Extra cash on the cards for Northumberland's rural schools?

An overhaul of education funding is expected to see Northumberland's most remote schools handed extra cash to deal with cost pressures such as maintenance and recruitment.
The way schools are allocated sparsity funding is set to be recalculated.The way schools are allocated sparsity funding is set to be recalculated.
The way schools are allocated sparsity funding is set to be recalculated.

Head teachers in rural areas are eligible for “sparsity funding” to help them cope with higher costs for essential bills such as recruitment, maintenance and heating their premises.

But it is hoped the government overhaul of cash allocations – which are expected to more than double in Northumberland – will help end a postcode lottery, which has been blamed for unfairly helping more urbanised and densely populated places.

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“One of the key findings highlighted [in the government’s consultation on education funding] is the strong support for the [sparsity funding] policy, which has reinforced the case to increase funding for small, remote schools,” said Bruce Parvin, education and skills business manager at Northumberland County Council.

“That’s important for Northumberland because we have a higher proportion of small, remote schools than the national average.

“The funding going into sparsity in 2022/23 is more than doubling – £95 million in total, of which Northumberland is forecast to receive between £2 and £6 million.

“Going back two years, we received a total of £1.1 million.”

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One of the key changes education chiefs expect to benefit the county is a move away from calculating pupil journey times between home and school “as the crow flies”.

Instead, travel needs are now expected to be worked out based on the actual road distance to the classroom and back.

Sparsity funding is allocated partly based on the number of youngsters who must travel more than two miles to their nearest primary school, or three miles to their closest secondary school,

Sparsity funding is also on offer to schools whose pupil roll falls below levels which are set by the government.

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According to government figures, about 900 schools across the country could be classed as remote, and would therefore attract further financial funding as a result of the changes.

Proposals have suggested the maximum amount available would increase from £45,000 to £55,000 for primary schools and from £70,000 to £80,000 for the county’s secondary schools.