Nicky Morgan urges government not to withdraw school funding plans

Sally Weale Education correspondent
Nicky Morgan was replaced as education secretary last July by Justine Greening. Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA

Former education secretary Nicky Morgan has called on the government not to abandon its commitment to a new national funding formula for schools, despite widespread opposition from fellow Conservative backbenchers.

Morgan, who first launched the government’s plans to overhaul school funding during her time at the Department for Education (DfE), said it was clear the formula in its current draft was not yet right. She added however: “I still think it’s the right thing to do.”

Her comments on Tuesday followed a report in the Times that the government may be forced to withdraw its plans because of the strength of opposition from within Tory ranks. A government source said the report was “lobbying dressed up as news”.

Morgan, who was replaced as education secretary in July last year by Justine Greening, said ministers were already heavily committed with Brexit, and within the education department with the consultation for increasing the number grammar schools.

“I can see with all the news going on why they might think, ‘Is this one thing we don’t really need?’ But that would be unfortunate for those schools which have lost out for many years,” she told the Guardian.

The MP for Loughborough said under the proposed formula substantial discrepancies between some schools in her county of Leicestershire and much better funded schools in the city of Leicester were set to get worse.

She said it was not the principle of revising the school funding formula that was wrong, it was the way the new formula was composed, and the fact that historically underfunded schools who expected to gain had not done as well as they hoped. “That’s what concerns people, and that’s what ministers are going to have to address,” she said.

The consultation on the new funding formula is due to close next Wednesday. By then the government is likely to have been inundated with responses as teachers, parents and pupils mobilise to fight for their own schools.

Headteachers have been sending out letters to parents about the financial difficulties facing their schools, and public meetings have been held in school halls up and down the country to raise awareness within local communities.

“I know the team at the DfE and I know they will be absolutely poring over what people are saying,” said Morgan. “They want to get it right. This is a historic opportunity to right some wrongs.”

As well as the potential impact of the new funding formula, which will take money away from well-funded city schools and invest it in schools in more rural and coastal settings, headteachers are having to make cuts in order to find £3bn of savings across the schools sector.

In the London borough of Enfield, all parents and carers of secondary-aged children will receive letters this week setting out the magnitude of the crisis in their schools and inviting them to lobby their MPs and councillors.

The letter from Enfield secondary school heads tells parents: “You will have seen in the media the fact that the amount of money we will have to spend on education will be reduced over the next few years. This letter is being sent to all parents and carers of students in schools across Enfield to alert them to the dangers such changes will present. We are doing this for the first time as we view the situation facing schools to be so serious.”

They warn of cuts in the number of teaching assistants, increased class sizes, fewer subject options at GCSE and A-level and increased pressure on leaders in schools as savings are made by reducing the number of senior and middle leaders.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “The Tories are in trouble over these massive cuts – and they know it. Heads all over the country are having to make agonising choices, in some cases between cutting subjects or cutting staff. Parents are also facing demands to chip in with their own money to help plug the gap in school budgets.”

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