Michael Fabricant initiated a brief debate in the Chamber of the House of Commons yesterday on “the unfairness of a long standing post-code lottery on the amount of money Staffordshire schools receive per pupil” – as Michael puts it.
He asked two questions of the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, who answered him while other MPs then piled in. And during the process, Commons Speaker, John Bercow, told the House that Michael “might be considered exotic, but never boring—not by the Chair anyway”.
Here’s how the brief debate went:-
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What steps her Department is taking to ensure a more equitable allocation of funding per pupil throughout England; and if she will make a statement.
The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): The Government remain committed to implementing our manifesto pledge to make funding fairer. We are protecting the schools budget, which will rise as pupil numbers increase, and we have made significant progress towards fairer funding for schools, with an extra £390 million for underfunded areas this year, which we have now confirmed will be included in budgets for next year as well.
Michael Fabricant: My right hon. Friend will know that schools in Staffordshire receive about £320 less per pupil than the English average. At the risk of boring you, Mr Speaker, I raised this matter in 1992, and I raised it again during Prime Minister’s questions with Tony Blair, who was very sympathetic but also did nothing, and when I raised it in the previous Parliament, I was told that it was being blocked by the “wicked Liberals” and David Laws. Well, now we are in government, so what are we going to do about it and when will it happen?
Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman might be considered exotic, but never boring—not by the Chair anyway.
Nicky Morgan: I entirely agree, Mr Speaker.
The Minister for Schools recently met colleagues in Staffordshire to discuss school funding, which I hope they found useful. As I have said, we have protected the per pupil funding in Staffordshire so that schools will continue to receive the additional £130,000 they received in 2015-16, but I am determined to make further progress on this.
Nigel Huddleston: Under current arrangements, per pupil funding in Worcestershire is £4,231, whereas in nearby Birmingham it is £5,218. When my right hon. Friend visits Worcestershire in a couple of weeks, will she be able to deliver some good news to my constituents about upcoming arrangements that will narrow that gap?
Nicky Morgan: I am very much looking forward to my visit to Worcestershire. I cannot say what I will be saying at that point, but I know that my hon. Friend and other Members from Worcestershire, including my Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), have been campaigning tirelessly for fairer schools funding for some time, and I know that they will welcome the nearly £7 million extra per year that we have given to schools in Worcestershire. I look forward to working on this further.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): If the Secretary of State is to get into equitable funding right across England, will she also look at where that equitable funding ends up in terms of where students end up, whether in further education colleges, sixth-form colleges or studio schools? The fact of the matter is that so many kids across our country are not getting a fair share.
Nicky Morgan: I think that I can therefore welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the principle of fairer funding. As he will know, we are of course looking at all elements of funding as part of the forthcoming spending review, but we have made it clear that we are protecting per pupil funding in this Parliament, which means that the amount going to schools will go up as the number of pupils goes up.
John Pugh (Southport) (LD): With due respect to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), I must say, as one of the “wicked Liberal Democrats”, that equitable funding requests do not always seem to sit happily with the pupil premium policy. Has the Secretary of State any thoughts on either revising or reviewing that policy?
Nicky Morgan: I think that we can all agree that pupil premium funding has been hugely successful. It is absolutely right that over £2.5 billion is given to schools for additional funding to help those who are most disadvantaged, and schools, by and large, are spending it extremely effectively. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that obviously the school funding formula reflects both deprivation funding and pupil premium funding, which has since been introduced, but we absolutely want to ensure that the same pupils with the same needs attract the same funding. I reiterate that pupil premium funding has been very successful.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Given the scale and complexity of the issue, does the Secretary of State agree that we need some proposals relatively soon so that the Education Committee, for one, can examine them and be satisfied that they offer a long-term solution to a very significant problem?
Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend, who chairs the Committee, is absolutely right that any solution must be for the long term. I can assure him that, were there to be any changes, there would be an extensive consultation, in which I hope members of the Committee as well as members of the public, including schools, teachers and parents across the country, would be involved.
Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): Redbridge, like many other parts of London, faces an acute shortage of places in primary and secondary provision over the course of this Parliament. Will the Secretary of State or a relevant Minister agree to meet me and representatives from the local authority to discuss this? Will she consider allowing local authorities such as Redbridge with a good track record of local authority maintained schools not only to expand existing local authority schools but to build new ones?
Nicky Morgan: I or one of the Ministers will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I remind him that in the previous Parliament we put in an extra £5 billion into the system to build new places, and we have committed another £7 billion for new places across the system. Of course, his own party took out funding for 200,000 places at a time of growing pupil numbers.
Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): In a similar vein to questions from other hon. Friends, may I point out that pupils in Taunton Deane receive £2,000 less than the average per pupil nationally? I have the backing of thousands of teachers and parents on a petition for our fairer funding campaign. Can I give them any indication from the Minister that they will be listened to?
Nicky Morgan: I know that petitions and signatures are being collected up and down the country, as in my Leicestershire constituency, where fair funding is also a huge issue. I can assure my hon. Friend that I am extremely aware of these issues, as are Ministers across Government.
Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that for the first time since the mid-’90s school spending per pupil will fall in real terms. Those in further education and early years already fear huge cuts. Will the Secretary of State assure this House that any increases in funding in one area of her budget will not be at the further expense of others?
Nicky Morgan: The hon. Gentleman will know that I cannot give any predictions about the forthcoming spending review until all the negotiations and discussion with the Treasury are concluded, but of course the issues of fairer funding that we have been discussing are a very important part of responding to the pressures on schools budgets across the country.