by the previous Labour Government had failed to prepare us for the worst recession since the 1930s and famously left the country with “no money left”.

Despite the difficult financial climate, we did our best to ensure schools were properly funded and I personally insisted that core school budgets were protected to keep up with prices and pupil numbers.

We also found an additional £400 million as a stopgap measure to help the most underfunded schools. This then meant that the pupil premium, the new £2.5 billion annual fund to support the most disadvantaged pupils, was available to schools over and above their core budgets to be spent in a meaningful way.

A few years on and the Government is determined to introduce a new National Funding Formula against a backdrop of real-terms cuts to school funding.

The £600 million education services grant has been cancelled, per-pupil budgets have not been protected to keep up with inflation and there are additional pressures as schools are being asked to shoulder increased national insurance and pension contributions and, in some cases, apprenticeship levy costs. These are all decisions taken by the Conservative Government since the last election, and they are creating a perfect funding storm for our school system.

What’s more, while local state schools feel the pinch, hundreds of millions of pounds are being diverted to the Government’s pet projects of free schools and new selective schools, a hugely unpopular, divisive policy for which there is no supporting evidence and no political mandate. The creation of a wave of new grammar schools was not even mentioned in the Conservative Manifesto.

It’s no big surprise then that the Government is facing a backlash against these plans from politicians of all parties, parents, carers, teaching staff and their unions. It is up to all of us to make our opposition known, for the sake of the next generation.