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South Lakes MP Tim Farron has welcomed the news that the government has made a series of major concessions to campaigners who are fighting to protect rural schools in Cumbria. In his third meeting with Education Minister David Laws, he again pressed the case for schools in Cumbria. At the end of the discussions the minister made some major commitments:
Firstly, that the minimum funding guarantee will continue beyond 2015 each year so that no school will be put in danger as a consequence of the new funding formula. Some schools were facing cuts in their budget of up to 30%, but Tim has now secured a guarantee that this new change means that no school will be allowed to lose more than 1.5% per year. As a result, no school in South Lakeland will be faced with closure due to the new funding formula.
Secondly, the MP has ensured that the government will undertake a full review of the schools funding formula to be concluded by spring 2013. This gives us the chance to ask for changes to the way funds are provided to Cumbria to ensure that rurality is taken into account. Tim hopes that this would mean that Cumbria could get a larger settlement in order to acknowledge the fact that we need more schools per head of population due to the rural and sparsely populated nature of so much of our county.
According to documents released by the County Council, 98 out of the County’s 310 schools stood to lose money as a result of the changes. Some Cumbrian schools could have lost up to 31 per cent of their budget.
The council is required by law to lodge its funding formula with the Department for Education by 31st October, but only began consulting schools in mid September – whereas neighbouring Lib Dem run Northumberland had begun their consultation before the summer.
He has emailed head teachers tonight to let them know about these developments and to thank them for all their help. He has kept in close touch with schools throughout the campaign.
He said: “We have worked hard together as a community these last few weeks. As a result I am delighted that David Laws has agreed to make these changes – this means that none of our schools in South Lakeland face the threat of closure as a result of the funding settlement.
“Parents can now make their choices of where to send their children with full confidence that none of our schools are being put at risk. I have said all through the process that while this was a very serious threat to some of our schools, it was nevertheless an easy threat to fix so long as the government was willing to help us.”
"I will continue to monitor the issue and do everything I can to make sure the Government keeps its promises. I want to say a huge thank you to headteachers, teachers, councillors, unions and parents for their help.”
Cllr Eddie Martin, Leader of Cumbria County Council, said: “I welcome the Department for Education’s announcement as far as it goes. The county council has lobbied hard to get the Government to think again, as have many local councils across the country, so it’s good to see that Government is willing to listen.
"But quite simply the announcement does not go far enough. In terms of the minimum funding guarantee is not clear either what level it will be set at beyond 2014/15 or indeed for how long it would be kept in place. I would argue that even extending the guarantee from two to three years would not give Local Authorities like Cumbria the time they need to implement the funding changes properly and, of course, in collaboration with schools and parents.
"There is also no indication in the statement from the Department whether the funding factors, the things the council can take into account in setting the funding model, will be changed to include recognition of the unique challenges faced by rural schools. This is crucial for Cumbria and the statement falls short of giving full reassurance in this regard.
"It must be acknowledged that Government has not decreased schools funding overall, and the increase in Pupil Premium payments aimed at tackling deprivation and disadvantage are welcome. But we need Westminster to understand that this approach does not offer the best value to an area like Cumbria; barely anywhere in Cumbria would classify as “urban” by Government definitions!
"I understand the desire to have a fairer, more transparent way of allocating funding to schools. But my fear is that the Government plans move more power away from local areas to civil servants in Whitehall – and with that we lose the ability to innovate and apply our local knowledge. Given the high profile talk about “localism” this feels like a step in the wrong direction.
"So, while the announcement is good news, I’m still far from convinced Government has got this right. I will continue to argue strongly for a re-think given the negative impact that the changes could have on so many of Cumbria’s schools. At the moment I’d give Government a C plus at best.”