Suffolk: U-turn on funding policy after concerns over rural schools

Rural schools u-turn

Rural schools u-turn - Credit: Archant

School funding reforms which were thought to put rural schools at risk have been changed to give local authorities more freedom.

Suffolk County Council has cautiously welcomed the adjustment to the new national funding formula, which will allow extra funding to be given to schools in more sparsely populated areas.

Under the original plan each school received a lump sum and an amount related to the number of pupils. While the lump sum could be decided by each local authority, the Government imposed the new condition that every school in its area must receive the same lump sum, regardless of size, location or age of pupils. But concerns were raised about the plans amid fears it could force rural schools, which attract fewer pupils, to close.

Schools minister David Laws said that the Government would “maintain momentum” towards a national funding formula by requiring local authorities to allocate a minimum of 80% of their funding on the basis of pupil characteristics, with a minimum amount of money per pupil, but from 2014 local authorities will be able to give extra funding to schools in sparsely populated areas.

Lisa Chambers, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education, skills and young people, said: “We’re giving a cautious welcome to these changes.

“Whilst they do appear to give us more flexibility around funding for small rural schools, it doesn’t ensure their financial viability. That is why we’re still in favour of such schools federating with others in similar situations.

But she added: “It’s important to note that this doesn’t represent any new money in the education system and local education authorities which receive less Government funding per pupil, like Suffolk, will still need to wait for the government’s national funding formula changes which we hope will put a fairer system in place. This work is on-going and we’re eagerly awaiting the outcome.”

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“Going forward, we will be implementing these changes in consultation with our schools. This will all come into effect in April 2014.”