8 February 2010

The other day there was a debate in the Commons on the difficulties of small rural schools in Cornwall and elsewhere (Hansard 2 February 2010, column 65 WH). It was a constructive debate, looking at complex problems of funding and community and school closure with no easy answers.

Interestingly, this appeared in the latest West Briton. The Libdems in the Commons debate focused on village schools in Cornwall; the article looks at the complexity of justice and distribution of education spending between rural and urban areas in Cornwall and points out, “For every £1 Cornwall Council spends on school for a child in town, they spend £2 or even £3 on a child in a small village school.”

Education funding raises complex questions.

During the debate the minister gave some positive facts about Labour’s record on schools in Cornwall. Here they are.

Actually, let me begin with a quotation from Matthew Taylor (Libdem MP for Truro and St Austell) which sets the tone of my post: “The Labour party has invested more in funding schools — there is no question but that that is so” (column 67WH). Yes, he was also critical.

Now for the Labour record in Cornwall schools (at columns 70WH-71WH).

* a rise in real terms in per pupil funding of 38 percent since 1997

* the dedicated schools grant will increase 2008/09 perpupil funding by 12.8 percent for 2010/11, the three year fuding period

* Cornwall has received about £100 million for capital investment in the current spending period, including £18.5 million to support the primary school capital program

* Cornwall received £5.44 million in education funding for “sparsity”

Additionally, the minister said that the present formula for distributing central government money through the dedicated schools grant was in need of revision and a new one should be in place by 2011 but devising a fairer formula was difficult (column 71WH). He invited Liberal Democrats to suggest improvements. Will they? Hmmm.

Other news is that free school meals will be more widely available from this coming September (Hansard 2 February 2010 column 212W).

Then a couple of days later a written answer gave more good news (Hansard 4 February 2010 column 474W). This was about all constituencies in England but I have extracted the Cornwall information.

The two figures give the (fulltime equivalent) number of teachers in our maintained schools at January 1997 and January 2009:
Falmouth and Camborne 670, 720
North Cornwall 850, 970
South East Cornwall 700, 790
St Ives 640, 730
Truro and St Austell 660, 770

Those are noticeable increases (a rise of 13 percent for Cornwall but I have often explained before that I do not rate the relevance of countywide figures to real life highly). There are proportionately larger increases in the numbers of teaching assistants; the details are given in the same answer in Hansard.

This DCSF website shows that since 1997 both primary and secondary class sizes in Cornwall schools have fallen (ie improved) and average teacher pay here has risen since 1997 by 59 percent. It has countywide and constituency level data for class sizes.

Many harsh judgements may be made on the Labour government, many disappointments sighed, many alarms raised, but this data shows that overall Labour has done Cornwall schools proud.