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Friday, 19 December 2014

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Schools minister to discuss cuts with Cumbrian politicians

Concerns about school closures have prompted schools minister David Laws to agree to urgent talks with Cumbrian politicians.

Tim Farron  photo
Tim Farron

A new formula, setting out how the county council allocates £260m a year to schools, means some will get more cash but others will lose up to a third of their funding from 2015.

The biggest losers include Ellenborough and Ewanrigg Infants at Maryport, Newtown Primary in Carlisle and secondaries such as Beacon Hill in Aspatria and Southfield at Workington.

Mr Laws has agreed to discuss the changes with Cumbria’s six MPs and county council leader Eddie Martin.

His offer follows an approach from fellow Liberal Democrat Tim Farron, the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, who held a 30-minute phone call with the Minister and senior civil servants.

Mr Farron believes that 32 Cumbrian schools could shut if the changes go through.

He said: “The Government must take on board our concerns and work with us to fix this issue.

“It’s vital that the county council listen closely to our schools, so that they propose a formula that best suits our area. We need to keep up the pressure to make sure that we defend our local schools.”

The new formula is supposed to be fairer but gives local authorities less leeway in allocating the cash.

Currently, Cumbria gives extra money to smaller schools because their running costs per pupil are higher. It can include a lump sum up to £200,000 under the new arrangement.

However, it must pay the same amount to every school regardless of size.

If the lump sum is set high, small schools gain but large schools lose out. If it is low, the reverse is true.

The council is consulting on what the lump sum should be. It is supposed to tell the Department for Education by October 31.

Although the changes apply from April, there will be a two-year transition period during which no school’s budget can fall by more than 1.5 per cent.

In his discussions with the Minister, Mr Farron called for this transition period to be extended to three years to give schools more time to adjust.

And he asked for the county council to be allowed to apply an additional factor to reflect the cost of operating schools in sparsely-populated areas. This would help small schools.

Funding for sixth forms is not affected by the changes, nor is the pupil premium – additional money based on the number of pupils receiving free school meals.

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