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Theresa May defends under-fire school funding reforms

Theresa May has been forced to defend the controversial shake-up of school funding in England after a respected economic think tank warned it would create "significant winners and losers".

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the Prime Minister of focusing on the "vanity project" of a new generation of grammars rather than ensuring existing schools have the funding they need.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Mrs May acknowledged there would be a "number of views" about the proposals for a new national funding formula (NFF) but insisted "it's not a vanity project to want every child in this country to have a good school place".

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said the Government's proposed plan to change the way money is distributed is "broadly sensible", but warned some schools could face "protracted cuts" as a result of the shift from 152 different local authority formulae to a single national method of allocating funding.

Education Secretary Justine Greening and the Prime Minister have already been warned by Tory backbenchers in areas set to lose out that the plans will not make it through the Commons in their current form.

As she clashed with Mr Corbyn in the Commons, Mrs May said: "The national funding formula is a consultation and obviously there will be a number of views."

The consultation closes on Wednesday and the Department for Education will respond "in due course".

She said the NFF addresses a long-standing concern that funding arrangements are "unfair".

Mr Corbyn claimed a squeeze on the overall schools budget, which has been protected in real terms but faces increased costs and a rising number of pupils, could see class sizes increase and subject choices diminish.

He highlighted the £320 million allocated in the Budget for new free schools, including "divisive" grammars, and told Mrs May she was "betraying a generation of young people by cutting the funding for every child".

"Children will have fewer teachers, larger classes, fewer subjects to choose from and all the Prime Minister can do is focus on her grammar school vanity project that can only ever benefit a few children," he said.

Mrs May said the Government's record had seen "protected school funding, more teachers in our schools, more teachers with first-class degrees in our schools, more children in good or outstanding schools".

She also launched a personal attack on Mr Corbyn and his senior allies, pointing out that he sent his child to a grammar school and attended one himself, while shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti had chosen private education for their children.

"Typical Labour: take advantage and pull up the ladder behind you," she said.

The IFS analysis said the proposals a re the most ambitious reform to the school funding system for more than 25 years and would ensure similar schools in different parts of the country receive a similar level of funding per pupil.

But it warned: "Implementing this reform at a time when there is already considerable pressure on school budgets will inevitably be difficult."

The analysis also found that the formula " diverts funding away from schools with the most deprived student population and towards those with average levels of deprivation".

As part of the plan, the Government has promised protections until 2019-20 to ensure no school can lose more than 3% funding per-pupil in cash terms and no school can gain more than 5.6%.

The National Governors' Association (NGA) backed a change in the way money is allocated, but argued there should be more cash overall.

NGA chief executive Emma Knights said: " The case for changing the way schools are funded should not be confused with the broader argument for more money for schools because, ultimately, it will mean pupils get a fairer share of not enough."

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