With the summer holidays drawing to a close, the new school year begins this month for pupils across Shropshire.
During last summer term I visited many local primaries across the constituency and enjoyed being quizzed by some very engaged children, as well as chatting to Headteachers and Governors about their schools and issues they face.
In local towns, our schools generally remain in a good position, but even they are not immune to the underlying challenge in our rural areas, where it is getting tougher to maintain the number of pupils on school rolls. This reflects the ongoing demographic shift in Shropshire, with fewer young families living in our more rural countryside locally, so less demand for school places.
One element in resolving this dilemma will be ensuring sufficient development of local housing, so young families are not priced out of the county. But this will take some years to feed through to our schools.
So many local schools have looked to more immediate solutions, including joining forces through federations or Educational Trusts. This helps control costs and share staff and resources – reducing pressure on funding while ensuring children are given a well-rounded education.
I am well aware that schools also face funding pressures as a result of measures affecting all employers, like the rising minimum wage for some support staff and auto-enrolment of workplace pensions. The government is putting significant additional funding into schools, with Core School Funding increasing by £1.3bn to £42.4bn this year, and rising again to £43.5bn next year. This comes as we transition to a national funding formula, which will maintain overall per pupil funding in real terms for the next two years. I am encouraged that under the national funding formula, rural schools will gain on average 3.9 per cent, with those schools in the most remote locations gaining 5.0 per cent. This should help many South Shropshire schools, although I am aware some larger schools may not benefit.
The new national funding formula will increase the basic amount allocated for every pupil and will allocate a minimum per pupil funding level for both secondary and primary schools to target the lowest funded schools. It will provide a minimum cash increase for every school of 1 per cent per pupil by 2019-20, with the most underfunded schools seeing rises of 3 per cent per pupil in 2018-19 and 2019-20. I am also encouraged that every school will receive a lump sum of £110,000 to help with fixed costs, which again will help our smaller rural schools.
Outside of the parliamentary recess, I am pleased many schools in South Shropshire take up the opportunity to visit Parliament, to see Westminster and to learn more about the way in which our democracy works. I will be encouraging more schools to make the trip when they can, as the Parliamentary education team ensure a really exciting educational day for those children who visit.
On a final note, I write before learning how Shropshire schools have fared in the summer exams, but I hope all local students got the results for which they were hoping.
Philip Dunne MP