Owen, joined by fellow Shropshire MPs Philip Dunne and Daniel Kawczynski as well as Shropshire County Council Leader, Malcolm Pate and other senior County Councillors, met the Schools’ Minister, Jim Knight and senior officials from his department to discuss the funding crisis in Shropshire’s primary schools.
They began the meeting by pointing out to the Minister that a Shropshire child receives £3,551 out of general taxation, £337 less per pupil than the English average. If Shropshire received the funding of an average local authority there would be £13.23million more to spend on Shropshire’s children. If Shropshire received the same as Ealing, which has an almost identical number of children, it would get £42.5millon extra.
The Minister told them that the current formula is set for three years. He acknowledged that there is a problem and confirmed that they are starting a review of the formula, beginning in April, with view to a new formula for 2011. He agreed that they could participate in this process particularly in looking at sparsity costs and rural deprivation. Owen also mentioned that he had received a letter from a North Shropshire head teacher who previously taught in Harrow. He now has a a higher percentage of children from deprived backgrounds than he did in Harrow.
Owen made it absolutely clear that closing schools was definitively dead as an option. Shropshire gets well above average results with significantly less funding and the excellence that is achieved is a direct result of parental choice and therefore the competition generated by empty places.
Owen stressed to the Minister that these schools are not just primary schools but are facilities for the whole community and are an important local resource. Village schools host out of hours activities for local people, including breakfast clubs, computer clubs and a host of other community activities.
With the amalgamations going ahead the deficit is still £1.3 million and the Minister suggested four avenues that the Council could explore.
£1.3billion is available for extended school hours
There is already a pilot in Shropshire run by the Training Development Agency, which could provide funds
There is another pot of £1.6 billion for personalisation (one on one teaching)
There are funds for Early Years.
The Minister agreed that Shropshire County Council could liaise closely with his civil servants under his direction.
Following the meeting Owen Paterson said “I thought that we had a very helpful and rational meeting with Jim Knight. We made it completely clear that closing rural schools is no longer an option. I am confident that he does want to help and is positive. This has been a tremendous week for people power in Shropshire. We have stopped school closures and have secured an offer to help from the Government both in the long term on the formula and in the short term on the various avenues of funding open to the County Council to discuss with the DCSF. I will continue with my visits to primary schools and will be at Tilstock tomorrow at 3pm, Cheswardine at 4.30pm and Moreton Say at 6.15pm. On 8th February I will be visiting Adderley at 10am, Whitchurch Infants at 11.30am and Welshampton at 1.30pm.”