SOLIHULL borough’s Conservative MPs have rejected campaigners’ accusations they have given up fighting for sustainable funding for schools, amid teachers’ complaints of a crisis in classrooms.
But, when questioned by the Solihull Observer, they declined to back the campaigners’ call on them to commit to lobbying the government to protect Solihull schools’ funding in real terms beyond 2020 (in line with inflation).
Meriden MP Dame Caroline Spelman flatly refused to answer the question specifically. But both she and Solihull MP Julian Knight pledged to continue the fight for more funding.
Our front page last week carried the concerns of campaigning opposition councillors, parents and teachers, including teacher Coleman Doyle.
He had angrily waved half-worn pencils at councillors earlier this month, arguing the situation was so desperate that some pupils were getting one pencil per half-term; second-hand library books had to be bought by teachers or parents from charity shops; and that one recently supplied maths book dated 1978 requested pupils calculate the number of cigarettes a woman smoked.
Parents behind the Fair Funding for Solihull Schools campaign accused Conservative councillors of given up since education secretary Justine Greening announced in July a further £1.3billion for schools nationally until 2020.
Solihull campaigners said the extra cash from next year was only for two years and had been found from elsewhere in the education budget, rather than being new money for children’s education.
Asked by us to respond to the campaign’s demands spelled out in a Green party motion to council on October 10, rejected by Conservative councillors, Dame Caroline told us: “It is completely
untrue that Conservative MPs are ditching support for Solihull schools as we have strongly and consistently supported the campaign by Solihull Council for fair funding.
“… I will continue to campaign and push for fairer, more equitable distribution of funding for our local schools.”
Invited to be clear about whether she would lobby the government to protect ‘sustainable’ real-terms per-pupil funding beyond 2020, her office told us: “Caroline has advised that she has no further comments to add to the statement which was provided to you earlier today.”
Mr Knight responded by saying the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies had confirmed the additional two-years’ funding protected schools budgets in real terms. He aded, if implemented today, it would increase the borough’s schools’ spending by 7.5 per cent.
He said: “I promise that I will continue to work with ministers and officials in the Department for Education, as well as Solihull council, to make sure that our outstanding schools get the best possible deal. They deserve it.”
Solihull Green councillor Maggie Allen (Shirley West) had said the additional two-years’ funding failed to address Solihull headmasters’ concerns of year-on-year funding failing to keep pace with schools’s rising costs, which “places unreasonable pressures on the schools, the teachers and the children.”
Her motion stated: “We join those concerned in our borough in asking both Julian Knight MP and Caroline Spelman MP to acknowledge that the current plans are unsustainable and to lobby the government to protect real terms funding per-pupil for schools in Solihull.”
Conservative councillor Ken Meeson, cabinet member for schools, told the council the extra two-years’ funding amounted to an additional £4.5million (including £1.6m for primary schools) next year and over £8million in 2019/20.
He added: “There’s still schools in other boroughs that will be far better off than Solihull schools but it’s a start.”
The borough’s primary schools receive £24.5million in total, and secondary schools receive £57million.
MPS’ RESPONSES IN FULL…
We asked the borough’s two MPs to respond to the concerns of teachers, parents and campaigners covered in last week’s Solihull Observer, and whether they would back the campaigners’ call on them to lobby government to protect real-terms funding per-pupil year-on-year for Solihull for the long-term.
Dame Caroline said: “I read with dismay the article concerning the funding of schools in Solihull borough.
“It is completely untrue that Conservative MPs are ditching support for Solihull schools as we have strongly and consistently supported the campaign by Solihull Council for fair funding.
“Ask the head teachers of schools from across the constituency that I took to see the schools minister earlier this year, including Grace Academy in Chelmsley Wood, Arden Academy in Knowle, St George and St Theresa’s Primary School in Dorridge as well as other representatives of the Solihull Schools Forum.
“This was to explain the way the current funding formula adversely affects Solihull, which I have highlighted previously.
“The disproportionate gearing for levels of deprivation and ethnicity has historically favoured inner city schools over more suburban and rural schools like ours. It means in practice that schools in Birmingham and Coventry get about a thousand pounds more per pupil and even though several thousand of these children come over the local authority border to be educated in Solihull’s excellent schools they do not bring that extra money with them.
“So for the first time in my 20 years as MP we have a government who is tackling the growing disparity and has awarded Solihull schools overall a range of cash increases. Importantly under this revised formula no Solihull Primary will lose funding.
“I will continue to campaign and push for fairer, more equitable distribution of funding for our local schools.”
Invited once more to respond to the campaigners’ call for her to lobby government to protect year-on-year real-terms funding per pupil for Solihull schools beyond 2020, her office responded: “Caroline has advised that she has no further comments to add to the statement which was provided to you earlier today.”
Julian Knight said: “Our teachers and pupils already do amazing work. We’re very lucky to live in a town where all but one of our secondary schools is rated good or outstanding by Ofsted – it’s part of what makes Solihull such a good place to raise a family.
“But we’re not complacent, and the Conservatives are delivering more money for Solihull schools – not only will the new formula reduce the gap between Solihull and Birmingham, but if it were implemented today it would deliver a 7.5 per cent increase in schools spending across the constituency.
“During the election we announced an extra £4 billion in schools funding, and the IFS has confirmed that thanks to this additional help school budgets will now be maintained in real terms for the next two years.
“That means an increase of between nine and 16 per cent for every local secondary school – and those with the highest share of overspill pupils from Birmingham will receive the most because funding now follows the pupil. Every local primary school will also receive an increase.
“This overhaul is long overdue. The system that we inherited from Labour was deeply unfair to Solihull: not only did it allocate Birmingham more than £1000 extra per pupil, but when those pupils were educated in Solihull the money stayed behind! The government is also ensuring that the extra funding for children with special education needs is more fairly distributed around the country.
“Fighting for fairer funding for Solihull schools has been one of my top priorities ever since I was first elected to represent our town in Parliament in 2015. I have held open surgeries for head teachers to hear their concerns first-hand and relayed them directly to ministers in face-to-face meetings, as well as organising a questionnaire during the government’s initial review of the funding system.
“I promise that I will continue to work with ministers and officials in the Department for Education, as well as Solihull Council, to make sure that our outstanding schools get the best possible deal. They deserve it.”