Last week I spoke in a debate about Fairer Funding for our schools. I said that it was ludicrous and unfair that on average, Wiltshire pupils get £2,000 less per head than the top funded schools. I urged the Minister to address the issue – he stressed the Department’s push to get more in the Spending Review and a commitment to introducing a Fairer Funding system. Watch my full speech HERE.
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I commend my Hon friend, the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) and the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) for securing this important debate. I certainly need not express how important the topic is. It is important because it is about ensuring that children have the best shot at life and the opportunities that they deserve.
Like my colleagues, I understand how difficult it is to rectify the hugely complicated school funding formula, but it is imperative that we make the changes. No wonder it is a key local issue in Wiltshire, as well as everywhere else, it appears. The country’s average received grant this year was £6,500 per pupil, whereas in Wiltshire it was £4,300 per pupil. Just think how much that £2,000 per pupil could do and the benefits that it would bring to their education. Every secondary school in my constituency would receive between £2 million and £3.7 million each school year. In total, Wiltshire schools lose out by more than £35 million compared with the best funded schools in the UK. That is a colossal amount, and it is a colossal injustice to hard-working children.
We cannot sit back and let it continue. We need a new national per-pupil funding formula, rather than the arbitrary and complicated system that we currently have.
Yesterday, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) mentioned, the Select Committee on Education, of which I am a member, published a letter from the Secretary of State expressing her strong commitment to fairer funding and saying that she wanted to push it within the spending review. Along with many of my colleagues, I have repeatedly urged the Chancellor and Prime Minister to make education funding an issue for the spending review and a priority.
I will not beat about the bush: I think that the current spending formula is utterly ludicrous and absolutely unfair. Why should children born in my constituency have less money spent on their education than those living down the road in Bristol, for instance? They are all funded by the taxpayer, but it is a postcode lottery that takes no account of children’s needs or their numbers. The quest for fairer funding in our education system is backed by parents and teachers up and down the country, especially in Wiltshire, where more than 8,000 people signed my petition, showing how important it is as a local issue.
Of course, money is not everything in education. My sister is in the profession, and I know full well how important teachers are. An inspirational teacher can transform somebody’s life. However, money aids the recruitment and retention of teachers, as well as funding the resources that they can use to support teaching, giving children the start that they deserve. I ask the Minister: do not all children deserve a great and equal start, regardless of where they live?
The Prime Minister spoke time and again about equality at the Conservative party conference this year. I hope that that equality will be extended to the most important area of all—education, the building block of the opportunities and the aspiration nation that we all want to achieve. We need action as soon as possible. Every year that we wait, a child in Wiltshire receives less funding and is disadvantaged by the state education system. We must right that wrong as soon as possible to ensure that all children in Wiltshire and in the country as a whole can enjoy equal opportunities from the off. The Government must honour their commitment to equality and stop penalising children for being born in areas such as Wiltshire.