You may think education is a national service and it's funded accordingly.
Government financial support for a child is the same in Devon as in Dover, in Cornwall compared to Cumbria.
Well, I'm afraid it's not.
For what are complex historical reasons, every local education authority is funded differently.
When I was first in charge of education in Devon we were regularly placed in the bottom five of the 151 councils responsible for schools in this country for the funding we received.
We started regularly campaigning with parents, school leaders and governors and the support of our MPs for fair funding for Devon. And we have had some success. The current figures show us at 121 out of 151 for school funding - up 25 places. So our report might read: progress but still work to be done.
And Devon is vigorous in campaigning for fair funding for our schools as it is in every other service area. We have been at the forefront of the all-party f40 campaign - that's the grouping of the 42 worst funded councils in the country. Indeed my deputy leader, James McInnes, was the national chairman for a number of years, Devon MP Sir Gary Streeter is a vice chairman and our current Cabinet member for schools, Andrew Leadbetter, is a leading member.
The facts are these: if you have a child or grandchild in a school in Devon the funding we receive for them nationally is £5,410 per pupil. That compares to an average in the South West of £5,431 per pupil and an England average of £5,648. So every pupil in Devon is effectively worth £238 less than the average English pupil.
For a primary school with 200 pupils that's £47,600 lost every year. For a 1,000-pupil secondary school that's a staggering £238,000. A newly qualified teacher earns £30,000 a year so the primary is missing out on one and a half teachers, the secondary school almost eight extra staff. We have around 95,000 children at school in Devon so, collectively, that's an awful lot of teachers and classroom assistants that our schools could employ if only they were funded at the national level. And yet, historically, our schools perform well thanks to the hard work of staff and pupils.
When it comes to what's known as the High Needs Block, that's the funding we receive for children with special needs, we are placed 118th out of 151 LAs with an average allocation of £768 compared to the South West average of £806 and the England average of £855. Again you can see that Devon children miss out both compared with our neighbours in the South West and even more compared to the national figures.
That's why we have been working with f40 in holding briefing meetings for all MPs at Westminster as Parliament returned in September and providing them with up to date figures and statistics.
The briefings included not only details on the fair funding campaign for all mainstream schools but also on the need for financial support for our special needs' children. f40 - which I emphasise is all-party - estimates that the budget deficit faced by all top-tier councils providing support for children with special needs will be £2.5 billion by March 2025. As I wrote in a previous column, that is because need and expectation is outstripping capacity and funding across the country.
That’s why I have appointed a new Cabinet member, Lois Samuel, to concentrate solely on special needs. Together with Andrew Leadbetter and I, she will emphasise Devon’s case for all our children to be properly funded.