Below is a copy of the speech I delivered on Fair Funding for schools on 5th November.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, in a debate that is, at least on the Conservative side of the House, a complete sell-out. As has been noted, there have been several debates on this issue over the years. I have held one, but I do congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), not least because the timing of his debate today, in the run-up to the autumn statement, is particularly apposite. His hard work is much appreciated by us all.
It is also worth noting that there are no fewer than four Gloucestershire MPs here today. That shows both our keen interest in the issue and an interesting characteristic of the debate, which is the pride in being towards the bottom of the league table. That is the reverse of the normal situation when it comes to supporting a football or rugby club. Much has been said already, and I do not intend to try to compete with my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) on being at the bottom of the league, but I do want to highlight the challenges that my hon. Friend the Minister faces and to ask him about particular areas where he might be able to help us today.
The situation in Gloucestershire is not unlike that in other places. The average spend per pupil, at £4,365, is considerably less than the national average, but it is worth pointing out that that gap has narrowed as a result of the changes made this year. They narrow the gap in terms of underfunding against the national average from 7.7% to 5.5%. More telling is the difference between one school in my constituency, the newly formed Gloucester academy, and a school in Tower Hamlets. Both those schools have very similar, mixed, multicultural pupils. In the case of Gloucester academy, they speak as many as 25 different languages, but the Gloucester academy pupil, on average, receives £5,443, whereas a pupil in the school in Tower Hamlets receives £8,256. The difference amounts to £2.1 million a year, and given that 80% of schools’ costs are in teaching, teachers and people, that puts significant pressure on the most important element of any school’s success—the teaching staff.
Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that all children in this country, wherever they live, deserve the best education that we can give them? It is just not fair that children in Redditch, 5 miles away from Birmingham, receive £1,000 less each per year.
Richard Graham: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but there is another aspect to this, which we must be aware of. I understand that the new Bishop of Gloucester, Bishop Rachel Treweek, the first female diocesan bishop in the land, will intervene in the House of Lords to help the F40 campaign, but she will be aware that fair funding for children across her diocese in the county of Gloucestershire will mean redistribution, which will probably arouse claims of unfairness in her previous patch in Tower Hamlets. This is a balancing act in terms of what is fair for all of us, and the Minister will have to juggle with that.
In the statement on 16 July, the Minister committed himself to making schools and early education fairer and said that he would put forward proposals in due course. I know that he will do so and that he will see the manifesto commitment simply to “make schools funding fairer” come true, but today I should like him to focus on the when, the what and the how. The when, in a sense, is the easiest bit, because the autumn statement is coming and we also have the commitment from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in her letter to the Chairman of the Education Committee, my constituency neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), which may inhibit a little what the Minister can say today.
The what will be all about the rebalancing—the winners and losers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) pointed out, one person’s fairness may be another person’s slight unfairness, but there is an absolute as well as a relative aim to go for. In addition to the what question, we have to look at the how, which is the process. It is easy for us to highlight the anomalies, but the Minister and his Department must find a solution, a process and a timeline.
The Library briefing paper contains a telling chart—exhibit A, which I am holding up, Mr Walker. In this flow diagram, there are simply too many elements. There is the guaranteed unit of funding, which was based on planned local authority spend some years ago, with three variables plus “some subsequent additional funding for ministerial priorities.”
Then there is the dedicated schools grant, which was based on assessed levels of need plus locked-in historical decisions on spending, which I suggest led to the gap widening during the five years of the previous, coalition Government. Then there are four other grants, plus the local funding formula, in which there are 14 allowable factors, and local authorities can choose which values are actually used for each factor. That is too complicated, and I hope that the Minister today will confirm that whatever new process is introduced, it will be simpler, easier to understand and much fairer for everyone.
Mr Gyimah: My hon. Friend rightly touches on the point about the process. What I can say at the outset is that whatever the outcome of the spending review, there will be very careful consultation with everyone concerned, which means, I suspect, that this will not be our only debate here on fairer funding in terms of how we get to a resolution.
Richard Graham: I am grateful to the Minister for his clarification, which will help all hon. Members on both sides of the House. We all want to see simplicity in the process, a system that everyone can at least understand, funding that is fundamentally fairer and timing that will fulfil the manifesto commitment. The more light that the Minister can shed today, within the constraints of the upcoming autumn statement and the Secretary of State’s commitment to an early new year proposal, the more that will help us all to go back to our constituencies and our counties and say, “The Government are on the case. We hear what you are saying and we want to fix it as soon as possible.”