Last Friday I visited a number of schools in my constituency, beginning with St James’ School in Coldwaltham where I also attended the Christingle service with the children in St Giles’ Church. I then visited Graffham Infant School and after that Bury School which is the smallest in my constituency.
All of these schools were concerned about future funding, as West Sussex County Council works out how to apply the new National Funding Formula which is being introduced to make funding fairer.
This week, West Sussex MPs met representatives of the County Council at Westminster to discuss the funding scenarios and how the extra £30million for the county’s schools will be applied.
A lot of the money has had to be given to the budget for children with high needs or will go to schools in less affluent areas in West Sussex which have additional needs. Nevertheless, the secondary schools in my constituency will benefit, but will only receive the full additional amounts in the third year as the County’s Schools Forum has voted to give more money to help primary schools over the next two years.
The position of small rural primary schools is a particular concern, especially where their rolls are falling.
In the larger villages or small market towns in my constituency, primary schools are often oversubscribed, and new development is adding to the pressures. But the smallest rural schools often have the opposite problem and are short of pupils.
When more of the funding will be given per pupil, rather than through core funding, this will be a serious issue.
MPs will have further discussions with the county council about the funding decisions in the new year.
Some key issues will arise, including over the value of having a school in each small village, the cost of sustaining them, and – crucially – the standards which they can achieve.
Some of the smallest schools in my constituency already have arrangements to help then remain viable, for instance sharing a head teacher (Coldwaltham and Amberley) or federating schools (Graffham and Duncton). And, as with so many in my constituency, all three of the village schools I visited were Church of England schools, contributing to the ethos which parents especially value.
My last visit on Friday was to The Angmering School where I met 15-year-old Hannah Greaney, whose joyful painting of a South Downs scene I chose for my Christmas card this year.
I wish all my constituents a very happy Christmas.
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