MP Neil Carmichael discusses the Coalition's attempt to 'narrow the gap' for rural schools
For decades the school funding system has been weighted against rural schools - particularly those in shires such as Gloucestershire.
The essential reason for this is that the funding mechanism is based on a series of models attempting to reflect the characteristics and priorities of local government in terms of social and economic need.
Assumptions and evidence has changed but because the mechanism is so complicated and embedded reform is difficult, not least because there would be winners and losers if inequality is to be properly addressed.
This is the background against which the Coalition Government is tackling the problem.
For schools in the Stroud Valleys and Vale, this really matters.
Steps to improve matters globally have already been taken. A combination of the introduction of the Pupil Premium – a measure to focus additional resources on disadvantaged pupils, protecting the overall schools budget for the year 2015-16 and increased funding for the academies programme, all make a positive difference to rectifying the shortfall.
Other changes to the actual mechanism have also been made.
For instance, the local formulae has been simplified, maximum delegation to schools applied and funding for pupils for special needs streamlined.
This all amounts to additional funds as compared to non-shire schools being available.
This is evidenced by the facts that there is greater consistency in pre-pupil rates and a larger proportion of school budgets are being made through basis entitlement.
So far, so good, but even more is needed for rural areas.
For pre-16 funding, a new ‘sparsity factor’ has been introduced, appropriate support for good and outstanding schools experiencing roll fluctuation is now provided and even more discretionary funding for special education needs is available.
Again, all of this is designed to narrow the gap.
Next, a full-scale review has been initiated.
Key themes emerging include a focus on comparisons between all schools, support efficiency of schools and the removal of unnecessary restrictions constraining decision making within schools - thus having the impact of escaping from the local authority strictures.
Finally, the campaign continues for a fundamental boost for rural areas and prospects for this are encouraging.