Rural school funding hopes dashed

School pupils in exam hall Image copyright PA Wire
Image caption Rural school funding hopes have been dashed by a revamp of the funding formula says the f40 group

A revamp of the school funding formula in favour of rural schools may never happen.

That's the bleak assessment of the f40 group of local authorities which has campaigned vigorously for change under this government and the last.

The present funding formula leaves every pupil somewhere like Devon hundreds of pounds worse off than the average child across the country.

Pupils in the best funded LEA, the City of London, get twice as much as their Devonian equivalents - a difference of more than £4,000 per annum.

Rural 'deprivation'

Rural councils have long disputed the criteria the existing formula uses to gauge pupil deprivation.

They argue it underestimates the levels and causes of poverty in the countryside.

Labour began a consultation into changing the system which came grinding to a halt after the 2010 general election.

Earlier this year a second consultation by the coalition resulted in the Education Secretary acknowledging the "anomalies" in the present system and saying he was eager to change it.

But not yet. And possibly not even while he is still Education Secretary.

F40 greeted this news with less dismay than one might have expected.

This was because Michael Gove also agreed to consider proposals from f40 for some kind of temporary financial package pending full reform.

He has now ruled out this interim sweetener as well - hence f40's despondency.

'Poor relations'

A spokesman for the Department for Education assures me: "We are determined to get this right and we will introduce reforms at a pace which everyone can manage.

"Schools must be allowed time to adjust gradually to a new system."

F40 clearly thinks that pace could be very slow indeed.

Image caption Michael Gove has rejected the f40 group's proposal for an immediate uplift of funding for the worst funded schools

Here's its account of the latest developments:

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has rejected a proposal put forward by the f40 group of local authorities for an immediate £99 million uplift of funding for the worst funded schools and pupils in England.

This means that the pupils, schools and local authorities that for nearly 20 years have been the poor relations in terms of the share of education funding will not see any change until well after the 2015 election… and maybe never at all.

At a meeting with Mr Gove in March this year f40 representatives were told that an extensive consultation on school funding reform clearly demonstrated that the existing allocation system was unfair and inequitable.

They were also told that the government did not intend to address the problem during this Parliament.

Interim remedy?

F40, which campaigns for fairer funding on behalf of the poorest-funded localities in England, naturally felt aggrieved about the announced delay in putting right a significant injustice.

It put forward the case for an immediate 'uplift' in funding for the worst funded areas.

"We suggested that Secretary of State should offer an interim remedy to ease the position of schools and pupils in the worst funded local authorities", said f40 chairman, Cllr Ivan Ould.

He also represents Leicestershire County Council, the worst funded schools authority in the country.

"At the Secretary of State's invitation we agreed to undertake some financial modelling to show the cost implications of a range of potential solutions, and these were delivered to him at the beginning of April.

"Four options were considered and a moderate proposal was recommended involving an investment of £99 million to be shared by the 40 worst funded authorities.

"Though ideally f40 would have liked to have seen the worst-funded local authorities receive immediate increases, taking member authorities nearer to the national average, we recognised that such a major re-balancing would be difficult in the current economic climate and should await the introduction of the proposed new system, post-2015.

"With this in mind, we asked for a fraction of the shortfall to be made up in 2012-13, with similar increases in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

"We believe that increases at these levels would help bridge the indefensible gap between the best and poorest funded local authority areas and would have been a significant gesture to clearly demonstrate that the government recognises the unfairness inherent in the existing allocation arrangement.

"In his letter rejecting our proposal the Secretary of State stated that, "it is important we move to a new formula gradually and at a pace which schools can manage".

"The f40 group finds that approach totally unacceptable as it fails to reflect the fact that the existing formula is so demonstrably wrong and unfair, and suggests that poorly funded schools could not make immediate good use of the additional funding they have been deprived of for so long.

"Outright rejection of our proposal is deeply disappointing and, although we will keep open channels of communication with the government, we are left with no alternative but to maintain our campaign for fairer funding."