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Cambridge MP demands compensation for schools after government error

An MP is demanding compensation after an administrative error left Cambridgeshire schools with less money per pupil than they had been promised for next year.

The mistake happened when the Department for Education underestimated the number of pupils when it was working on the £59.6bn schools budget for 2024-25.

MP Daniel Zeichner. Picture: Keith Heppell
MP Daniel Zeichner. Picture: Keith Heppell

The subsequent revision will leave primary and secondary schools with £45 and £55 less per pupil, respectively, than they had originally been promised when the national funding formula was published in July.

In Cambridgeshire, the error means a reduction in funding of just over £4m which the county council says would have “significant implications”.

Labour’s Daniel Zeichner MP told the House of Commons on Wednesday (October 18) that schools would be spending time and energy recalculating their budgets.

The Cambridge MP pointed out that the county’s schools are some of the lowest funded in England, with this latest news coming as a blow for a sector already under a lot of strain.

“Cambridgeshire’s schools are one of the lowest funded schools in England, and they’re now going to receive £4.4m less than they expected to do so, and the minister will know that local authority officials and schools will now have to spend time recalculating their budgets,” he said.

Mr Zeichner continued: “What is he going to do to compensate them for the time that they’re spending on this?”

Schools minister Nick Gibb responded that the error was unfortunate, and that the recalculated figures were supplied to local authorities “as soon as possible”.

He continued: “The reason why Cambridgeshire is funding in the way that it is, is that we do base funding on the level of deprivation in our communities, so we have targeted a greater proportion of schools out of the funding formula towards deprived pupils than ever before – in total about £4.4billion or 10 per cent of the formula will be allocated according to deprivation factors in 2024/25 and if an area has fewer children from a disadvantaged background than other areas, then that will be reflected in their overall ranking in local authority funding.”

In a written statement on Monday, Mr Gibb said he was sorry for the inconvenience caused.

“I recognise that the correction of the NFF error will be difficult for local authorities and frustrating for some school leaders,” he said.

His apology came after the department’s top civil servant wrote to the House of Commons education select committee earlier this month to confess to the “error processing forecast pupil numbers”.

The general secretaries of all four main teaching unions – the NEU, ASCL, NAHT and NASUWT – wrote to Mr Gibb calling on the government to honour its original commitments in the July funding formula. “Schools are already having difficulty balancing their books; some will now face the very real prospect of cuts to provision,” they wrote.

But in a reply to the unions, Mr Gibb said there would be no extra money.

Speaking after the debate, Mr Zeichner said: “It’s deeply disappointing that the minister won’t compensate for the extra work caused by his department’s error. Equally disappointing was his use of the old story that the low level of funding for Cambridge schools is due to a lack of deprivation – over many years successive Conservative county councils failed to measure deprivation in the county properly, and as we can see, today’s children are still paying the price for Tory failure.”

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