Robert's Weekly Swindon Advertiser Article - 9th March 2016

As your local MPs, one of our main priorities has been to help make sure that Swindon’s children and young people get a fair deal when it comes to funding for our schools.  Both Justin Tomlinson and I helped secure £10 million for the Pupil Premium in Swindon, supporting children from families with lower incomes during their years at school.  We also helped to secure extra school funding worth £150 for each Swindon student for 2015/16, and lobbied hard for the construction of two new secondary schools that will be opening here in a couple of years.

This is great progress, but there needs to be a longer term change to the way in which Swindon schools are funded.  Under the current schools funding system, a school in one part of the country could receive over 50% more than an identical school with exactly the same children. I don’t think this is a fair way to allocate funding to our schools, which is why I was pleased that our Government promised in the election manifesto launched here in Swindon last year to make changes to the national funding formula.  Last October, Justin and I wrote to the Education Secretary to further emphasise our support for levelling the playing field by increasing funding for the least well-funded authorities across the country.

I was delighted when the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan MP, made a series of announcements this week which included historic reforms to the funding formula that will finally bring an end to the unfairness in the system and extend opportunity to every child, no matter where they come from or which school they go to. These proposals will later be published for consultation, so that everyone can have their say.

These announcements represent an important move towards a system where school funding is allocated on a consistent national formula. As part of this, local authorities will receive funding to help with their responsibilities towards young people with high-level special educational needs on a fair basis. This will help ensure that every school and local area, no matter where they are in the country, is funded fairly, meaning areas with the highest need will attract the most funding and ensuring that all children get access to the education they deserve.

The current school funding system relies on local authorities determining how much funding schools are allocated. A single national funding formula for schools will remove the role of the local authority, also ensuring pupils with similar needs attract the same level of funding to their school, and will also give head teachers far more certainty over future budgets.

The announcement also includes protection for the core schools budget. This will be over £40 billion next year, including the pupil premium - funding worth £2.5 billion a year targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils. This is the highest ever level of funding for schools of any government, which is excellent news for students both here in Swindon and across the country.

The government will phase the changes in over time so that there is a smooth transition period that can be managed by schools and local authorities.  The Council will continue to be involved in school funding until 2019 to 2020, although the national funding formula will begin in 2017 to 2018.

I was really pleased to welcome the Education Secretary here to Swindon last Friday ahead of the big announcement. Nicky Morgan came down to visit Lydiard Park Academy because it is a school that has made remarkable progress in recent years, and has applied to become a multi-academy trust. This means it could offer support to other schools in Swindon that haven’t made the same progress over the last few years.  We have seen other local Academies come together in this way, with encouraging results.

The Secretary of State spent the afternoon with Headteacher Clive Zimmerman, and the Chair of Governors, Dave Davidson, and voiced her support towards Lydiard Park Academy’s plan to give a helping hand to other local schools. I have always believed that when academies were established they would have to work together, and we’re now seeing that increasingly across the country. Lydiard’s bid, as well as these changes to the national funding formula, is encouraging news for local schools and students across our town.

Before her visit to Lydiard, Nicky joined staff and pupils at The Chalet Special School in Liden to see how we in Swindon support youngsters with autism who need a special setting. We should be extremely proud of what is achieved by children with high level special needs at Chalet, where the school is shaped around its children in a supportive, safe and happy environment.  As a former Chalet parent, I declare an interest but it really is a wonderful school.  My thanks to Headteacher Kathie Bryan and her team for a great visit. 

After a few meetings with fellow local residents on Saturday morning, I went over to Shaw Village Centre and joined Shaw Residents’ Association to get stuck in to some litter picking for an event called ‘Clean for The Queen’.  Local Shaw residents had embarked on a clean-up on Friday, and I was happy to don a pair of gloves, grab a bag and get to work with a further group on the day following.  It was also a great way to catch up with passers-by, many of whom I knew anyway!

The event brings together all the anti-litter organisations from across the UK and aims to get people involved in Britain’s largest litter pick, ahead of our Monarch’s 90th birthday in April. We can all show our respect for our Queen's commitment to the nation and take pride in all our communities by working together in this great big tidy up and in the coming weeks before the big day. Surveys tell us that rubbish is an important concern of ours and it annoys the majority of us that a minority chooses not to respect our local environment.  We can all do something about litter and Clean for the Queen is a marvellous opportunity to take collective action.

As ever, please do not hesitate to contact me on 01793 533393 or email robert.buckland.mp@parliament.uk if you would like to book a slot at one of my advice surgeries, or if you have a local or national issue that you would like to raise.