MP accuses headteachers of breaking the law over school funding campaign

A West Sussex MP has accused headteachers of breaking the law and attempting to influence the way parents voted in the General Election.

Henry Smith, MP for Crawley
Henry Smith, MP for Crawley

Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, criticised schools for sending “party political messages” to parents in the run-up to the election, which he said was “both against the law and misleading”. West Sussex headteachers have been fighting for more than two years for adequate funding for their schools – a campaign that has now spread to more than 4,000 schools in 17 counties.The last letter sent to parents from the Worth Less? campaign before the election was on May 19. It included the line “school finances are in such a dreadful state that we believe that it is vital to urge you to raise it as a key issue prior to 8 June”.Mr Smith, whose majority was cut from more than 6,500 to 2,457, said: “It’s unacceptable for schools to use publicly funded resources to send out party political messages of how parents should vote.“Robust debate on the future of education is an important and emotive subject but pretending to be impartial and then promoting a political message written by the unions using taxpayer funding on official school letterheads is both against the law and misleading.”A spokesman for the Worth Less? campaign said: “For two years headteachers have campaigned for improved school funding for pupils and their families. Independently verified facts provided to parents over this time have been entirely undisputed and we remain grateful for the universal parental support that we have received in return.”He said schools would “remain committed to securing the very best possible funding deal for every school and every child” and added: “We hope very much that our local MPs and politicians will champion this entirely valid campaign on behalf of every constituent that they represent. We believe that this is what everyone wants.”Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council disputed saying: “This isn’t about politics – it’s about fairer funding for our children’s education. “Our schools have been campaigning and highlighting this issue for some time now. Throughout the campaign they have made efforts to ensure it is not political.“Ultimately, I believe the issues they are highlighting are ones which all parties would support. What is important is that we get fairer funding for our children and this is something we should all work together on.”Mr Smith said schools in Crawley would receive “one of the highest increases in funding nationally” under the proposed new National Funding Formula – a rise of at least 8.4 per cent, or £5.7million.But he would not comment on reports by the National Audit Office and the Institute for Fiscal Studies or the cross-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which said funding was reducing in real terms and, even with the extra £4bn pledged by the government, schools would be worse off under the new formula. In March, Meg Hillier MP, chairman of the PAC said: “Pupils’ futures are at risk if the Department for Education fails to act on the warnings in our report.”Before the election, Mr Smith served as parliamentary private secretary to Justine Greening, secretary of state for education. He said he had now resigned that post.

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Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council