Concern schools could still lose out when new funding formula begins

Union leaders have warned the government's new education funding formula may still leave schools short of money.

Wednesday, 23rd November 2016, 12:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:10 pm
Every headteacher in West Sussex signed up to the Worth Less? campaign for fairer school funding

The warning came as West Sussex headteachers continued to fight for money to help stretch their budgets until the introduction of the National Funding Formula, in September 2018.

While it is hoped the new formula will see a fairer distribution of education funds, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has estimated 92 per cent of the country’s schools could still lose out.

A spokesman said the government needed to add more cash to the new funding formula or it would simply “spread an already inadequate amount of money around more thinly”. Working with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the NUT has produced an interactive map estimating what each school’s budget would be in 2020, compared to today.

The data predicted that, once the impact of inflation and other cost increases had been taken into account, West Sussex would see its schools losing out to the tune of £19,587,654 across the board by 2020.

The forecast for some of the area’s schools was a budget reduction of as much as 16 per cent, though most of the predictions were around the 8-10 per cent mark.

NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “The Chancellor needs to heed the warning that schools cannot continue to give the education children and parents expect and deserve unless additional funding is given.

“There is no further room to manoeuvre, budgets have already been cut to the bone and all the sacrifices and compromises have been made. Schools simply cannot take another blow to already precarious finances.”

More than a year ago, every primary, secondary, academy and special school headteacher in West Sussex signed up to the Worth Less? campaign, which initially asked the government for a fairer share of the education funding pot.

With the support of parents, who spread the word, and the help of MPs, such as Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) and Jeremy Quin (Horsham), who raised the matter in Parliament, the campaign helped open the government’s eyes to the funding crisis faced by some local authorities.

But, with the National Funding Formula pushed back from April 2017 to April 2018, the focus of the campaign turned to the need for interim funding to bridge the gap.

During a debate in Westminster Hall, Sir Nicholas called on MPs to recognise that “West Sussex has been losing out for years”, adding: “The present situation is both unacceptable and wrong and we absolutely insist that it’s put right.

“It is the collective judgement of all the West Sussex Members of Parliament, who have worked closely together and have really gone into this matter very carefully indeed, that without transitional funding we will inevitably see a damaging effect on local schools and, at these levels of funding, on our children’s learning.”

Sir Nicholas called on the government to “genuinely consider favourably the coherent, sensible and reasonable request” for extra cash being made by West Sussex MPs and their constituents.

Worth Less? spokesman Jules White, who is also head of Tanbridge House School, said the warnings of reduced budgets were “concerning”.

He added: “School leaders are really hopeful that the National Funding Formula will provide West Sussex schools with the base level funding that is desperately needed to put our schools and pupils on a fair playing field with the rest of England.

“A detailed second consultation is due out soon and only then will we be able to get a clear view of how our finances may look in the future. Some professional associations are warning that our budgets will be further reduced and this is a concern but we do need to verify the details exactly.

“The fact remains that, despite statements to the contrary, the Department for Education have slashed school budgets by 8-10 per cent in real terms over the past two years and the lowest funded areas like West Sussex have been worst hit.

“We all know that all schools and academies need adequate funding, and the massive disparities that schools in West Sussex are currently facing is totally unfair and severely disadvantaging our children.

“The only way to remedy this is to have interim emergency funding now rather at some distant point in the future.”

On Friday (November 18), secondary school heads met with MPs Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) and Jeremy Quin (Horsham) and county council leader Louise Goldsmith at Midhurst Rother School to discuss how to proceed. Mr Quin said: “While welcoming the government’s introduction of fair funding which will be introduced in April 2018 and is expected to help West Sussex schools, both MPs, alongside their West Sussex MPs who spoke out in a recent Commons debate, continue to advocate transitional funding to support local schools in the run up to the implementation of the new formula.”

The Worth Less? campaign sent a letter to parents on Wednesday (November 23) explaining that, even if the new formula did alleviate their financial problems in the future, any positive effects were “some considerable way off”.

The letter said: “In light of this, school leaders are reviewing what further actions we need to take. Our first inclination is to continue working alongside political leaders to try and secure additional funding by January 2017. If we are not successful at this point, we will continue to consult with all of our stakeholders in order to find the best way forward.

“There should be no doubt in anyone’s minds, however, that our financial situation is very bad indeed and without immediate help the provision for pupils in all of our school settings will be severely and detrimentally affected.”

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