This month marks the start of the new academic year – with many parents welcoming the return to normality after the long summer holidays; children perhaps less so!
But over the summer we have had good news for schools in Shropshire, with the announcement that all schools will share in the additional investment of £1.3bn for schools across the country to help transition to a new National Funding Formula.
I have long supported the need for a new National Funding Formula. While funding for schools nationally is at a record high, since schools funding has been protected from austerity, for too long schools in South Shropshire and other rural areas have received much lower levels of funding compared to urban areas, due to outdated formulae.
Overall, this means core funding for schools and high needs will rise from nearly £41bn for this academic year (2017/18) to £42.4bn next year, and £43.5bn in 2019/20. The new formula will increase the amount per pupil by a minimum of 0.5% for every pupil for each of the next two years; allow for increases of up to 3% per pupil for underfunded schools for the next two years; and continue to protect funding for pupils with additional needs, as proposed in the consultation published last December.
This is really welcome news for schools in South Shropshire, who will find out from this month what the new national funding formula will mean for them individually. We had already secured a 7.2% increase in per pupil funding for Shropshire in recent years, but some schools had been facing reductions in funding under the draft new formula, while several face declining school rolls as the birth rate locally has fallen.
So this additional funding for every pupil will help to ensure every child in South Shropshire has the chance for a good education. Across the UK, 2 million more children are now being taught in schools rated by Ofsted as Good or Outstanding compared to 2010, and this funding will help build on that record.
I am also encouraged that, in addition to the investment boost through the national funding formula, funding for physical education and the sports premium will be doubled for primary schools. As a result, all primary schools will receive an increase in the PE and sports premium funding in the next academic year. With childhood obesity a growing concern, this is good news for schools in Shropshire, helping to encourage children to be more active and get involved in sport from a young age.
Of course, it is not just school pupils who return in September but also students. Higher education became a divisive topic in the General Election, but we should all welcome the fact that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university in record numbers. The cap on student numbers has been removed, and the number of students in higher education has passed half a million for the first time.
I recently had a presentation from the new University Centre Shrewsbury, which is steadily growing and plans to benefit from this increase in higher education participation. More students will help secure the facility for the future, contribute to the local economy, but also help foster a new cohort of graduates with ties to Shropshire – hopefully developing our economy in the long run.
With additional support, education in Shropshire will stand in good stead and give all our children the chance for a good education and the best possible start in life.