The Schools Minister visited West Cornwall last week at the invitation of local MP Derek Thomas to see for himself what goes on at our local primary schools and listen to the concerns of the teachers.
First stop for Nick Gibb was Alverton Community Primary School in Penzance where he opened a new classroom extension and dropped in on several lessons, saying he was very impressed with the standards after quizzing the pupils on their multiplication tables.
Welcomed to the school by headteacher Martin Higgs and Year 6 ‘Prime Minister’ Sid Lewis, Mr Gibb said he would be telling Theresa May when he met her later that day that she wasn’t the only Prime Minister in the country.
After enjoying a rendition of Gary Barlow’s ‘Sing’, performed by all 320 pupils, the Minister talked to local headteachers about their concerns – particularly about a proposed overhaul to the Schools Funding Formula.
Mr Gibb said that around 60 per cent of Cornish schools were set to see an increase in their funding as a result of the changes, with an extra 1.77 per cent being spent in Cornwall – equivalent to around £5 million.
“The Funding Formula is about fairness and making everything transparent and clear,” he said.
“The principles behind the details of the formula are to ensure we address sufficient funding to things such as disadvantage, to low prior attainment and to children with English as an additional language.
“It’s all about closing the attainment gap between pupils from poorer and more wealthy backgrounds and ensuring that every child can achieve their full potential.”
Mr Higgs thanked Mr Thomas for arranging the visit, one that Mr Gibb said he would make after the Alverton head visited Westminster last year.
“I’m very grateful to Derek for his support and getting Mr Gibb down here to keep his commitment,” he said.
“The Minister was very approachable; he was great with the children and seem very interested in Alverton School.”
Following lunch, the Minster visited St Erth Community Primary School where Mr Gibb was taken round the cramped school facilities as headteacher Niki Rogers, who is trying to source funding for a new school hall, made the point that while the school roll is rising, the classrooms are already at bursting point.
Finally Mr Gibb went on to Leedstown Village Hall to meet another group of teachers where concerns about the Funding Formula as well as about SATs’ assessments were raised. Mr Gibb urged the teachers to make their suggestions about the Funding Formula before 22 March when the consultation on the White Paper finishes.
“Mr Gibb was able to see for himself that our schools in West Cornwall are wonderful places with teachers who do a terrific job in difficult circumstances,” Mr Thomas said.
“Without question, there are concerns about the amount of money available for schools to educate their children. My job is to take these concerns to ministers and fight to improve the situation for schools in West Cornwall.
“I am really glad that Mr Gibb was able to come all the way to the far South West and that headteachers and teaching staff were able to demonstrate the impact of a changing financial environment.”