Northumberland schools urged to back controversial new funding scheme

Rural schools in Northumberland have once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win better funding, claims Hexham MP Guy Opperman

Hexham MP Guy Opperman
Hexham MP Guy Opperman

Headteachers and governors across Northumberland have been urged to back a controversial new funding system or risk losing millions of pounds for rural schools.

MP Guy Opperman is writing to people involved in the education system warning they have one “window of opportunity” to change the formula which determines how funds are allocated.

Newcastle City Council has previously warned that the change could actually rob schools in the most deprived areas of much-needed funding. It follows decades of campaigning by rural local authorities who feel the current system is unfair.

Basic funding from the Treasury for schools in Newcastle is £4,709 per pupil, while in South Tyneside it is £4,750 and in Gateshead it is £4,559, in Sunderland it is £4,536 and in North Tyneside it is £4,523. But funding in Northumberland is just £4,244 per pupil.

Northumberland County Council is a member of the F40 pressure group, which includes 40 rural authorities and campaigns for a fairer system.

Last month they won a victory when the Government announced it was launching a consultation on a new funding system.

Schools Minister Davis Laws said he was providing a cash boost for rural authorities for the 2015-16 financial year, with spending for Northumberland rising to £4,643 per pupil - which means the county gets an extra £10.6m.

Funding for Durham County Council is also due to increase from £4,572 to £4,643, an extra £4.3m.

However, the extra cash is only for one year and ministers have not promised to keep up the extra funding.

Coun Robert Arkless, who is responsible for children’s services at Northumberland County Council, said the under-funding of schools across the county has been a problem throughout his 25-year term of office. He said: “Our schools have been historically under-funded.

“The Government has issued this consultation which looks to be advantageous to Northumberland but we haven’t had time to consider the detail and it’s not necessarily the case that all schools will benefit. Some of the region’s urban authorities feel they have been badly done by, so nothing is set in stone.

“Even if the sum is agreed, we won’t see a penny before April 2015. This isn’t magical money that has descended from the sky and it isn’t in our school budgets yet.”

The announcement has had no impact on urban councils, which receive the same funding as before.

But some fear that any long term shift of resources to the shires will mean that they receive less cash. Last month, Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes told the Journal: “I’m concerned that this represents a freeze on school budgets in places like Newcastle.”

However, Mr Opperman has called on schools in Northumberland to grasp the opportunity. He said: “We are going to make sure that all of our parents and governors know how important this campaign is.

“If we are successful then the long term disparity in funding between rural schools in Northumberland and urban schools will be dealt with at last. But it is up to our headteachers and governors to make the case to Government that his can’t be allowed to continue.

“I will be writing to all of the heads and governors in my constituency asking them to respond to the consultation, because this is our window of opportunity.”

According to figures from education watchdog Ofsted reported yesterday, 73.9% of Northumberland schools are rated good or outstanding - 3% behind the national average.

Mr Arkless blamed the county’s rural poverty and lack of funding for the below-average results.

“We’re working hard to pull things around,” he said. “It’s worth remembering there are good and outstanding schools in Northumberland but we need to give advice, support and encouragement across the board.”

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