Education is one of the main reasons I entered politics. My parents left school at 15 and 14 – for me a free place at a grammar changed my life forever. We are very fortunate to have many fine schools in Devon. Given the sparse nature our county there are many of them and our constituency alone is home to 3 state secondary schools and 43 primaries. I spend a lot of time visiting local schools and listening to teachers and parents. You can sense a good school quickly after entering it. If the children are positive, confident and well behaved and the environment inviting and well organised then all is usually well. Whilst Devon is lucky and schools are generally improving across the country for too long, too many young people (especially those from poorer backgrounds) have not had the chance to attend a good school. I am proud to be part of Governments which have made real progress in transforming the educational opportunities available to young people. Increasing parental choice through academies, free schools, curriculum and testing improvements have driven up quality, with 1.4 million more children in ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools compared with 2010. There are now record numbers of teachers in our classrooms and the Pupil Premium has targeted over £2.5 billion to the most disadvantaged children, benefiting more than 1,500 students right here in Central Devon. 92% of our local primary schools are now ranked as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’, compared with 90% nationally, and all three of our secondaries are ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’, far exceeding the national average.
There is always more that can be done, however. Reforms to the way in which schools are funded has led to more money being allocated to schools based on the needs of pupils; with funding rising in Devon by an average of 4.7% per pupil in 2015-16 compared to the previous year. However, the system for distributing this funding remains outdated and unfair, with areas with the highest need, particularly rural localities like ours, being at a disadvantage.
I have pressed for many years to remedy this unfairness and I am pleased that the Government has committed to introduce a new national funding formula from 2018. This will ensure that every child is funded fairly and according to their specific needs, no matter their location, with an estimated 10,000 schools set to gain additional funding as a result. The Government last year consulted on how this formula can be delivered and earlier this month I had a productive meeting with the Principal and Chair of Governors of Okehampton College and the Headteacher of Okehampton Primary to listen to their views. The Government is now consulting on the detailed formula and I will be continuing to push hard to ensure that a fair, sustainable funding system is achieved so that the very best possible educational opportunities are available to our young people.