MP demands fairer share of funding for rural schools
Education Secretary Michael Gove has been urged to bring forward reform of school funding to give rural areas such as the Westcountry a fairer share, an MP has said.
Sir Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon, has called for moving cash away from schools in towns and cities towards the countryside by the end of this parliament rather than by 2015-16 as promised.
The South West is a major loser under the current schools cash formula. Devon sits sixth from bottom in a national league table of 151 education authorities in terms of funding, with schools getting hundreds of pounds less per pupil than the national average and half as much as in parts of London.
Cornwall and Somerset are only marginally better off than Devon. In his autumn statement in June, Chancellor George Osborne announced schools cash will be allocated in "a fairer way than ever before", confirming that the Government would introduce a new national funding formula to ensure that money is distributed equally.
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But Labour is likely to be against the plan and campaign to protect schools cash given to its urban heartlands in the north. And in September, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg admitted to the Western Morning News the Government pledge will be "controversial" and lead to "winners and losers".
Sir Nick, a former minister, made the warning in a joint letter with fellow Lib Dem MPs, which states a new system "should not be a rushed job" but that "this should not get in the way" of solving a "real problem".
Other MPs to sign the missive include Adrian Sanders (Torbay) and Jeremy Browne MP (Taunton Deane).
Sir Nick said: "These tougher economic times mean that schools in North Devon are already facing real financial challenges. The present flawed funding system is only making things harder and the gap between the 'haves and have nots' has increased. We need action now to secure a fairer formula – the present situation cannot continue for the rest of this Parliament.
"Under the current system, the funding formula means that every child in North Devon receives £479.77 less each year from Government than the average English school pupil. That's a loss of £48.8m a year for education across Devon.
"The coalition Government has already made good progress towards correcting this unfairness, but North Devon has been losing out for too long. That is why I'm calling on the Education Secretary to act now and ensure our local schools get the funding they deserve."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "This government plans to consult on introducing a new national funding formula in 2015-16 to replace a current system which is unfair and out of date."