Bishop of Ely on the need for schools to tackle deprivation and disadvantage

On Thursday 16th November 2017 Lord Bird led a debate in the House of Lords, “to ask Her Majesty’s Government what new resources and strategies they will implement to ensure that every child has the opportunity to attend a good school and that all schools are fairly funded, as announced in the Queen’s Speech.” The Bishop of Ely, Rt Revd Stephen Conway, spoke in the debate, focusing on church schools:

The Lord Bishop of Ely: Follow that! My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for having made this debate possible and for providing the opportunity for us to focus not only on a fair distribution of funding for our schools and the children in their care but on fair access to good teaching in good and imaginative schools.

The Church has, down the centuries, provided a constant yet adaptable force in education. The Church of England recently produced a new vision for education, two pillars of which are dignity and hope. As the ultimate aim of our schools is to promote human flourishing, we are particularly concerned—particularly in our emphasis on supporting schools in areas of disadvantage—to enable every child to fulfil his or her aspirations, and indeed to be given the opportunity to have any aspirations in the first place.

While a “good school” can be defined to a certain extent by its Ofsted results, schools must remember to embrace excellence and academic rigour within a wider framework. A good school must educate the whole person so that one day our school pupils will become successful members of our society as adults in their roles as citizens, neighbours, parents and people committed to the public good, as well as those who are called to be economically productive. One way in which this access to equal education is to be served better than it is at the moment is by thinking about how we allow ​children and young people to access technical education alongside academic prowess. In the diocese of Ely, we have won a new secondary school where academic and technical education will be provided in parallel on the same campus alongside a special school.

Fundamentally, however, we must seek out areas where there is particular disadvantage and strive to bring children living in these places on to an equal footing with their more advantaged counterparts. The Secretary of State has effectively identified parts of the country where we need focus and change through the means of education. One of these “opportunity areas” happens to be Fenland in east Cambridgeshire in my diocese of Ely. Along with our local MPs, the Church is keen to engage further with the initiative to support local communities and as a means of improving attainment and aspiration in the area. I look forward to seeing how all the elements, such as the life skills programme and work experience opportunities, tie together to ensure that every child receives the best education possible. As these new resources and strategies continue to be developed, we must also ensure that education is funded with future economic and industrial needs in mind, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, has already said.

In the same vein, I hope that the national funding formula, announced in September, will go some way to ensuring that schools receive what they need in order to cater for the local demographic. Indeed, the formula has resulted in more funding for each of the schools in the diocese of Ely, although there is a slight concern that, due to the increase in pension payments for teaching and non-teaching staff, over 40% of the extra proceeds will go towards addressing funding concerns in the pension schemes as opposed to flowing through to the front line. As such, I emphasise the importance of resources and strategies that allow funding to go directly to solving the issues which the Secretary of State herself has identified.

In the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said about pedagogy, it is very important that we train our teachers to prepare their pupils for a very different future, and this requires both rigour and imagination. However, I would still like to stick up for our teaching profession and for the imagination and commitment they apply to their vocation. I particularly pay tribute to teachers who commit themselves to working in very difficult schools where there is acute disadvantage and problems with discipline and even violence. These teachers persist in their vocation for the sake of the children and with a vision for the future which those children might have.

To go back to 1811, which is even further back than 1972, this ties in with Joshua Watson, who founded the national society which I now chair. The aim, long before state education was conceived, was to give the poorest children access to education to enable them to flourish, and ultimately to give them worth as citizens.

New resources, strategies and fair funding for school education are components of a much larger drive to improve social mobility. One of the most important things about social mobility is that it is not conceived simply as moving to London. We need to equip and ​empower young people, through a variety of points of access to education, to be contributors with vigour and energy in the places where they already live, so that those places are also regenerated. By supporting the most disadvantaged children at the earliest stages, we can help to build character and in turn produce generous and adaptable contributors to their communities and to wider society, whatever economic and industrial developments the future may bring.


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Lord Agnew of Oulton) (Con):…At the heart of the Government’s ambition to provide good school places is the aim to drive up social mobility, as referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Fellowes and Lord Bird. This is the route out ​of poverty. We want to lift up those areas that have historically been left behind and ensure that pupils can reach their full potential. Beyond the core schools budget and the national funding formula, the Government will invest a total of £72 million in 12 opportunity areas over the next three years. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely recognises the importance of helping some of the most disadvantaged areas in the country, which is what we are trying to do. Opportunity areas will also receive a share of the £75 million teaching and leadership innovation fund to support high-quality professional development for teachers and leaders, and a share of the £280 million strategic school improvement fund for schools most in need of support…

…The noble Lord, Lord Jones, and the right reverend Prelate referred to fair funding. As announced in the Queen’s Speech, the Government have recently responded to the consultation on the national funding formula. This represents the biggest improvement to our system for funding schools in over a decade. Together with the additional £1.3 billion of schools revenue funding across the next two years, announced in July, this will help to ensure that schools get the resources needed. To address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, the new formula will allocate a cash increase of at least 1% per pupil to every school by 2019-20, with higher gains for some of the underfunded schools.

We recently published full details of both the school and high-needs national funding formulae, and the impact that they will have for every local authority. This includes notional school-level allocations, showing what each school would attract through the formula. I can send the link to the noble Lord, Lord Jones, if he would like more information on that.​
Responses to our consultation stressed the importance of funding for children with additional needs, such as those suffering deprivation and low prior attainment. Nationally, the formula will allocate £5.9 billion in additional needs funding, with a further £2.5 billion delivered through the pupil premium, which was introduced in 2011. The intention of the pupil premium was to encourage schools to recruit pupils from less well-off backgrounds and to then create an added-value learning environment for less advantaged pupils to benefit from.