Tim Loughton has said he will no longer work with head teachers who criticised an article on his website about funding and recruitment ‘myths’.
Mr Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, wrote to 18 Worthing and Shoreham heads ‘in disappointment’ after they distributed a ‘detailed rebuttal’ to the Myth Busting: School Funding article.
The article examined five points about school funding and teacher recruitment which had made the headlines in recent months.
The heads said they were ‘extremely dissatisfied’ with what he had published, adding that the article ‘starkly’ contrasted the support he had previously shown to their campaign for better funding.
Mr Loughton, however, said the article was part of a national Conservative Party press release issued by education ministers and was ‘obviously not about West Sussex schools’.
He pointed out that the rest of the school funding section of his website reflected his work to support schools, including a recent meeting with Education Secretary Damian Hinds, criticism of the fact that West Sussex schools remained near the bottom of the funding pile and concern that the gap with London schools was ‘far too wide’.
In the letter, Mr Loughton told the heads: “Those sentiments reflect the line I have taken consistently over the last couple of years in other podcasts, press releases, speeches in the House of Commons and beyond, letters to you and in my discussions not least at the roundtable last summer at which every head in my constituency was invited to attend.”
Asking why ‘every other entry on my website was ignored’, he told the head teachers their letter was ‘not only completely misguided and wrong it is personally very offensive’.
Mr Loughton wrote: “Some of my West Sussex Parliamentary colleagues have been somewhat sceptical in the past about the political motivations behind the WorthLess? campaign and some of the heads who have very actively supported it.
“I have always given you and your colleagues the benefit of the doubt and argued that we should be fully supportive.
“Clearly that trust was misplaced and I will not be making that mistake again.”
Mr Loughton suggested the heads did not have the full support of all of their colleagues when they sent their letter.
He pointed out that the head and governor at one primary school, who he met recently to discuss budget details, had apparently advised against it.
Last year, Mr Loughton arranged two meetings with head teachers toa discuss their concerns – another, with the chairs of governors, has been scheduled for this week.
He said that following the first meetings he wrote at length to the Education Secretary, sharing those concerns, while also asking heads for ‘further details of specific consequences being faced by individual local schools if funding shortfalls were not resolved’. He was less than impressed with the response, stating: “Consequently, and despite chasing, only three heads provided further information making it harder to produce a detailed case to bolster my lobbying of ministers.”
He added: “I have always sought to be as supportive as possible to all schools in my constituency and have spent a disproportionate amount of my time specifically raising and supporting the case for fair funding.
“I have accepted every invitation from schools to come in and discuss the matter with heads, governors or parents.”
Mr Loughton told the head teachers it was ‘quite clear that the piece on my website is in no way linked to West Sussex schools and WorthLess?’.
He accused the campaign of becoming ‘highly party political’ and said that some people were using it as ‘a vehicle to attack the Government and the Conservative Party’.
He added: “As such I fear I cannot see how it is any longer tenable for me to work with the heads who have signed this letter on issues to do with funding and I have told my West Sussex parliamentary colleagues that I will no longer be part of future such meetings and will be working directly with parents and individual teachers and governors to bring about change instead.”
Jules White, head of Tanbridge House School in Horsham, is the driving force of the WorthLess? campaign. He said: “It’s a great shame that Tim has drawn these inaccurate conclusions.
“They will only serve to deflect us all from the real issue.
“West Sussex heads/WorthLess? have a single-minded goal of getting the best and fairest deal for the children and families in our care.
“Under the new National Funding Formula West Sussex remained the fifth lowest funded county in England and our schools lag the funding of many other schools by 50-70 per cent.
“These facts are undisputed and figures exclude additional funding given to the most disadvantaged families.
“Recently the Conservative cabinet member for education for West Sussex County Council described the new formula as ‘not fit for purpose’. Is he biased, too?
“We will continue to use the Department for Education’s own statistics to tell parents what the situation is and continue to hope that all political representatives – including our own highly engaged local MPs – will do the same.
“We remain grateful for any support and simply want the best for our schools and pupils.”