Ministers told change tack on school funding or face large Tory rebellion

Posted On: 
17th March 2017

A Conservative MP has told ministers they face a bruising defeat in the Commons over planned changes to the schools funding formula.

Education Secretary Justine Greening has been told she faces a Commons defeat on changes to the schools funding formula
Credit: 
PA Images

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown urged the Government to change tack and stave off a rebellion from Tory MPs who say their local schools will lose out from the cash shake-up.

The Department for Education says the new funding formula will improve fairness as it redirects money from well-funded city schools to those in rural and coastal settings.

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But Mr Clifton-Brown, MP for Cotswold, said schools in his Gloucestershire constituency stand to lose out, with head teachers having to make redundancies to compensate for the loss.

He revealed he had convened a meeting of nine Tory MPs with Education Secretary Justine Greening to express their concern and tell her the plans would be defeated in the Commons.

Speaking to Radio 4's Today programme, he insisted many more of his colleagues were opposed to the proposals. 

“That is the tip of the iceberg. I wanted to keep the meeting small... But that was a very carefully selected group of Members of Parliament round the country,” he said.

“So there will be many more in each county that’s badly affected. I think ministers recognise - and indeed I told Justine Greening in a later meeting - that this wouldn’t go through in its present form.”

He added: “This is only a consultation. Both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education have indicated very strongly that they are listening to the consultation, they will to listen to what responses they get back, and I think knowing that they will have difficulty getting it through the House, they will have to alter it.”

The Tory MP said ministers should instead identify a minimum amount of spending to run primary and secondary schools to “provide a reasonable education for the children of this country”.

Secondly, he argued the Government should also decide on a basic level of spending per pupil, before accounting for factors such as deprivation and attainment levels.

“Hackney gets £7,300 key stage 3, whereas Gloucestershire gets £3,700, just not far off 50% of what an average school in London would get. That’s a difference of a dozen teachers, and I just simply think that’s not fair,” he said.

The Government's consultation on the plans will complete next Wednesday.

'BLOCKED' BY CAMERON

Appearing on the same programme, former Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws said David Cameron blocked moves during the Coalition Government to reform the schools funding formula because it would “lose him the election”.

The changes are also reportedly opposed by George Osborne, who unveiled the formula – which will come into force in 2018-19 – at his Autumn Statement in 2015.

“Michael Gove, then the secretary of state for education, and I both proposed within government a new national funding formula in the last parliament,” Mr Laws, the head of the Education Policy Institute (EPI) said.

“David Cameron’s response to that was that it was Michael Gove’s plan to lose him the last general election. He didn’t like the idea in big shifts in funding all across the country.

“Of course George Osborne, it’s not surprising he opposes this new formula. Based on our figures it looks like every school in his own constituency is going to lose out from it.”

It is estimated around 10,000 schools will gain from the changes, while more than 9,000 will lose out. But those who benefit risk seeing their increased income outweighed by real-terms cuts to their funding.

Analysis by the EPI found there would be funding shortfalls in every school in England by 2020 even after ministers’ new plans are put into place.

Average losses will reach £74,000 for primary schools and £291,000 for secondary schools by the end of the Parliament, the EPI estimated.

The EPI said the cuts were a result of unfunded rises in pay, pension and National Insurance Contributions, which will account for up to 11% of schools’ budgets by 2019-20.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education highlighted that the EPI agreed ministers were right to introduce reforms to school funding.

She claimed funding was set to rise to £42bn over the next two years as pupil numbers increase.

"Schools will be funded according to their pupils' needs, rather than by their postcode, with more than half set to receive a cash boost,” the spokeswoman added.

"Of course we recognise that schools are facing cost pressures, which is why we will continue to provide support to help them use their funding in cost effective ways."