17:07 Thursday 13th March 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: Cambridgeshire’s cash-strapped schools are apparently at the front of the queue for £350 million worth of new funding. The announcement was made in the House of Commons today by the Schools Minister David Laws. He also praised the strong campaigning by the MPs for Cambridge and Huntingdon, Julian Huppert and Jonathan Djanogly. .. That announcement came this morning in the House of Commons from Education Minister David Laws. I spoke to him a short time ago.
DAVID LAWS: Well we’ve made an important announcement today for Cambridgeshire, which is that we’re going to do what people in the county have been pressing us to do for some time now, which is to move to a fairer system of funding our schools across the country. The system that we inherited from the previous government didn’t really seem to us to be rational. It underfunded areas such as Cambridgeshire. We’ve had lots of complaints from local head teachers, Members of Parliament such as Julian Huppert in Cambridge. So we’ve announced today that we’ve allocated over a third of a billion pounds extra to schools, starting in April 2015, and we’ve announced the areas that are particularly going to benefit from that funding. Because we’ve allocated the money to the areas which we think are underfunded. So for Cambridgeshire the important news is that if we press ahead with this after the consultation, it will mean over £20 million more going into schools within the county. It will mean for every child within Cambridgeshire schools, the school will be getting something like £275 per pupil per year more than they presently get at the moment, a 7% increase. And I think these things will be very welcome in Cambridgeshire, where this has been a hot political issue as you will know for some time.
CHRIS MANN: And it’s been a hot political issue because people felt we were being unfairly treated. Our pupils were getting less money per head than any other pupils in the country. So will that end? And will they now be on the same level with everybody else?
DAVID LAWS: Yes. This will mean that the funding is much much fairer. We need to understand that we do have differences in funding, even within a fair system across the country. We do give greater amounts to rural areas, for example, that will have smaller school. We put money in for disadvantaged, so that very disadvantaged communities and school have more money to help to get youngsters up to a decent standard. So there will always be differences. What our view was, and the view in Cambridgeshire, was that we couldn’t justify the differences that there previously were between different areas that had been allowed to continue for years and years. We were committed to tackling that. And now finally we’ve found the money to do so, a third of a billion across the country, more than a third of a billion. We targeted that on sixty areas of the country that had been underfunded, and Cambridgeshire gets the second biggest increase of anywhere in England. And I think that recognises that it has been an area as you say that’s underfunded, and it’s high time that we fixed that.
CHRIS MANN: OK, the second biggest increase, but we were the worst off. Are we going to be on a par with everybody else?
DAVID LAWS: Yes, you’re going to be on a par with other areas that have similar characteristics. So for example, when I look at my list, there’s areas such as South Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire Those types of areas that have got similar characteristics are going to have similar levels of funding. Previously, Cambridgeshire was one of the few areas that wqs actually funded at less than £4000 per pupil, and as you say it was one of the lowest funded areas of the country. Indeed I think probably the lowest.
CHRIS MANN: It was the lowest, I can assure you that is the case.
DAVID LAWS: So it now gets the second biggest increase anywhere in the country.
CHRIS MANN: Why not the biggest then?
DAVID LAWS: Well because there is one other area, Bromley of example,which we think has been more underfunded, based upon the factors that we looked at.
CHRIS MANN: We’ve just been hearing from the Head of Hinchinbrooke School in Huntingdon, which is in Jonathan Djanogly’s area. And up till now they’ve been getting £4723 per pupil aged at under-16, and the national average is £5962. Now that’s a blight, isn’t it, on a whole generation of kids.
DAVID LAWS: It is. And it’s totally unfair that Cambridgeshire should for so long, for a number of decades now, have been getting so much less funding than it deserved. I’m pleased that the Coalition Government has tackled that. This means that we’re providing £275 per pupil uplift. I should point out that what we’re doing is trying to give the right amount of money fairly to Cambridgeshire. It is then up to local councillors, informed by head teachers, to decide how to allocate that money within the county, which types of schools to give priority to, based on rural factors, based on deprivation. We want local areas to have a degree of freedom. But we also want them to be fully and properly funded in the first place. And that is what we’re doing today.
CHRIS MANN: I take your point, and I’m sure people are grateful that the money is now coming. But you could argue, and you just agreed with me that it’s been a blight on a generation, so actually there should be extra money to make up for that.
DAVID LAWS: Well these are very difficult and tough times obviously, as everybody knows, not only for individuals, because of the recession a few years ago, but also because we still have a big hole in the Government finances to fill. So we have to operate within the constraints that we’re given by the Treasury, and we only have a limited amount of money. They’ve given us more in order to deliver this settlement. I think that this is a reasonable settlement in the tough times that we’re actually in, and I hope that it will be very welcome within Cambridgeshire, where this campaign has been long running , and where the local MPs have worked together like Julian Huppert in Cambridge to make the case strongly to us as Government Ministers.
CHRIS MANN: David Laws,Schools Minister, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
DAVID LAWS: Good to be with you. Thanks very much.