Mr O’Neill and other Headteachers met with MPs and Ministers at Westminster to raise concerns about planned school funding cuts for Cheshire East.
A ten person delegation from Cheshire East comprising MPs, Local Authority leaders and Headteachers met on 9th January with the Right Honourable Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for Schools to discuss the recent proposals from the National Funding Formula. For historic reasons Cheshire East has been poorly funded as a local authority for a number of years. After vigorous campaigning both as part of the F40 group (the lowest funded authorities in the country) and as an individual authority, Cheshire East Headteachers, Council Leaders and MPs hoped that the new national funding formula would finally redress the legacy that had left Cheshire East pupils receiving substantially less funding than the national average. However, the new formula, released to consultation in December 2016, left Cheshire East as the lowest funded authority in the entire country.
Fiona Bruce MP spoke in the House of Commons in December and highlighted the difficulties that schools in Cheshire East faced as part of the existing poor funding and the truly devastating effect that the new proposed formula would have on the quality of education across all schools in Cheshire East. Fiona also managed to achieve a very short notice meeting with the Minister of State for Schools to allow him to hear first hand how deeply damaging the proposed new funding plans would be on local education provision.
In attendance at the meeting were Nick Gibb MP; Fiona Bruce MP; David Rutley MP; Antionette Sandbach MP; Rachel Bailey Leader of Cheshire East Local Authority; Jackie Forster Director of Education and 14-19 skills; John Leigh Headteacher at Sandbach High School, David Hermitt Headteacher at Congleton High School, Sarah Burns Headteacher at Sandbach School, Richard Middlebrook Headteacher at Alsager School and Ed O’Neill Headteacher at Eaton Bank Academy.
RachelBailey, Leader of the Council says ‘”We will work together with our local MPs and schools to ensure that the Minister is provided with some practical solutions which will protect the current outstanding education and skills offer across Cheshire East. Our children and young people have a right to at least the same minimum national curriculum offer and opportunities which other similar schools and authorities will have the funding to provide.”
The meeting, at Portcullis House in Westminster, was very focused and productive, providing the Minister of State for Schools with a range of reasoned points. These included the inequality of the proposed funding, the seriously damaging effect on curriculum provision, the attendant drop in teaching standards, vastly reduced extra curricular opportunities for children and the economic reality of the unsustainable financial viability of schools in Cheshire East. The minister offered a long period of time to discuss and listen intently, a reflection of how seriously he was considering the concerns. The Minister fully understood that, given the historic poor funding for Cheshire East, it did not seem right that, after a national ‘fairer funding’ formula had been applied, Cheshire East schools would then become the worst funded authority in the country. Everyone connected with education in Cheshire East had hoped that the fair funding process would rectify the imbalance, not exacerbate it. Nick Gibb, saw the situation as an ‘anomaly’ and agreed that it needed to be investigated further. Some previously very well funded authorities across the country have gained through the process; some have lost out. Cheshire East has lost out the most. However, the Minister made it clear that the formula was still in the process of a detailed national consultation and that there is a commitment from the government to further modelling and analysis of minimum funding levels.
In a thoughtful and exploratory discussion, as well as the problem of Cheshire East pupil funding falling to the very bottom of the national structure, a range of other issues were discussed. These included the need for a baseline of funding so that schools can be run effectively and efficiently to deliver an outstanding educational experience across Cheshire East; having Cheshire East representatives in an advisory capacity to the Department for Education so that anomalous situations such as the one in which Cheshire East schools find themselves can be avoided in the future; the difficulties faced when schools are ‘lag funded’ for growing pupil numbers and as a result of this having to wait 12 – 18 months for the monies needed to educate additional children in a school.
The Minister of State for Schools was very keen to work with Headteachers, MPs and Local Authority leaders to address these issues and to find sensible and supportive solutions to the issues raised.