On 15th June 2022, the House of Lords debated the Schools Bill (HL) in committee. The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich: My Lords, I speak on behalf of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham and declare his interest as chair of the National Society. I am grateful to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, as I will speak in favour of Amendment 85.
The amendment presents an important consideration in the context of Church schools, which are predominantly small and rural. More than 1,000 Church of England schools have fewer than 100 pupils. In my diocese, comprising most of the glorious county of Suffolk, 35 of our 87 Church schools have fewer than 100 pupils—crucially, each of them serves often quite isolated rural communities. A funding formula ensuring that those settings are viable is key to securing future provision for their communities.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Deben (Con): Having heard the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich—the diocese in which I reside—it is important for those of us in very rural areas to remind the Government constantly of the special position of schools in rural areas. The reason is that our nation has become overwhelmingly metropolitan, as are those most concerned with education at the centre. It is therefore necessary for us to remind Ministers all the time that they should be asking, “How does this affect what happens in the countryside?”, which is increasingly important as we find more and more villages without the resources they once had and the understandable paucity of rural transport.
The two things come together. We need better data; it needs to be presented in an easily accessible way for us to hold the Government and academies to account. It also needs to have a special bias, if I may misquote the right reverend Prelate, not to the poor but to the poor rural areas.
Baroness Barran (Con): The national funding formula recognises the essential role that small rural schools play in their communities through the sparsity factor in the formula. Support for such schools has increased by £69 million in the past two years, to a total of £95 million. The noble Lord will note that the move to the direct national funding formula will mean that all eligible small rural schools would in future receive this sparsity funding, helping those in the 16 local authorities which currently do not use this factor in their formulae. I hope this will reassure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.