'Sparsity' funding to protect rural schools

Government plans will see small rural schools protected by a 'sparsity' funding factor have been broadly welcomed.

Education secretary Justine Greening made the announcement in the House of Commons on Wednesday, 14 December.

The proposals would end an "unfair, opaque and outdated" funding system that favoured children in London over those in the countryside, she said.

The sparsity factor will take into account how a school's size and location – in other words, how small and remote it is.

    See also: Funding shake-up for rural schools

Ms Greening said: "We will also protect small, rural schools, which are so important for their local communities, through the inclusion of a sparsity factor."

The proposals have been broadly welcomed by the f40 group campaigning for fair funding for schools, which represents the lowest funded education authorities.

The Rural Services Network has joined the f40 group in welcoming the proposals but says it needs to examine the proposals in more detail.

The proposals include a consistent base rate for every pupil at primary and at secondary level, which would steadily increase in value as a child progressed through the education system.

Ms Greening said: "This is the largest factor in the formula, accounting for more than £23 billion of annual core schools funding and more than 70% of the funding total."

The government is also proposing to protect resources for pupils who come from disadvantaged families, with £3bn of annual funding targeted at those most in need of support.

Ms Greening said the formula would prioritise not only children in receipt of free school meals but those who live in areas of disadvantage.

The measure was alongside a broader commitment from the government to maintain pupil premium funding for deprived pupils in full.

She added: "We will also protect small, rural schools, which are so important for their local communities, through the inclusion of a sparsity factor."

In addition, to a basic amount and an uplift for disadvantage, the government plans to direct £2.4b towards pupils with low prior attainment at both primary and secondary school.

Ms Greening said this would give them the vital support needed to catch up with their peers.

"Our proposed reforms will mean that schools and local authorities all across England that have been underfunded for years will see their funding increase.

"Our proposed formula will result in more than 10,000 schools gaining funding and more than 3,000 receiving an increase of more than 5%.

"Those that are due to see gains will see them quickly, with increases of up to 3% in per pupil funding in 2018-19 and up to a further 2.5% in 2019-20.

Ms Greening said the new formula would deliver a Conservative manifesto commitment to ensure fairer funding for schools.

Wealden MP Nusrat Ghani (Con) said many small rural schools faced severe challenges.

She said: "A heavy weighting for sparsity in the formula is therefore vital if we are to ensure that Wealden's superb schools can carry on providing a brilliant education."

Oldham MP Jim McMahon said he did not resent extra money for rural schools but it mustn't be at the expense of urban schools.

Ms Greening responded by describing the proposed new formula as a step forward to make sure that "wherever children are, funding is there".

She added: "It very much bakes into the formula the idea of having money follow disadvantage and need. I think that is the right approach to take."

A government consultation on the proposals is open until 22 March. The schools and high needs consultation documents are both available online.


Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.