Lynne Featherstone writes… Education, education, education

International Development minister Lynne Featherstone writes a monthly column for one of her local newspapers. Here is the latest one…..

Lynne Feahterstone visiting a Haringey primary school. Some rights reserved. http://www.flickr.com/photos/lynnefeatherstone/3010645357/My mother and father were not that enthused about education. Going out to work as soon as possible and earning a living came higher up on their agenda. When you had known poverty as they had – earning took precedence over learning. I went to my local school – Highgate Primary. (We are talking over fifty years ago). Luckily for me my headmistress, Mrs Jobson, called my parents in and told them that in her opinion their little girl (me) was very bright and ought to be allowed to sit for a scholarship to South Hampstead High School. And the rest is history!

Nothing is as valuable as a good education. I visit lots of schools in my constituency – often! The kids are fantastic and the teachers are wonderful. But there is a need for more help for the disadvantaged. That’s why, when I became an MP in Haringey, I was determined to right the historic wrong of our borough’s schools being chronically unfairly underfunded.

I have succeeded – but sadly, Haringey Council is conspiring to mess up all that.

The problem of this unfair funding arose out of Haringey being classed as an ‘outer London’ borough, which therefore received less funding than ‘inner London’ boroughs such as Camden and Islington. It was an outdated and arbitrary distinction with no relevance to modern day life in London.

The result was that schools were left in the position of receiving outer London funding, but having to pay inner London costs (such as wages – so they could ensure they didn’t lose all the best teachers to neighbouring boroughs.)

The Labour Council had never shown an ounce of interest in addressing this dreadful situation. Together with the Haringey Lib Dems I decided to do something about it. We started a petition, worked with parents, local schools, held high level meetings and instigated a consultation.

I was therefore so very happy when, after five years of tireless campaigning, the Government last year gave Haringey’s schools an extra £7.3 million in funding, finally righting the historic wrong.

Imagine my further delight when Liberal Democrats in government were additionally able to implement our Pupil Premium policy – which last year secured an additional £8.8 million for Haringey’s schools. In the next academic year, this will rise to over £13 million – or £900 per pupil.

The premium distributes money to schools in accordance with the number of disadvantaged students and can be used by schools as they see fit. Some of the best examples I’ve seen – when I have met with local Heads to see how it is going – are employing trained professionals to support children from challenging home environments and/or with particular language skills, and subsidising school trips for poorer children.

With all these extra millions in mind, imagine my sheer disbelief when I saw Haringey’s projected funding allocations for schools this year. 12 schools in my constituency were ending up with less money. I just could not believe what I was seeing. How is it possible for schools to lose money, after £16 million has been injected into the borough?

My disbelief quickly turned to anger, as I realised what had happened. In tandem with the new money, Haringey Council were also asked to review their funding formula (which determines how money is distributed.) This was a Government request – but crucially the discretion over which factors to use in the formula remained with Haringey Council – and they messed up.

Instead of ensuring that all schools benefited from the correction to the historic wrongs together with the extra money from the Pupil Premium – some schools are losing out while others are getting too much. I began to wonder whether it was more than just coincidence that of the 14 schools projected to lose money – 12 are in Liberal Democrat wards.

And the final straw? Instead of owning up to their mistake and looking to reconstruct the formula, the Labour Councillors turned around and blamed the Government. The Government who gave them an extra £16 million and the discretion over how to construct the formula! This is shocking, even by Haringey Labour standards.

The figures are not final. New pupil numbers and higher pupil premium need to be considered. But I am still concerned. The pupil premium should give schools extra money for the things I mentioned earlier, not plug a funding gap caused by a poorly constructed funding formula.

I have written to head teachers advising them of the action I am taking, and will keep them updated. I guarantee you, as I did five years ago – that I will not rest until the schools in my constituency and Haringey borough receive truly fair funding.

* Lynne Featherstone is a minister at the Department for International Development and blogs at www.lynnefeatherstone.org.

