West Sussex MPs are to meet with the secretary of state for education to discuss the amount of funding received by the county.
Nicky Morgan MP was called on by Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames to accept the meeting during a House of Commons discussion on Monday (June 15).
The education budget has long been cause for concern among politicians and teachers, who have branded the system “unfair”.
West Sussex is the lowest funded county council in the country under the SBUF (Schools Block Unit of Funding) system and receives £15.1million less than councils who are allocated the average rate.
Sir Nicholas asked Ms Morgan: “Will my right honourable friend agree to receive a delegation from West Sussex, a county that has been significantly badly treated in local settlements?
“Is she aware that, during the general election, a number of headteachers asked to see members in Mid Sussex, and it is clear that, unless there is a move towards a national funding formula, schools in Mid Sussex and West Sussex will continue to be significantly badly treated?”
Sir Nicholas was referring to a letter, signed by the heads of 43 secondary schools, which warned of the “potentially catastrophic” outcome of a funding system which, they said, had become a postcode lottery.
Ms Morgan acknowledged there was a lack of fairness in the system and said the government could “no longer afford to sit back and allow the formula to work as originally designed”.
She added: “We have made a clear commitment to tackle the issue and I look forward to working on it with my right honourable friend and other members.”
Crawley MP Henry Smith will be among the delegation to meet with Ms Morgan, having raised the issue of funding in the Commons himself on June 4.
Mr Smith told the House constituencies such as Crawley faced “many demographic pressures” on their finances and called for a debate on education funding.
He said: “I’m determined that Crawley’s young people should have the best possible opportunities in life available to them.”
The meeting was good news for West Sussex County Council and cabinet member for education and skills, Jeremy Hunt, who had twice written to Ms Morgan asking for the same but received no response.
Mr Hunt described the funding system as “outdated” and the gap in funding between West Sussex and similar counties “unfair”.
He added: “This is creating a lot of extra pressure for, especially, our secondary schools with an increasing number of pupils coming through from the primary system. The funding they will be receiving next year will not cover some of the increase in employer contribution to teacher and local government pension schemes and pay awards.”
An additional pressure faced by secondary schools was their increasing difficulty in attracting high calibre heads and teachers, particularly in the fields of maths and English. As a result, they incurred higher salary costs to attract the best staff.
With the county council committed to cutting £68million from its entire budget by 2017, there are no surplus funds for it to chip in and ease the financial pressure on its schools.
A date has yet to be set for the meeting with Ms Morgan, which will also be attended by Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel & South Downs.
When asked what the best outcome of the meeting would be, Mr Herbert said: “That the secretary of state accepted the problem that there’s an inequity, and agrees that something will be done about it.
“I don’t think we should expect an overnight correction but it’s only fair that West Sussex people should be treated to propriety in equivalent areas.”
A council spokesman said it was hoped Mr Hunt would be invited to attend the meeting, along with Peter Evans, cabinet member for children – start of life.
Council leader Louise Goldsmith said: “I am delighted that Nicholas Soames and Nick Herbert are fully behind the campaign for fairer funding for our schools and I welcome the meeting between West Sussex MPs and the secretary of state for education.
“In particular I welcome anything that will help us to meet our ambition to give children and young people the best start in life.”
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