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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Ministers urged to visit Cumbria's schools before making funding decision

A call has been issued for Government ministers to visit Cumbrian schools before they make a decision on futureeducation funding.

Eddie Martin photo
Eddie Martin

The leader of Cumbria County Council, Eddie Martin, has written to David Laws, Minister of State for Schools, outlining his concerns over theproposed new schools funding formula.

From next year all schools – regardless of size – will be given the same lump funding from the Government as part of plans to make budgets fairer and simpler.

Schools could be given extra funding based on 10 factors, such as number of pupils and deprivation.

However, the decision has been widely criticised in Cumbria as smaller, rural schools would lose out.

Officials in the county say 98 of the Cumbria’s 310 schools would receive less funding under the changes, as the county council will no longer be able to give extra cash to struggling small rural schools.

The Government has acknowledged the challenges rural schools would face but Mr Martin believes there could be measures put in place to limit the effect.

In his letter he recognises the reasons behind the move, but calls for a “pragmatic solution”.

“We recognise that the introduction of a formula gives us the opportunity to review our estate and ensure provision is fit for purpose and sufficient without being excessive,” he wrote.

“Nonetheless, we also wish to emphasise that some schools, while very small, are also serving communities at such a distance from other centres as to make it irrational to close them.

“We are not looking for an option which enables us to evade the need to rationalise the estate: we are looking for a pragmatic solution which enables us to acknowledge the very real requirements of a large county with pockets of very sparse population.”

Mr Martin has urged all six county MPs to lobby the Government for two key changes.

He wants local authorities to be able to apply an additional factor to reflect the cost of operating in sparse areas, allowing a cash sum to be allocated accordingly; and for the Department for Education to allow three or four years protection through the minimum funding guarantee, rather than two years, to ensure proper measures and arrangements are in place.

Mr Martin’s letter concluded: “I would be delighted if you would come to Cumbria, visit some of our rural schools and see for yourself what a first class job they are doing.”

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