Headteachers question MPs over school funding fiasco

Worth Less? campaign logos

Worth Less? campaign logos

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Headteachers have written to West Sussex MPs to ask questions about the ongoing school funding fiasco.

For more than a year, schools have fought via the Worth Less? campaign to see their schools given a better deal.

Years of under-funding left them with little option but to reduce staffing levels, increase class sizes and cut back on essentials as they tried to stretch the money they were given.

The government’s promise of a fairer National Funding Formula saw hopes rise. They soon plummeted when it became clear no extra money had been pumped into the budget.

With costs rising, that meant the government was essentially trying to make less and less money spread further.

In addition, the National Audit Office announced £3billion of savings needed to be made by 2019-20.

The National Funding Formula will see West Sussex schools gain £79 per pupil on average in 2018, rising to £144 in April 2020.

That will still mean it is funded 148th out of 151 local authorities.

In addition, a raft of costs not covered by the government’s grant will mean schools will actually be worse off.

Each headteacher has sent a letter to their area’s MP re-emphasising the seriousness of their financial situation.

The letter said of the National Funding Formula: “Whilst the formula itself provides greater transparency and fairness for schools across the country, other significant factors, particularly those connected to core funding levels and the introduction of huge unfunded cost burdens – stealth taxes on schools – have undermined the whole process.”

Details of those unfunded costs were laid out in the letter. Currently, schools must cover national insurance and pension contributions, 1 per cent pay increments, and cost of living/inflation pressures.

In 2017/18 many schools will have to cover contributions to an Educational Services Grant as well as an apprenticeship levy. In 2018/19, a 1.5 per cent increase in national insurance employer contributions is on the cards.

To add to the already huge financial pressures, the government has ignored headteachers’ calls for interim funding to help ease the burden between now and April 2018, when the National Funding Formula will be introduced.

They only have until April to secure such funding – a feat which looks more and more unlikely with each passing day.

The letter to MPs added: “Even when the DfE’s own statistical projections are used, the majority of West Sussex schools are likely to find themselves in a ‘standstill’ or worse financial position over the next three to four years.”

The heads put six questions to the MPs, one asking what had happened to the £500m that had been earmarked for wholesale academisation and another asking why the emergency funding had not been approved.

While reiterating their belief it was important to work with their parliamentary representatives, the heads expressed disappointment that a meeting with the DfE, that had been mooted by MPs in November, had not taken place.

After the letter had been sent, Horsham MP Jeremy Quin said: “Having suggested a meeting we took this up on behalf of local heads immediately. We have received confirmation from the Department for Education that a meeting will be held in the next few weeks to which local heads will be invited. We are finalising a date.”

Mr Quin pointed out that the consultation into the National Funding Formula did not end until March 22.

Despite the warnings from the county’s headteachers, he insisted: “ Unlike some other parts of the country, West Sussex benefits overall from the new formula.

“However local MPs will be doing their utmost to maximise funding for West Sussex.”

The headteachers detailed the latest developments in a letter to parents – and it didn’t make for happy reading.

Vowing to do everything in their power to maintain standards of care and provision, the heads said they felt it was important to let parents know “ just how bad matters are at present”.

The letter stated: “Headteachers in all West Sussex schools are dismayed that our financial situation looks so bleak.

“As a consequence, our fears about reduced staffing levels, increased class sizes and reductions in curricular and pastoral provision are likely to become a reality in either the short term, medium term or both.

“School leaders are united in their belief that the current situation is both unfair and unsustainable.

“Previously we were made to feel that pupils in West Sussex were ‘Worth Less’, under the new arrangements they simply don’t appear to be ‘Worth Enough’.”