Rural schools are set for a boost in funding as the Government proposes to change rules to ensure that institutions in remote areas have enough money to stay open.
Education Secretary Justine Greening unveiled proposals on Wednesday to end an “unfair, opaque and outdated” funding system that favoured children in London over those in the countryside.
Under the biggest reforms to school funding in a decade, a new national formula will use a host of factors to calculate how much money is allocated to each school, including "sparsity", which takes into account how small and remote it is.
Ms Greening told the Commons: "We’ll protect those small rural schools which are so important to their local communities by inclusion of a sparsity factor.
"What we can’t accept is other areas in other parts of the country that have similar challenges in relation to deprivation and lower prior attainment, not being funded, for no other reason than that they’re not London. It’s now time to have a fair approach."
Under the proposed changes, primary schools which qualify for sparsity funding would receive up to £25,000, which rises to £65,000 for secondary, middle and all-through schools. Overall, an extra £27 million would be spent on the sparsity factor.
The announcement was welcomed by MPs in rural areas. Simon Hoare, MP for North Dorset, said one of the biggest issues facing schools in his constituency is "recruitment of and retention of staff in a rural areas where costs are higher, living costs are higher and all the rest of it. The sparsity quota will be warmly welcomed by those head teachers".
Nigel Huddleston, MP for Mid Worcestershire, said funding per pupil in his area was £1,000 per head lower than in neighbouring areas. "Not everybody who lives in the countryside lives in some sort of rural idyll. There are pockets of poverty and deprivation right across the countryside," he said.
Following Ms Greening's announcement in Parliament on Wednesday Cllr Paul Carter, chairman of the County Councils Network, said he supported the proposals, as the current system sees County schools receive half the funding per pupil that inner London schools get. "This is inequitable and needs redressing," he said.
Natalie Perera, the Education Policy Institute’s executive director, said: "Small schools in rural areas can often find it difficult to manage because the suffer from small pupil numbers. In areas where those small schools are vital to avoid children having to travel very long distances, the sparsity factor should help them to be sustainable."
The Education Secretary also promised extra money to schools with a high population of "mobile" students, meaning children who join mid-way through the academic year.
Schools in areas with an influx of migrants, as well as military children, Roma gypsies and travellers stand to gain under this measure.
Kevin Courtney, General Secretary at the National Union of Teachers, said: “Far from being the levelling up that some councils and heads have demanded, this is a levelling down. Even the schools currently worst funded will see real terms cuts in this Parliament."