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The committee of Cumbrian MPs met this week with Education Minister David Laws,(pictured) who has confirmed that funding for rural schools would be protected in the education reforms. The meeting followed weeks of debate about how to allocate funding between rural and urban schools, with many urban schools claiming they were under-funded, and rural schools anxious that they would lose out. The committee of Cumbrian MPs who met Education Minister Laws included Rory Stewart, Tim Farron, John Stevenson and a representative from John Woodcock’s office. Sir Tony Cunningham was in his constituency, but sent a detailed submission to the Minister.
The committee of Cumbrian MPs expressed their broad support for the Minister’s plans but highlighted the need for time and support, especially in regard to Human Resources. They drew the Minister’s attention to the unique rurality of Cumbria, as one of the most sparsely populated areas of the United Kingdom, and the need for policy and help to reflect this.
The Minister explained that the purpose of the reforms was to introduce a simpler funding formula, which was fair across the country, and which focused on factors such as the number of pupils and the level of deprivation in each school. He accepted, however, that this could have involved reducing funding for certain schools, as well as increasing it for others. He confirmed that money had been made available to help schools make the transition to the new formula. He also confirmed that existing arrangements for Cumbrian schools would be protected until at least 2015, that no school would lose more than 1.5 per cent per year, and that they will undertake a full review of the formula ending in spring 2013, giving time to make the case for special treatment for extreme rural areas.
Rory Stewart MP said: "It is great to see Cumbrian MPs working again together on a cross-party basis. This is not simply about what happens in the classroom. Our rural schools are cores of our community: children and young families bring life to our villages. We have lost far too many rural schools over the last decades. And schools with very few students are always in a tight financial situation. I feel the government's decision to protect the current situation till at least 2015 shows flexibility and imagination, and is a good sign that they are listening to rural communities."
Tony Cunningham MP said: “It is important for cross-party work on this issue. I was delighted to be able to raise the issue of school funding and the University Technical College of West Cumbria.”
Tim Farron MP said: “We’ve won a very important victory for our schools by working together across parties. We now know that no school in Cumbria will be pushed over the edge, so every parent can have complete confidence in their local school as they choose their children’s future. We are also delighted that David Laws promised to make Cumbria a major case study as he looks to review the funding formula – normally we in Cumbria are forced to accept a model developed in London, but now we hope to see the system built to meet the needs of our rural communities in Cumbria.