Article for North Devon Journal

For years, I have been raising in Parliament the disgraceful gap in funding between schools in Devon and the rest of England. Indeed, almost exactly a year ago in these pages, I lent my support to the “Hands Up for Fairer School Funding” campaign, set up by Devon County Council. While the attention of the public- and much of the press- has focused on Tuition Fees last week, a very important announcement was made by the Deputy Prime Minister that many might have missed.

This was the long awaited, and highly welcome, news that from the start of the next school year, schools will receive an extra £430 in funding for every child whose parents have an annual income of less than £16,000. This amount will rise as the country recovers from the current financial crisis and the Government can afford to be more generous.

The ‘pupil premium’ will come with no strings attached. In the past, extra money from Whitehall always came with endless instructions on how it could be spent, regardless of if it could be better used elsewhere; by contrast, schools can spend the premium any way they want, whether on hiring a new teacher, buying new equipment, or even just saving for a rainy day.

Despite the fact that Torridge and North Devon have some of the lowest wages in the UK, the Labour Government preferred to concentrate funding on urban areas. Disgracefully, a schoolchild in Devon currently has £410 less spent on them than average English pupil; Devon is 144th of 149 Local Education Authorities in the funding their schoolchildren receive.

The result? Teachers and parents are forced to make their own repairs to school buildings, Heads take on more and more work because they cannot afford to employ extra staff, and tight budgets are squeezed further and further.

The pupil premium will significantly mitigate this unfairness. Because the money follows the pupil rather than being allocated to the county, smaller village schools will benefit disproportionately from the policy just as they suffered disproportionately under the last Government.

Just as with Minsters’ intention of taking the lowest-paid out of tax altogether, the ‘pupil premium’ is an excellent example of how this Coalition Government is picking the best policies put forward by both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and putting them into practice. This sensible and important proposal was in both parties’ manifestos but it has been promoted within the coalition by the Liberal Democrats and I am delighted to commend it; it is an early Christmas present for Devon’s children that will make a real difference to their education in the years to come.