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5 Comments

  • Julie Davies 13th Jan '13 - 1:29pm

    Lynne is absolutely right about the historic injustice to Haringey (and Newham, Barking and Brent) which is why the campaign was mounted. It’s disappointing that she doesn’t mention Haringey NUT’s role in this; we paid for room hire, newspaper advertisements, posters and leaflets, mobilised our members and gave up a great deal of time. We have members in both Tottenham and Hornsey and Wood Green, of course, and the objective of the campaign was to secure recognition that schools were penalised by the borough being funded as an outer London borough while having a legal duty to pay inner London rates to teachers. It resulted in £7.3m. This was, and is, fantastic.

    The funding formulae that determine distribution of Haringey’s global budget are drawn up by the schools forum not by the council. The forum consists of teachers,headteachers and governors from a lot of schools across the authority. When the extra funding was announced, a working party was formed to decide how to distribute the money. Several different models were suggested and the one that was agreed, was agreed unanimously. Some of the schools adversely affected voted for it, in fact. The schools forum has become a place where schools listen to one another and try to work collegiately not fight for themselves and their own interests. The position is not as simple as all that: schools have suffered cuts that have been covered up by central funding, such as standards funding, being passported to schools. Comparing next year’s budget with last year’s is like comparing apples and oranges.

    The truth is that schools in Haringey vary enormously in the challenges they face. There are disadvantaged pupils in Hornsey and well heeled ones in Northumberland Park, but anyone with any sense can see that it’s very different from east to west. (There are complaints from schools in the east who envy the glorious buildings of some of the west of borough schools, built and extended with cash raised by section 106 projects in Tottenham.) Some schools in Haringey have more of the characteristics of inner London schools than others. That’s just a fact.

    It’s great that Lynne has been so clear in her support for education. It’s a real battle ground at the moment and there is a lot of unfairness. Proposals to abolish all structure for teachers’ pay will soon mean that schools can choose how much to pay teachers, irrespective of experience, qualifications, region or anything else. It will all be at the discretion of heads and how much they value the teacher or think the school can afford. Schools will even be able to choose whether they pay an inflation-based pay rise or even reduce pay in lean times. Will Lynne join us in our campaign to stop this? It’s a coalition policy….

  • lynne featherstone 13th Jan '13 - 7:19pm

    Julie – very pleased to have your contribution on Liberal Democrat Voice. And of course – the TUC did helpfully contribute to the campaign .. But as you know this ‘unfair funding’ had been going on right through the Labour Government years and Haringey Labour council did nothing to change that dreadful situation where each Haringey child was getting £1500 less than a child in Islington or Camden. I remember going to the then Labour minister and he admitted that this was the steepest ‘cliff edge’ in the country – but was not willing to change this at all. Now the Coalition has righted this part of the problem but the benefits are not being fairly allocated. And the issue is that whoever and whatever was agreed as a formula has resulted in an unfair distribution.Great concern has been expressed to me – and because these figures are indicative – it is the moment to point the problem out and try to get it changed.

  • Richard Dean 13th Jan '13 - 9:19pm

    Is this problem unique, or is it repeated in all the schools and boroughs that are just outside the border between inner and outer London? To be fair, doesn’t something need to be done for them too?

  • lynne featherstone 13th Jan '13 - 9:41pm

    Richard – it is being done for all those who have had this issue in London.

  • Julie Davies 14th Jan '13 - 12:54am

    Lynne, just to be clear, I think you mean ‘NUT’ rather than ‘TUC’. There is a difference!

    And we at Haringey NUT like to think we paid for and jointly led the campaign, which was, after all, cross party. David Lammy, yourself and your coalition partner Jason Hinchcliffe of the Tottenham Conservatives were all involved. The unfair funding you rightly identify began in 1967 so it spans lots of governments; none of which were prepared to listen until (credit where due) this one. And then, as you will recall, the demands of the campaign were £43m not £7.3 to redress the balance. Never mind.

    The fact remains that the current formula has been decided by schools representatives, not by the council. I’ve sat in two schools forum meetings where all of this has been discussed and agreed unanimously. The people who are unhappy all have representatives on the forum. The democratic solution is that they explain the injustice and ask their representatives to vote no or to amend the formula. Some of the people who are bending your ear said nothing in the room. We need grown up discussion, not whinging.

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