Last Friday I visited three schools – starting with Bishops Castle Primary for a play during assembly, joining pupils for lunch at Newcastle-on-Clun Primary, and ending at Oldbury Wells Academy to award prizes for their Get Creative writing and drawing project.
I try to visit all 8 secondary schools every year and all 44 primary schools in the Ludlow Constituency during the course of each Parliament, to gauge how our children are performing and to get feedback from staff and parents.
One of key issues being raised with me by schools across South Shropshire is the current debate over funding. Most agree with me that for too long, outdated funding formulae have meant rural areas simply do not receive as fair funding per pupil as urban areas.
This stems from an opaque legacy school funding system put in place some 15 years ago, which favoured inner cities. The existing system is so inconsistent that it can put similar children in comparable schools at an unfair educational disadvantage. It is time for this system to be reformed.
I have called for change for some time, and we have had some success in redressing this imbalance. We secured a 7.2% increase for 2015/16. But real fairness will require a new approach to a national funding formula.
The Department for Education has published draft proposals, on which a second public consultation finished this week. For South Shropshire, this proposed new formula represents a £660,000 (1.45%) increase in funding once fully implemented, but there are winners and losers amongst our schools, particularly problematic for those with falling pupil numbers. So I encouraged all local schools to take part in the consultation.
School funding overall is at its highest level on record – over £40 billion in 2016-17. The core schools budget has been protected in real terms since 2010, as well as per pupil funding in cash terms, which means that as pupil numbers increase so will the money our schools receive.
For those South Shropshire schools where pupil numbers are declining, there are real pressures. Closer cooperation through joining together in multi academy trusts offers a way to provide real help and greater flexibility.
We shall see in coming months what changes are made to the funding formula. My hope is that redressing funding imbalances will help improve local schools, and ensure that all children in South Shropshire have access to a good or outstanding school.