International Development minister Lynne Featherstone writes a monthly column for one of her local newspapers. Here is the latest one…..
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 It was an outdated and arbitrary distinction with no relevance to modern day life in London.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.