West Sussex MPs will be meeting Damian Hinds, the new secretary of state for education, to discuss concerns about school funding.
The county has long been one of the lowest funded authorities in the country – a fact that will not change under the new National Funding Formula, despite it bringing an extra £28m by 2020. Schools have warned the new formula has failed to take into account rising costs, which will leave them worse off in real terms.
Following a “useful” meeting with headteachers recently, Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West), Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs), Gillian Keegan (Chichester), Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham), Jeremy Quin (Horsham), Henry Smith (Crawley) and Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) will take four “particular areas of concern” to Mr Hinds.
The concerns cover the rising costs, the impact of the formula on small rural schools, delays in the implementation of the formula at some schools, and the ommission of high needs funding from the formula.
In a joint statement, the MPs said: “The new formula is a fairer means of allocating funds than in the past and has been broadly welcomed as a step in the right direction.”
Headteachers agreed the meeting was “positive” and that all parties had agreed their were “significant weaknesses” in the new funding system.
But they said they were “very worried that MPs are not pursuing some key issues vigorously enough”.
Jules White, head of Tanbridge House School, and driving force behind the WorthLess? campaign for fairer funding, said: “MPs have refused to sign a joint statement with West Sussex County Council and WorthLess? which explicitly states that under the new formula there is simply not enough basic funding provided to West Sussex schools to allow them to function adequately and to close the massive gaps which persist when we are compared to the best funded schools.
“Under the new formula our school children will still be funded between 50-70 per cent less than the best funded schools. This will significantly undermine their future life chances.
“We don’t understand why our MPs feel unable to make it absolutely clear to parents and the Department for Education that this is not acceptable in any way shape or form.”
In parallel with discussions about funding, the MPs said they were concerned about standards in primary schools.
In 2017, 55 per cent of West Sussex children reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared to just 45 per cent last year. While that was an impressive improvement, it still failed to match the national average of 61 per cent, which itself rose from 53 per cent in 2016.
The MPs said: “The county was in the worst performing 10 per cent of authorities in England at Key Stage 2 and performed considerably worse than areas with lower levels of funding - the worst-funded area in the country achieved some of the best Key Stage 2 results.
"This is an issue on which West Sussex County Council, MPs, headteachers and parents are all, rightly, very focussed."